Thursday 3 May 2007

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:
from drjon
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."

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Blogger Daniel Best said...

Well written and brilliantly put forward. It's a shame that the Wikipedia is so riddled with errors and leads people to a certain point of view - as I found with Ross Andru's original entry. Still as long as we're able to edit the entries and put things into perspective then all should equal out.

The thing with the 'interview' was more about the office politics of Marvel at the time of Shooters sacking than about Vinnie. I'll freely admit that I toed the party line and hated Vinnie until I found out about him. Since then I tell people that he wasn't that bad an artist when he wanted to be, and when he didn't have a deadline of two days for an 18 page book.

Thanks for the link and hellos from rainy Adelaide!

3 May 2007 at 01:45:00 GMT-5  
Blogger Christopher Moonlight said...

The ink line has never been my strong point (I use to kill my old Black Lipstick Curse stories by inking them) and I usually opt to paint instead. With printing the way it is today, that doesn't' seem to be much of a problem. Coloring/digital painting almost seems to be the new inking when you think about it. There's been a big backlash because of this, but I rather like it. 1602 was beautiful. Ah, but being new and innovative can often be our undoing, because people only want what they've always had. I think they're calling that a generation gap, now. I call it bullshit.

3 May 2007 at 01:56:00 GMT-5  
Blogger Christopher Moonlight said...

Oh, and Danny... Love the Kitty.

3 May 2007 at 01:57:00 GMT-5  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

i dunno. hatching can be tricky, & i don't think he really manages it in the scans you put up. to me, it doesn't look soft, it looks.... hairy.

which is always my problem, too. which is why i switched back to pencils.

3 May 2007 at 02:52:00 GMT-5  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well the Colletta pages in the Essential Fantastic Four volume three look terrible, particularly against the Sinnott issues that follow (#44 onwards). It looks like they've reproduced the Collettor issues from actual comics and the later ones from reasobaly good quality copies. Perhaps Sinnott kept the good copies at the time.

3 May 2007 at 04:34:00 GMT-5  
Blogger Eddie Campbell said...

For some reason i looked at your page and missed the fact that you're in Australia.
good piece you wrote. how 'd you get hold of such goods way over here, i wonders.

quick check above... no i didn't say the arm of hercules was 'soft'. hairy it is indeed. And I would be more than pleased to hatch so well, and I have spent many years trying.

I suspect that when they came to do that book they looked at the black stats they had to work with and decided they were substandard and that they would get a better result by shooting from old comic books, and I'll bet they did get a better result.

3 May 2007 at 05:09:00 GMT-5  
Blogger Nate said...

Sorry if I'm double posting but I'm not sure this showed up the first time. You can see some scans of the original art from the Kirby/Colletta Thor run over at It looks quite good.

3 May 2007 at 08:10:00 GMT-5  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Interesting take on Colletta. Can't say I entirely agree with most of it. My opinion of Colletta has evolved over the years, mostly from low to lower, partly due to seeing better reproductions of the 1960s material (original printings or even large scans of the original art). You're right there, no reprint has ever done that work justice. On the other hand, while there is more detail there, I find the detail to be empty noodling, detracting rather than enhancing from the power in Kirby's art.

The other stage in my change of opinion on Colletta is due to seeing examples of what Kirby's pencil art looked like, and examples of other Thor inkers of the 1960s. Colletta loses out there, as well. There's just no good excuse for some of the shortcuts he takes, cutting out whole characters, sometimes elements important to understanding the action. Taking nicely rendered buildings and turning them into rectangles with some quick hash lines.

(see many posts on the Kirby Weblog for more)

By the way, a lot of the romance stuff signed by Colletta alone apparently was him hiring other artists as ghosts to do the pencilling for him (I believe Dick Giordano has been identified as a common one).

3 May 2007 at 10:25:00 GMT-5  
Blogger Patrick McEvoy said...

As the only Colletta fan to make my unpopular opinion known on that "Beat" thread, I was happy to see this entry. I've never seen anything slapdash about Vinnie's Kirby work, quite the contrary it looks like he put a lot of thought into his interpretation of the pencils. Perhaps not with the same flair and skill of a Sinnott, but with an artistic eye all his own nonetheless.

