Genius Isolated: The Life and Art of Alex Toth by Dean Mullaney and Bruce Canwell, is the latest art book from The Library of American Comics, published by IDW. This first volume in a series of three concentrates on Toth's early years in comics, leading up to the time in the early 1960s when he entered the animation industry. It's full of amazing artwork, much of it reproduced from Toth's original art. And it's also--for better or worse--filled with Toth's cantankerous personality.
Like many comics fans, I've admired Toth's art for many years. And like many, his art was an acquired taste, one that came later in life for me. Toth isn't a flashy artist. He's an amazing storyteller with a super-simple style. He's at his best telling adventure and war stories, especially if planes or swordplay are involved. And his work looks best in the stark black and white it's created in.
The good news is this book is absolutely beautiful, a stunning achievement as a seminal comic artist's biography and art book. The bad news is Toth's personality. It's obvious from the biography (well-written, if a bit over the top at times, by Bruce Canwell) that Toth had his problems, one of which may have been depression. I, for one, could never muster the enthusiasm to read through his hand-written letters many magazines and fanzines published as sent, as if setting his writings in more readable type would have been some kind of fan-induced blasphemy. This book--created with the guidance and blessing of Toth's third wife and their children--doesn't shy away from his foibles, which is great.
Originally planned as a single volume, the story of Alex Toth has grown into three similarly-sized books to total about 750 pages and a pricey $150.00 total cover price. While both the art and the story of Alex Toth are fascinating, I'm not sure any artist (comics or otherwise)--with the possible exceptions of Jack Kirby, Will Eisner, and Carl Barks--actually warrants such a comprehensive remembrance. But I'll also confess I'm probably along for the whole ride.