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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.

200609221135Pg. 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.


  1. Legends, shmegends. I don’t give a rat’s about a Johnny Quest comic’s illustration from umpteen years ago.

  2. “Funny to watch two people complaining about something no one else is interested in”

    … and what the *%$& are you doing reading this blog if you’re not interested in comics? Just curious…

  3. Well, someone besides Rude and the late Toth cares about this, since they aren’t the ones passing the thing around the Internet.

  4. I read this article fascinated by the detail to which one legend, Mr. Toth, the Rude artwork and the gracious defense made by Rude(a legend just beginning), while willingly admitting to some bad choices. I can’t imagine what it would be like to be a younger artist continuing a story left off by Doug Wildey, himself a legend and then receiving such harsh criticism and rude phone behavior from a much admired older comic aristt legend. In reading Mr. Rude’s account I don’t get the idea that he truly understood where the vehemence of Mr. Toth scathing criticism came from. I have loved both men’s work ever since I first encoumtered them.
    But worse than Mr. Toth’s rudeness was the thoughtless and jaring replies left by yep and Jonathan. Both these post were ignorant, shallow and did nothing to illuminate the subject at hand.

  5. Well, that’s why we read Heidi McDonald’s Beat, not Jonathan’s Beat.
    You don’t have to be interested in every story that Heidi writes, and you obviously have little interest in the history of comics, which is fair enough. However, I suspect there are a few more people on the site who give a rats ass about the story, than your opinion of it.
    Might I suggest that the Wizard site might be a little more your speed…

  6. I thoughtit was interesting to see 2 comics professionals interact in a critique format.

    From reading the text Toth wrote, it seems as if he was trying to provide his experience and perspective in a no holds barred fashion. Steve Rude responeded by defending the choices he thought were correct and admitting the mistakes.

    We can all learn from this expereince that being gracious when criticism is offered is the high road. This applies to all of life and not just art.

  7. ” 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.) ”

    That last bit made me laugh out loud.

  8. Anyone at all familiar with the late Mr Toth will know how passionate he was about the art of comics and that he could have a fairly narrow view on how things should be done. This is very much in keeping with Mr Toth’s style and it’s great that Steve Rude could look at it objectively and take some lessons from it.

  9. It isn’t just the ‘history’ of comics this crit pertains too, it is the process and act of storytelling. I think all ‘artists’ should read and heed the words of Alex Toth. Maybe he was a bit hotheaded at the crit, but the basis of what he is saying is true. Staging, storytelling, getting the story across to the reader – is all of what us artists want to do. This are some great guidelines for learning. Not that any of use are every going to be perfect – but they are words to heed and learn from, especially the summation pages about art and being an artist – and thinking.

  10. You guys should meet Mr. Marko Djurdjevic. He will shoot you down so fast, and with just as much- if not more ferocity than Toth-your head will spin. If it was legal I swear he would start swingin’ for the fences.

    But it’s a wake-up call.

  11. Djurdjevic not as good as he thinks????
    What the hell, hes great in all apartments of storytelling be it just through concepts or through cover art of sequentials. Anyways…TOths critique are wonderful read….insightful ,.

  12. I think Toth had some good points in his criticism. I’m glad Rude responded with graciousness, defending what he felt was right and accepting the flaws.

    I have to say, Djurdjevic is spot on in his storytelling and anatomy. His lighting is something I enjoy as well.

    Neal Adams is known for similar harsh critiques.

    I’m going to say that while these sort of critiques would be hard for any artist to sit through they are vitally important in polishing our skill set. If we are to become better drafstmen we must see through another’s eyes our own shortcomings.

  13. Toth had to be deranged-how did an uptight guy like him live so long? Either a heart attack or someone shooting him are likely scenarios. I would like to know how Vince Colletta (a pretty tough guy) kept from beating the crap out of him after Toth complained about, what I thought, were very competent inks on the Hot Wheels comics?

  14. Yes, Toth was a hell of an artist, and many of his criticisms are perceptive and valid. But here’s the REAL bottom line: Steve Rude has dedicated his career to making the best comics (and illustrations) he could- he never truly compromised his talent or vision. Toth spent the best years of his life hacking out material he damn well knew was crap for the Hanna-Barbera meatgrinder (and the fact he would occasionally turn out a good comics job on the side just proves what a waste of talent it was).And I’m sure his fans will argue he did the best he could inside “the system”- but the “system” didn’t stop guys like Bruce Timm or Ralph Bakshi (an inferior cartoonist to Toth in every way, but what risks he took!)Toth’s rallying cry to his fellow artists to “keep growing” is quite stirring- it’s truly tragic he didn’t really listen to himself…