My theory about the erased figures and simplifications (which I don't seem to be nearly as egregious as some) is that he spent so much time on hatching with the primary figures that he had to leave out some of the smaller stuff. And frankly, I don't mind on the Thor work at all, because the outcome was just so nice.

However, I do have a Kirby story to tell related to this! The one time I got to meet Jack at a convention (many years back of course) I was unaware of the whole "Colletta hate" thing, and so innocent of all context I asked him if he knew why Vinnie left the Fourth World books after following Jack from Thor over to his DC work. Jack said (without rancor), "well Vinnie... He's really great, but he leaves stuff out." I got the feeling that Kirby wasn't so happy with his work, but didn't want to trash him. So I must admit that even though I personally thought the Colletta work was a success overall, Kirby himself was unhappy, at least by the point in the early '70s when they parted ways.

Finally, it's interesting that you lost interest in Kirby half way through the New Gods... Of course that roughly coincides with Colletta leaving the series a few issues in - maybe the events are connected...?

3 May 2007 at 11:33:00 GMT-5  
Blogger James Robert Smith said...

I never cared for Colletta's work. But I never thought he was the worst inker around. There were many inkers who truly sucked syphilitic vulture ass, and Vinnie Colletta was not among them.

Colletta inked NEW GODS? I thought Royer did those. No? My memory fades with age. Of course all Kirby inkers pale when compared to the priceless Joe Sinnott.

3 May 2007 at 16:04:00 GMT-5  
Blogger Eddie Campbell said...

You simply reiterate the commonly held opinion after I went to some trouble to effect a more balanced view. That's a little unsportsmanlike wouldn't you say? In fairness I gave the links to where people can find the negative stuff. Trotting it all out here was unnecessary.

I think it would be simpler to say that Vinnie just stopped caring, which is a shame. It can happen to the best. And sometimes I think the world makes it inevitable. I could make a long list of artists that I suspect of it (and whose better work i'm still fond of)
As for 'the events are connected' I thought about that later in the day. You could be right.

3 May 2007 at 17:58:00 GMT-5  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I did some inking for Tekno Comics in the mid-90s, including an issue drawn by Bryan Talbot. The only time I've done any of that production-line stuff and it gave me more respect for the people who work like that all the time.

3 May 2007 at 22:24:00 GMT-5  
Blogger inkdestroyedmybrush said...

eddie - I have long held that there was no way that anyone can judge the art from back then off of reprints... it muddies up too quickly. Besides, they used metal plates back then, not plastic like the '70's even, and the metal would carry the line art, that thin quill line better than just about anything.

Unfortunately, reassessing colletta is hard, especially realizing how many people he might have had helping him at any one time. the thing that needs to be examined is this: so vinnie could turn around a job in a week, or a weekend. We all know that Jack could turn out 3 to 4 pages a day on average, so there really is no reason for Thor to have been late, ever. We all make the assumption that the deleted backgrounds and missed heads on characters were due to a "rush" job, but honestly, there was no reason for Thor to ever be a rush. And seeing what the issues of the FF look like from the late 30's; well, its a bit of a shame to tell you the truth.

I made some comments over at my blog as well.

4 May 2007 at 02:51:00 GMT-5  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Really interesting insights. Thank you for giving Colletta a better place in the comics history!
Best wishes,

4 May 2007 at 03:18:00 GMT-5  
Blogger Poison Ivy said...

Vinnie's inking style did not reprint well and I don't know if anyone ever bothered to tell him. He never seemed like the kind of guy who would care. And why should he? Until the middle 1970s, no one at Marvel got a dime when their stories were reprinted, and the rank and file certainly had no ownership rights. Contrast comic books artists' degrading situation with the money and prestige of the newspaper comic strips. Strip artists usually owned or shared the ownership of their strips. (Even if they didn't, like Dale Messick of Brenda Starr, they became famous.) And they had an incentive to produce line art that could be reprinted, since they had ownership of or a share in the rights to both the strips and to secondary products such as reprints and licensing. Snoopy greeting cards, anyone?
As to reprint quality, for decades, Marvel's comic book reprints were done from the cheapest available sources, usually photostats of black lines (black ink on glossy white paper) provided during the first printing, photostats of film for the later book projects, and sometimes the film itself, or the film from the reprint comics. Thus often a third generation image. During that period, only very occasionally would Marvel spring for new film shot directly from the art itself, even though throughout the 1970s, Marvel still had possession of thousands of pages of 1960s original art. So unless you have the first printing or something shot from the original art, you are going to have an inferior and incorrect idea of how good the art really was. Including Vinnie's.

