Alex Toth is known for many things, Space Ghost being one of his most famous creations, but did you know about his penchant for horror?
Dark Horse Comics is collecting the comics legends contributions to the classic horror anthologies Creepy and Eerie in a new tome titled Creepy Presents Alex Toth. Scheduled for release on July 1, the collection contains 21 comic short stories did on his own and sometimes with others such as Archie Goodwin, Carmine Infantino and Doug Moench.
Newsarama talked with Dark Horse editor Philip R. Simon as well as critic Douglas Wolk, who wrote the forewod, about Creepy Present Alex Toth, ranging from the context of these stories within Toth's body of work, the original impetus for collecting these long out-of-print tales, and how exactly they went about reproducing these stories for a new generation.
Dark Horse provided a preview of one of the stories, "The Stalkers" by Toth and Goodwin which originally appeared in Creepy #6.
Douglas Wolk: Creepy Presents Alex Toth is the largest available body of comics work from the peak years of one of the great American cartoonists. After 1960 or so, Toth rarely stuck with a single comics project for long; aside from his own “Bravo for Adventure” series, a batch of stories in House of Mystery and The Witching Hour, and five 1970 issues of DC’s Hot Wheels (yes, that Hot Wheels), I don’t think he published more than thirty-two pages or so in any other series in the final forty-five years of his life. It’s also a rare opportunity to see Toth’s extraordinary black-and-white technique—or, rather, techniques, since he changed his approach with nearly every story he drew for Warren’s magazines.
Newsarama: Philip, what led you and Dark Horse to do this Alex Toth centric collection of stories from Creepy and Eerie?
Philip R. Simon: In 2010, we started looking through our complete Creepy and Eerie magazine runs for great artist-specific and character-specific collection possibilities. There were some immediate “no brainer” collection ideas that stood out, and an Alex Toth volume was included in the first batch of creator-specific projects that I brainstormed with Dark Horse’s publisher, Mike Richardson, and our Creepy Universe/New Comic Company licensor, Dan Braun. Mike and Dan work with me on all project concepts and cover choices in this Creepy Universe line. We were looking for timeless, titanic creators to spotlight, and we picked Bernie Wrightson, Richard Corben, Steve Ditko, Alex Toth, and a few other artists for our first batch of creator collections. We picked Hunter and El Cid from the Eerie magazine run to be the stars of our first Eerie Presents collections, which focus on memorable, original Warren characters. Creepy Presents Bernie Wrightson launched our creator-focused line of books in September 2011, and Eerie Presents Hunter started our character-focused line in March 2012.
Nrama: Toth was very much a journeyman artist, but he did numerous stories for Warren in Creepy, Eerie and elsewhere. Does this have all of Toth’s stories from those two, including the early 1980s works?
Simon: Yes. Without running repeat stories (the Creepy and Eerie magazines infamously “recycled” stories and shared story reprint material from time to time), we’re reprinting every Alex Toth story from Creepy and Eerie. The earliest story is “Grave Undertaking” from Creepy #5 (1965), most of the stories were drawn in 1975 and 1976, and we are including Toth’s six short stories from the 1980s.
Nrama: Does this by chance have Alex Toth’s stories from other Warren titles, like the Rook?
Simon: We weren’t able to include Toth’s stories from the Rook (“Bravo for Adventure” episodes), Blazing Combat, or Vampirella—but this collection does include every Toth story from the Warren flagship titles Creepy and Eerie.
Nrama: These Toth stories cover large breadth of time, from the 1960s to the early 1980s, where Toth’s style was constantly being streamlined. What do you think this collection shows as a snapshot of Toth’s evolution?
Wolk: I think Toth’s evolution mostly happened before this collection begins, actually! By the time of its earliest story—“Grave Undertaking,” from 1965—he was already fully in command of his voice. That said, he kept pushing himself into unfamiliar territory with almost every story he drew for Creepy and Eerie, and not always in the same direction. One of the things Toth’s famous for is letting impossibly few lines and shapes carry enormous weight, but sometimes he’d do things very differently—the gray tones of “Proof Positive” and the fine-lined cross-hatching of “The Hacker Is Back” aren’t at all minimalist, but they’re very Toth-ish.
Nrama: What do you think are the key stories in this collection?
Wolk: “The Reaper,” the final story Toth drew entirely himself for Creepy, is an astonishing piece of work: one deceptively simple-looking image after another that few other artists would have dared to attempt. “Kui,” from 1976, is literally about the walls closing in, and Toth progressively strips away what the viewer can see. And, although it’s not an especially famous story, I love the look of “Jacque Cocteau’s Circus of the Bizarre,” with Toth’s inks over Carmine Infantino’s pencils: two veterans of Golden Age comics joining forces for a piece from 1981 that looks decades ahead of its time.
Nrama: Let’s talk about the face of this package; how’d you go about deciding which image to use for the cover?
Simon: It took us a while to settle on the cover image we’re using, because we had so many options in front of us and the process for this particular cover was collaborative. I met up with Dark Horse’s Art Director—Lia Ribacchi—several designers, and several colleagues in editorial to look through every story page and consider good images to use first. About six of us looked over every story in what was a really fun project launch meeting, and we marked up proof sets with dozens of sticky notes. We identified great panels that worked out of context, the few splash pages Toth composed for his tales, some possible montage routes—and then Mike, Dan, and I eventually winnowed about a dozen good options down to a handful of possibilities. Those were then given color treatments by one of our in-house digital artists, Ryan Jorgensen—who does scanning and retouch work for all of our Creepy Universe projects. Mike and Dan then picked the unsettling image of Toth’s “Lady in the Doorway” from a final batch of about five designed options.
Nrama: For reprinting these stories, do you by chance have the original art or negatives, or are you scanning from the original comic books?
Simon: The source materials we’re working with can vary widely from archival project to archival project, but we usually scan covers and stories from the original magazines for our Creepy Universe archival collections. That’s what we had to work with for Creepy Presents Alex Toth—the original magazines only.
In the case of Creepy Presents Bernie Wrightson, Bernie sent us a few nice negatives for some of his Warren spot art and inside front cover illustrations, both black-and-white and color images, but everything else was scanned from original magazines and quality checked for glitches and retouched.
When we approached Richard Corben when production work started on Creepy Presents Richard Corben, Richard wanted to paint a new cover for the collection, and he sent us new scans off his original art boards for six of the reprinted stories.
We don’t always have access to the kind of amazing source material we had for the Richard Corben collection, though. Most of our Creepy Universe projects are scanned from original magazines and then carefully combed over in a glitch-check and page retouch pass, which I do with my eagle-eyed assistant editor, Roxy Polk.
Nrama: If this is successful, could you see Dark Horse doing more Toth collections or Warren collections of other artists?
Simon: We do hope to announce more Creepy Presents and Eerie Presents projects soon. We’ll probably move to another Eerie Presents character-focused collection next. There are so many great artists who contributed to these Warren Publishing series and some really bizarre and interesting characters populated the pages of Eerie, so we are hoping to continue these hardcover “spotlight” collections that focus on the best vintage Creepy and Eerie material.