The Chadbourne Dossier: “Spotlighting Alex Toth” (First in a Series)

As we pointed out here in April ’23, Bill Chadbourne’s name is likely familiar to many of the regular visitors to this space. He and I have enjoyed a running e-mail correspondence, and during May he told me, “I have been wondering for a few years about what to do with my stuff … [and] looking over these books and others, it became clear that you could actually use some of these books in your business. So, I’m getting a box ready this next week.”

Actually, it turned out to be two boxes that contain a treasure trove of material. It would be a shame not to share healthy portions of those riches with you, so we’re launching a new occasional series, “The Chadbourne Dossier,” with a plan to feature a new installment every four-to-six weeks and offer you a look at some things you may have seen and forgotten, or some things you may have never seen before.

What better way to launch this project than to offer up a set of private correspondence between “Chad” and the Genius himself, Alex Toth?

As discussed in the LOAC book Genius, Illustrated (hereafter referred to as Illustrated), Alex and Chad began their relationship when the latter interviewed another genius, Noel Sickles, at the 1976 San Diego Comic-Con. Chad then contacted Toth and suggested – since he was on the west coast for the convention – that he might drive from San Diego to Los Angeles in order to pay a visit. During that initial conversation the two men recognized the broad expanse of common ground on which they stood, and because Bill was an art director for a handful of Defense Department publications and was buying art from illustrators to help “dress up” his pages, a business relationship as well as a friendship resulted.

We pick up their correspondence at the end of 1979, with this very interesting postcard from Alex to Chad. (You’ll note that personal information, including but not limited to street addresses, have been redacted throughout, for obvious privacy reasons.) [Click the images throughout for an isolated view of each.]

The story to which Toth refers in his first and third paragraphs is “The Reaper,” written by Archie Goodwin, appearing in issue # 114 of Warren Publishing’s black-and-white Creepy magazine. Interesting that the “progression of days” captions used throughout that story appear to be Toth’s unilateral addition to the scripting. 

That third paragraph in the note also hints at the idea of a creative Chadbourne/Toth collaboration, as Chad previously discussed on page 195 of Illustrated. The postcard ends with Alex being vexed (but one assumes only mildly so, given the quick offhand mention) at the Government losing some original art he had prepared for Chad’s publications.

Six days before Christmas of the same year, Alex produced this chatty “holiday wishes” card, which reveals that he and James D. “Jim” Lawrence – noted for authoring Tom Swift juveniles and James Bond and the Friday Foster comic strips – had tried to sell a collaboration to Playboy, then a top-paying market:

During the summer of 1980 Chad received a pair of postcards from Alex, the first describing the artist’s busy itinerary on the frenetic sixteen-day trip referenced on Illustrated page 289. The second note focused on private topics, so we’re sharing only the Toth doodle on the address side for your enjoyment:

In the spring of 1981 Chad received this brightly-colored, fetching postcard, sent by air mail:

On the reverse, Alex sent this report to Chad from the Barcelona International Comics Festival, where he was a guest (see pages 289-292 of Illustrated):

While that ends the Toth correspondence Chad had available to share with me, elsewhere in the materials he provided was this version of Alex’s “Signs of Alcoholism” feature, from the late ‘70s. It was available on Illustrated page 195, reproduced from original art; now you can see it, full-color and as-printed in an edition of the Chad-edited tabloid, Soldier, Sailor, Airman, Marine (or SSAM).

You’ll see more from SSAM in a future installment of “The Chadbourne Dossier,” so keep watching!

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