4 May 2007 at 21:54:00 GMT-5  
Blogger dave said...

The fact of the matter is, the guy ERASED huge chunks of Kirby's pencils to make his job easier.

That's just wrong.

8 May 2007 at 08:48:00 GMT-5  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm not really that knowledgeable of his Vinnie's early stuff in the 50's and 60's so I can't comment on that. However, as a kid growing up in the seventies I always avoided Vinnie's work because it was horrible. His inking ruined the work of artists you knew were amazing because you've had the chance to see them inked by other artists or by themselves. If it was a character or storyline I was into I would pick it up but only begrudgingly so. I could always tell by the way he inked characters eyes. Those blank little circles. I've been to many conventions and seen the original artwork he inked from that era and you can still see the horror in all it's raw form. Yes, even erased chunks! I'm not buying your argument that reprints are to blame for reproducing stories he worked on. Particularly of that era. A turd is a turd.

8 May 2007 at 13:00:00 GMT-5  
Blogger James Robert Smith said...

I mentioned this to Mark Evanier and so I'll repeat it here:

At least when Colletta inked an artist, you could tell who he was inking. Unlike some inkers whose style so overpowered the pencil art that you had to look at the credits to see who was being inked.

Eddie: are you going to link to Evanier's article about Colletta that was written in response to yours?

8 May 2007 at 16:16:00 GMT-5  
Blogger Bob Rivard said...

Personally, I'd say Kirby's worst inker was Royer. As a kid, I thought Kirby-Coletta looked great. By this stage Kirby was getting FAR too over the top and needed some commercialization. Royer came in and amplified everything brutal and off-putting about Kirby, and circulation died. They lost me immediately. Later efforts by Coletta on Swan and other DC pencillers sucked, but most DC artists needed to be brought "up", whereas Colletta was best for toning "down".

8 May 2007 at 23:46:00 GMT-5  
Blogger Ger Apeldoorn said...


I have long held your opinion of Coletta... and in fact I am beyond that. After collecting a lot of Timely/Atlas books from the fifties, I first started admiring Coletta. He did some great stuff. If you haven't got it, you should check out his rarer early 'horror' material. It seems to me he always was an inker, in the way that Al williamson was... by which I mean that he was always obsessed with surfaces. From his earliest work on he experimented with lots of different ways to create effects. You can see any type of inking and any type of backgrounds in his work. But in the end it is all surface gloss. When he discovered Toth and started imitating him (most of his qualities are just borrowed from Toth - like the use of little vignettes in small text panels) by the midfifties his work started getting dull pretty quickly. Much of that is due to the mindnumbing sameness of the romance books, but if you have a look at the few stories Bill Everett did or at the Werner Roth stories (who was at his best in the late fifties, check him out) you see it could be done differently. I suspect he didn't do good compositions - he just found a few tricks that worked. So... in my view he is un underrated inker... who didn't do enough good work to be rated one of the greats.

All stories and anything on Timely/Atlas in the fifties can be fund at the excellent Atlas Tales site. If you want to know the title of the coverless book you have, you just type in the job number (it should be somewhere on the splash) and it will probably turn up. If by chance it is in one of the few books Greg hasn't entered yet, you can try and find it by using a proces of elimination using the date. Romance stories by Werner Roth can be found using the artists page. As I said, check them out.

9 May 2007 at 01:20:00 GMT-5  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I believe that if he hadn't inked Thor or Kirby's DC work, Coletta would be enjoying a better reputation. Unfortunately the Church of Kirby does require demons as well as saints and Stan Lee is still able to defend himself.

While Coletta was never a favorite of mine, I did recognize that he was often superior other inkers who were available depending upon the artist who they were inking and the mood of the book in question. Coletta on Fantastic Four was unfortunate, on Thor he was a revelation, especially after the change in the art size.

Several writers of the era, Thomas and Conway, often talk about how they removed Coletta from books and how the art 'improved.' They also go on to mention that sales fell. I remember dropping several books, The Invaders and Thor, after his forced exodus.

As for how good Coletta could be, I have several issues of Lois Lane where he was truly inspired. Perhaps he liked his working environment more, perhaps he just liked drawing pretty girls.

