Vincent Colletta, my favourite 1960s "Inker"
T he word "inker" is another of those that are spelled with quote marks here at campbell blogspot.
Heidi Macdonald wrote on 30 april:
"Vinnie Colletta is a legendary name in comic book circles — legendary because he could be one of the worst inkers in the biz, but kept getting work because he was fast and reliable and had some powerful friends..."
She then links to a piece from the previous day at the blog 20th Century Danny Boy:
"Vinnie Colletta. Much has been written about Vinnie in the years since his passing (1991), not all of it is true or accurate. Speak to a professional artist and more often than not they'll have an opinion on Vinnie. "He was a no talent, no good hack," they say, "a bum that ruined Jack Kirby's artwork by haphazard inking and shortcuts." In some regards they're right, he was a bit of a hack. He also indeed did take a lot of shortcuts in his work, in some cases he erased the pencils so he'd not have to ink them. Jack Kirby would draw detailed backgrounds only to see them simplified by Colletta. Yet there were other sides to Vinnie.
When I first spoke to Don Perlin he chastised me for chuckling at the mention of Vinnie's name and told me that, "Vinnie was a very nice guy and Vinnie could do great work."
It's a shame that even the wikipedia entry on Colletta is full of the bad stuff. Something I observed while working on The Fate of the Artist was the sad fact that an artist's posthumous encyclopedia entry will tend to be discolored by that bad thing he perpetrated. It usually takes the form of a sentence about the circumstances of his death, which in a five sentence paragraph is surely out of proportion to the whole. I have a short papragraph on the 18th century composer Anton Filtz which manages to mention that he had a predilection for eating spiders, a five paragraph summary of the life of Louis Guillemain that spends one whole paragraph on the sorry mess of his self mutilation, death and hasty burial (I've mentioned these blokes elsewhere, and I do so again because I'm trying to relate this to a bigger picture)
On! Two years back I picked up a coverless copy of a 1954 (that tiny corner of cover you can see in the first image actually contains the part of the indicia that shows the year. what luck!) Atlas romance comic book. It has two stories illustrated by Colletta; he drew mainly romance stories after entering the field the previous year. Look at the big splash panel. That ear looks incorrect, but it's the only one in the story that does so, so let's overlook that (in much the same way that you forgave a clumsy ear of mine a couple of weeks back). What strikes us about this picture is the use of the chinagraph pencil to soften and model forms, most successfully on the pretty girl's cheek. The only other place I've seen that effect in a vintage comic was in Kubert's Firehair in the late '60s (but I'm no completist). The second image is the last page from the same story. There's one place in an earlier page where the artist doesn't seem to have entirely figured out a photo he's using for reference, but on this last page we can see that he does have an organisational skill. He makes an attractive arrangement out of a relatively static scene, focussing on body language and expression, with a restrained use of spotted blacks and once again various ways of softening the hard medium of black line art.
Colletta never generates the intensity that Alex Toth could with the same kind of material, but I always enjoy picking up these old things when I find them, and they never cost very much.
Colletta was an anomaly in 1960s New York comic books. Romance was fast going out of fashion which is probably why he found himself converted from illustrator to a full time "Inker" in the mode of the times, which became rapidly more assembly-line driven (and for all we know, his sense of self-worth may have taken a blow here). As such he in time became a standby workhorse who could be depended upon to get a job finished in a very short time. But then again his finishing style was distant from the superhero house styles at both DC (Murphy/Giella) and Marvel (Sinnott/Giacoia). But he was fast and dependable. Ah Fate! An artist's strength becomes his undoing. As always, the biggest mistake one can make is in not seeing far enough ahead and reading all the signs, but let's not dwell on that and attend to the mid-'60s.
As it happened he landed in the job that was perfect for his abilities. THOR is my enduring favourite comic book of the period and I have kept or at least reconstituted a good long run of the title from the five years that Colletta inked over Jack Kirby. Here is an enlarged view of the thumb of Hercules. Look at the inking on this, the rugged hatching with which Colletta models the arm.
Far from the softening process that we saw above, Colletta augmented the inherent strength of the design by contrasts of texture, of flesh and hair, wood and fur and steel, looking forward to a different kind of heroic epic that would become popular later. I'm thinking of the Lord of the Rings. A return to that kind of old-worldly adventure was unglimpsed at this stage in our progress, when we still thought we were all going for a trip to the moon, and the ideal was all shiny and perfect and automated. THOR had started as a regular superhero comic and was adventurously trying to evolve into something much bigger. There was so much potential in the very look of the art. And Colletta was certainly not skimping on his coverage of Kirby's detail here in this magnificent battle scene from the May 1966 #128.
My personal theory about the decline of Colletta's reputation, apart from the annoyingly futile habit of afficionados to take sides in arguments between parties long deceased, is that none of the reprints of the work have ever been adequate (Though to be fair I haven't looked at the more recent versons, the Marvel Masterworks or Essentials or whatever). In the years when I attempted to 'reconstitute' my collection of the Lee-Kirby-Colletta THOR, I noticed how poor the later reprintings of the stories always were. Sinnott and Giacoia and all the others never suffered in the same way; perhaps they knew how to make their lines indestructable. All Colletta's charming qualities, the softening lines and subtle textures tended to go blank. The finest lines disappear, unless they're close to other fine lines in which case they congeal into one thick line. Second generation versions of those great favourite books of mine never satisfied my longing to re-obtain the experience of my first readings. A fair assessment of Colletta can only be made on those first printings. And stick to the best years (Hell, I can't even make myself read Kirby after halfway through the New Gods). With age and experience we can come to understand how an artist who's been around this business a long time would lose interest in trying to do subtle and attractive things, and it's perhaps easier to undestand how a young and enthusiastic editor would not want that artist hanging around to cast a gloomy shadow over the proceedings.
Here endeth the art lesson. Please don't maul the model on the way out.
(footnote to the above. Marvel are still not very good at reproducing line art, though digital scanning at least means they can keep it without the further deterioration that used to occur. I have my own experiences in this regard. As a rule I would say that if you see fine looking detail in a Marvel book these days the artist probably scanned it himself rather than leave it to chance in the production dept. It's a bit sad really when you think how much work and expense goes into the colouring that goes on top of the linework. Anyway, but that's another essay.)
(If you don't know already, all the above images can be clicked to enlarge)
in other news:
The Gull catchers go around the dance floor one more time.: Jack the Ripper ID'd by Historian
from Hayley Campbell:
Police call locksmith to break into jail-- Reuters--Wed May 2.
"Police in Germany had to call in a locksmith to break into jail when the lock on a cell broke, trapping a prisoner inside, authorities said Wednesday."