Interview: Dean Mullaney on IDW’s Genius, Isolated: The Life and Art of Alex Toth

Genius, Isolated

Genius, Isolated

Dean Mullaney was one of the founders of Eclipse Comics and is currently the Creative Director of The Library of American Comics, which includes such collections as Bloom County The Complete Library, X-9: Secret Agent Corrigan, and Terry & The Pirates, which are published by IDW. Westfield’s Roger Ash recently spoke with Dean to learn more about their upcoming release Genius, Isolated: The Life and Art of Alex Toth, the first of three biographical books about comics legend Alex Toth.

Westfield: For those who may not be familiar with Alex Toth, why should they pick up Genius, Isolated?

Toth art from Strange Adventures #18

Toth art from Strange Adventures #18

Dean Mullaney: Unlike some artists who became fan favorites because they worked on a specific character or series for years and years, Alex Toth never did. He never stuck with one project for too long. He was known to artists in the field as the artist’s artist. He’s the guy they all looked to. When he joined DC in the late 40s/early 50s, DC had an accepted house style. All of the artists we spoke to who were working at the time said it was like he came from outer space. He had a new way of looking at comics, a new way of composition and design. He completely changed the whole DC house look. Everybody started copying him. And he did the same thing again when he moved over to Standard Comics in the early 50s. So he really had a tremendous influence on other artists, in addition to the tremendous amount of work that he did on his own.

Westfield: This started out as just one book and now it’s expanded to three. What happened to change that?

Mullaney: What happened was I don’t think the printer could bind a thousand-page book without it falling apart. [laughter] Actually, we’re working with Alex’s children and his family, so we have access to the artwork, photographs, and background material they have. And then we put out word to collectors and fans and friends of Alex. There are a lot of people who collect his art. People have been extremely generous in either FedExing us art to scan or scanning it themselves and sending it in. We want to reproduce as much as we can from the original artwork showing the pencil lines, showing the process of the work, in addition to how it was finally printed. We just located so much material we couldn’t fit it in one book anymore. Rather than do a half-assed job, we decided to add more books.

Westfield: And you’re a fan of his work as well?

Zorro by Toth

Zorro by Toth

Mullaney: I’m a huge fan. In fact, the earliest comic I remember reading was Zorro in the late 50s. They weren’t signed, so I didn’t know who drew them. It was my favorite television show as a young child. The TV show was in black and white and the comics were in color. It was exciting. Years later I found out they were drawn by Alex Toth. In the 80s I finally got the chance to work with him and collected all those original Zorro comics into two hardcover books.

Westfield: How was the experience of working with him and putting those books together?

Mullaney: It was a pleasure. He was very happy because he hated the coloring on the original comics. We tracked down a warehouse somewhere outside of Kansas City where Western Publishing, who published all those comics, had film negatives of almost all the comics from that period. So I was able to get photostats made off the original negatives. Then Alex went in and did new tone work to shade the whole thing, so it actually is a new edition and even better than the original comics. He was shading it to give an accent and an emphasis to where he wanted your eye to go on the page.

Westfield: In the final book, how much of this is biographical information and how much of it is reproduction of art?

Mullaney: There’s a lot of each. Bruce Canwell has written the biography, which is 78% longer than we originally thought it would be. That’s another reason the book has expanded into books. I think we have 32,000 words in the first book. It’s an extensive and first-ever biography of Alex. He wrote about himself over the years and there’ve been plenty of interviews with him, but there’s never been a biography. We have full access to the family achieves and the family records.

Westfield: In the art that’s reproduced, is it complete stories or portions of stories?

Jon Fury

Jon Fury

Mullaney: Both. We’ve got some complete stories and we’re using some individual pages to make specific points to illustrate how he drew. We’ve got shots off the original artwork for a bunch of the spectacular stories he did for Standard in the early 50s. And we actually found an unfinished, and obviously unpublished, story that he drew during the Standard period. That’s never seen print. It’s all pencil, partially inked. It’s just incredible to find an unpublished and previously unseen Toth story from 60 years ago. And, of course, we have the complete Jon Fury, which is a weekly strip he did when he was in the Army. He was stationed in Tokyo and he did a weekly strip in the camp newspaper. There were seven pages of it that were eventually published in a fanzine in the 70s, but as far as I know, no other pages, and certainly not the complete story, has ever been reprinted before. We have Alex’s only complete set of photocopies, which took a lot of digital restoration on our part. It’s the longest story he ever did.

Westfield: In addition to his comics work, Toth did a lot of work in animation. Will you be covering that as well?

Mullaney: He’s equally as influential in animation. Alex did model sheets for just about every Hanna-Barbera series from the 60s and going into the 70s. He did hundreds and hundreds. I think the final count was several thousand model sheets. Every episode, whether it’s Jonny Quest or the Space Ghost or Super Friends, he was doing storyboards or model sheets. There may be 25, 30, 40 model sheets for each individual cartoon. To this day, animators in every studio seem to have a notebook, like a looseleaf binder, of Xeroxes of Alex Toth model sheets that they’re still referring to and still learning from.

All three volumes with the slipcase. The other volumes and slipcase will be listed at a later date.

All three volumes with the slipcase. The other volumes and slipcase will be listed at a later date.

Westfield: The information I’ve seen about this says that you’ve interviewed a bunch of people for the book. Who are some of the people you talked to about Alex?

Mullaney: We spoke with Irwin Hasen, with whom Alex was friends when he first went to DC. We spoke to Jack Katz who went to high school with Alex in the1940s. We spoke to Joe Kubert, John Romita, Mike Esposito, and other of his contemporaries. Obviously all the family members. And a lot of the young cartoonists he became friends with later in life.

Westfield: In addition to this, I know you have some other books coming out from the Library of American Comics. Is there anything you’d like to spotlight that’s on the way?

Mullaney: Polly and Her Pals is in stores. I’m really happy with that. It’s one of those great comic strips that deserved to be brought back into print. It’s the first time many of these strips have been collected. We’re working on a huge art book on Milton Caniff which will be out in June. We just spent a week at Ohio State researching all of Caniff’s files. It was really nice to be standing there holding, for example, Noel Sickles’ original artwork for the Steve Canyon logo. We spent about five days looking through the art. There’s so much incredible work that he saved. Preliminary work. He had a long career so we have access to a lot of material.


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  1. Beau Smith Says:

    The comic book and animation community is thrilled with the news of this Toth set as are retailers, libraries and universities. I cannot stress enough how important and enjoyable these books will be.

    Alex Toth was a legend.

    Beau Smith
    The Flying Fist Ranch

  2. Chuck Dixon Says:

    Way to go, Deano!

    This is the most anxiously awaited book(s) ever fro Toth devotees! Presented as only Dean could.

  3. Jimmy Palmiotti Says:

    wish I knew you were out there looking…got a nice amount of toth scribbles…will be picking this up for sure though…looks amazing.

  4. Todd fox Says:

    Really, really looking forward to this!

  5. Bosch Fawstin Says:

    Alex Toth – The Truth, The Whole Truth & Nothing But The Truth, cannot Wait.