The truly sad thing about the debate regarding his merits as an inker is how Roy Thomas has carried it on to an attack on his character. It is true that Coletta was also a 'glamor photographer' Thomas now frequently choses, in his 'Alter Ego' magazine to insinuate that Coletta might have had mob connections. His proof?

Coletta had Cuban cigars.


9 May 2007 at 13:54:00 GMT-5  
Blogger James Robert Smith said...

"Coletta had Cuban cigars."

That cinches it.

9 May 2007 at 19:06:00 GMT-5  
Blogger Daniel Best said...

I've posted another arguement for the artistic merits of Vinnie Colletta...oh Lord! Feel free to peek and comment if you feel moved to do so.

How did you miss the fact that I'm in Adelaide Eddie? Well I expect that I'm the last person anyone ever thought would come into possession of such material...and how did I get it? Oddly enough it was given to me by a nameless person...God love 'em. If you're still within these shores (Brisbane still?) we should catch up and talk.

12 May 2007 at 23:16:00 GMT-5  
Blogger George Freeman said...

I don't think Thor as a book worked until Colletta came on board. As good an inker as Stone was on Kirby he was too nice for the Asgardian world. The only other inker who came close was George Roussos in some of the early "Tales of Asgard". I think artists like Colletta, Sinnott, Shores were thinking of the stories when they inked and not how to honour the penciller. I agree Colletta shouldn't have inked Jimmy Olsen but Orion for sure. Lee was smart in his use of different inkers to bring out different aspects of Kirby's pencils for different books. I wish DC had done the same.
I've posted some scans of Kirby/Colletta art at:

13 May 2007 at 10:57:00 GMT-5  
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12 July 2007 at 14:28:00 GMT-5  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm not sure if this will even be read by anyone but Vincent Colletta was my grandfather and it greatly disturbs me to see the uneccessary, unkind things people have to say about the most wonderful man I have ever had the pleasure of knowing. For the record this man was entirely dedicated to his work and was passionate about it until the very end. I should know I was there- watching him day after day in his basement at his drawing table putting forth everything he had to the point we didn't really have much time to spend together. As long as I was quiet and behaved he would let me sit next to him and I will never forget those memories. I ask to all those with their negative comments to try and exude some class and respect for a man that truly loved his family and worked so incredibly hard to create works of art for millions of people to enjoy. Lets not forget that no one, INCLUDING YOURSELVES, are perfect- we all try as best we can

27 March 2008 at 21:23:00 GMT-5  
Blogger Eddie Campbell said...

thanks for commenting.
It's appreciated.

27 March 2008 at 21:25:00 GMT-5  
Blogger Eddie Campbell said...

p.s Katherine, I've copied your post at 27 march where everyone can see it.

27 March 2008 at 22:01:00 GMT-5  
Blogger Unknown said...

In defense of Wikipedia - its open for anyone to edit and now that Eddie has contributed this thoughtful piece on Colletta I would hope his points will be taken into consideration in the article.

And excuse me for being pedantic but I have to take issue with Danny's characterisation of the page on Ross Andru, which (before he edited it) he claims was "riddled with errors and leads people to a certain point of view ". I looked through the edit history and it his claim seems demonstrably false.

The sum total of his contribution seemed to be to add info about Andru's attempt at setting up his own publishing company in the 1950s. A worthy addition but hardly the correction he seems to credit it as.

The article was and remains a thorough (though admittedly shallow) summary of Andru's work.

30 March 2008 at 15:33:00 GMT-5  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I understand how Katherine feels and am sympathetic to her concerns, but her grandfather was well known in the industry for pushing his weight around on artists and making choices that ruined the hard work of others. He earned this reputation in the industry, not us. As someone who was friends with various pencillers who had to suffer the fate of being "inked" by Colletta (which often meant that he would erase hours of pencilled work in panels because he didn't feel like inking it), I can tell you that I've seen his destruction first hand, and it brought many pencillers to intense anger, and resulted in requests to editors that Colletta not be allowed to ink their work.

I'm sure that he was a great guy to her, but another inker mentioned to me once, "Colletta's got a pool at his house for the work that he's hacked out, while I can barely make rent, because I want the work to look good. He couldn't care less about the quality."

30 March 2008 at 22:49:00 GMT-5  

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