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By now most everyone who spends a lot of time readings blogs an message boards has seen this: reproductions of a letter from 1986 wherein legendary cartoonist Alex Toth critiques Steve Rude’s layouts for a JONNY QUEST story. The critique is not kind. “FAKE! …Too little thought or care…What the hell kind of camera or tripod is this?” The height of praise is “Okay…I guess.” (Actually coming from Toth that was high praise.)
The critique has engendered much talk here, here, and here. Most agree that Rude was due for a larnin’ and that he continues his eccentric ways to this day. Toth was certainly known as a man who didn’t mince words, but one can only wonder at the effect it had on Rude at the time: It’s well known that Toth was one of his artistic heroes, and such a devastating dress down from an idol would have been painful for anyone. At the same time, Toth would certainly not have spent so much time on someone who didn’t have talent to begin with. (We usually save our toughest critiques for the people we think have the most potential ourselves.)
Although Rude addressed the pages in an interview (helpfully scanned by John Jakala), we asked Rude what he thought of the current revival of the critique, and he graciously wrote this:
Interesting how this Toth letter has gained such momentum over the years. I recall the whole incident fairly well, probably because Alex’s reaction to it was so severe. Let me dig out a copy of this Jonny Quest book from 20 years ago and take a look.
On page 1 (I’m going from memory now on Alex’s responses), but I remember Alex being upset about not showing the main characters more upfront. Since my story was basically a continuation of what Doug had done in the first half of the book, Doug had already done the introduction shots of all the regulars, though Alex wasn’t aware of this context. ( I informed Alex of this, but he just got more mad.)
In any case, I went for an establishing shot, however small some of the mains were. The dialogue was set-up to focus on Dr. Quest and the filling-station agent, so I kept the good Doctor more front and center than Jonny or Race.
I did research on all the items on the first panel. There was nothing “faked”.
On page 2, I don’t remember if the use of silhouettes bothered Alex, but considering the career he made of using them, one would have to wonder. I wouldn’t put people in the dark if they hadn’t already been clearly established visually, unless one was going for a mystery effect.
On page 3, I remember him ranting about “tiny figures” alot. I wondered why. The characters were now in a new location, and that’s usually when a new establishing shot is the best option. I could’ve made them bigger in several panels and sacrificed the wide location shot, but is it worth someone getting that enraged over?
On page 4–Camera-expert Alex had a problem when he saw the “camera” on the first panel. When I called him to explain that it was not a camera at all, but a state-of-the-art surveying device, he just got mad again.
The actual camera used on panel 4, was given to me by a good friend who worked at a camera shop. In the last panel, Jade could’ve been shown more upfront instead of the cropping I used. I probably didn’t need to crop her twice! I remember trying to experiment with her seductive body language, independent of anything her face may’ve registered.
Pg. 5. Did anyone have a problem with this page? Aside from the coloring, which I thought all but ruined the entire story, it reads fine. It’s OK, I’ve long forgiven Matt for it.
Pg. 6 was authenticly researched, in as much time as I had to do it. I normally spend as much time on research as the actually pencilling. Bill Loebs, the writer, is a history expert. I assumed he would’ve mentioned any inconsistencies.
Pg.7. The 180 degree rule looks fairly intact here. Anyone get thrown into a different universe reading this page?
Pg. 8– Did Alex have any objections about this page? I don’t recall.
Pg. 9, is the one I remembering Alex getting so crazy over because of the “180 degree” rule. I eventually came to define this rule as applying far more to film than comics. In films, it’s critical to the directional continuity; in comics, because it’s seen in the context of a whole page of panels, it is not as critical. I threw the rule aside in one panel to show the pandemonium of the situation starting with the snake, and the highly agitated Frenchman who was beginning to lose his mind thru paranoia. Probably the better question to ask is, did it cause any readers to stop reading, and boldly incite a violation in screen direction? Just curious.
Pg. 10. Did Alex have a meltdown on this page? Don’t remember. Everything looks pretty well established with a long shot / med. shot / c.u. of Race / and a partial of Jade, and then the set-up for the radio smashing scene on the next page.
On page. 11, Alex pointed out that the weapon was a “spray weapon” and would not have needed to be positioned thus. He was right, which I was glad he pointed out. I probabaly felt conditioned to do it for the “moment before” suspense. My error.
Final page–12–I probably would’ve showed the Arab Doctors face more on panel 4, but that’s all I can think of here.
Oh, when I did receive Alex’s letter, I called him. It started out nicely enough, but when I attempted to explain the things I felt him in error about, he let out a few curse words and hung up.
That’s what I recall of this situation. If it helps people to learn from my mistakes, then all the better.