Alex Toth and Me — The Basement

Tom Stewart
3 min readDec 14, 2021

My first (known) encounter with the work of Alex Toth was this story. It was only later I learned that Toth had been one of the major character designers at Hanna-Barbera from the 60s through the 70s, designing on Space Ghost, the Heculoids, the 3 Musketeers, Scooby Doo, The Super Friends, and hundreds of others. He is one of the few worthy of the title ‘genius’.

This is ‘Death Flies the Haunted Skies’, by Archie Goodwin and Alex Toth. Toth loved working with Goodwin, as did just about everyone. Archie was known not only as an extremely talented writer, but was celebrated by both talent and executives as a fantastic editor who could work with both artists and writers to produce the best work from both.

Toth liked to take a script and deconstruct it, trying to find the best way to tell the core story, to get the emotion, the impact of the story across to the reader. At times, he would toss verbiage as unneeded, as he could relay the emotions through the drawing, the words being surplus.

No writer wants to think their words are surplus.

But Archie Goodwin knew the score and was glad to work with the sometimes difficult Toth. He wrote the script to play to Toth’s strengths (Alex loved old planes and Batman) and let him take the script and tell the story.

I was in 3rd grade when Detective Comics #442 came out. I loved it. I carried this comic everywhere, even to school where it was almost taken away from me by a teacher who caught me re-reading it during class (I promise I had actually finished my assignment). I loved the story and I really loved Toth’s innovative storytelling, reminiscent of Welles’ ‘look ma, no hands!’ approach. And this not even the most innovative work of Toth. He was always trying something different, something new. He more than once tore up an entire job he felt didn’t meet his standards.

After a while, nothing met his standards and work, except for the occasional cover, the pinup, his contributions to the comic world withered. After the passing of his wife Guyla, a lot of the drive went out of Toth.

I wrote him, using a service the old Comic Buyer’s Guide newspaper provided, to forward letters to creators, about this story, and he wrote me back, on a postcard with his distinctive lettering and a drawing of a duck (which I found was standard). I sent him some articles I wrote over the years that mentioned him, and each time he wrote me back, praising my writing. I was thrilled and shocked. I was a nobody with a column (at the time) on AOL about comics called ‘The Basement’. Alex Toth liked my work.

I remember, sitting under a tree on the playground at lunchtime, at Mark Twain Elementary in 1974, reading that copy of Detective Comics and marveling at Toth’s art. And here I was, holding a postcard from the man himself praising and thanking me. Still can’t believe it, still feel compelled to pull out the postcards he sent me and re-check them.

Never met Toth. He didn’t do conventions, was too cantankerous to meet the public, too depressed to get out much, and managed to push many away. But I was an unquestioning fan. He had some time for me. I am forever grateful for that.

Originally published at on December 14, 2021.



Tom Stewart

Actor, writer, artist living in Seattle WA. I write plays, articles on comic book history or any other odd thing that crosses my mind. More to come!