Sunday, 28 April 2013

Vince Colletta - YOU decide!

Galactus by Jack Kirby and Vince Colletta
Quiver, mere mortals, as yet again Steve Does Comics smashes its foot into the face of Controversy.

Inspired by comments about my last post, even I can sense it's time to address that always vexed issue of Vince Colletta.

When I was a kid, I always had mixed feelings about Colletta's inking. His work seemed perfect for Jack Kirby's Thor, softening that artist's stiff angularity and giving it a suitably archaic look that meant each issue almost seemed to have been printed from some ancient parchment. Each page looked so dry you almost expected it to crumble in your hands as you turned it.

It also seemed to me that his soft style was perfect for the likes of Supergirl and the multitude of Romance comics he seemed to work on over the years. One thing that struck me about Colletta was that his handling of female eyes and lips made him ideal for breathless tales of young ladies' angst.

But there was a downside to all this. To my eyes, his work was far less suited to Kirby's more technological Fantastic Four. I also hated to see him inking John Buscema whose work, unlike Kirby's, needed no softening at all.

Little did I realise back then that, thanks to his urge to obliterate any chunks of artwork he saw as unnecessary, he was viewed as the Anti-Christ by certain pencillers. This tendency to excise details, figures and buildings may have been done because he liked, "improving," work he'd been handed or because he was the inker publishers went to whenever they wanted a job done fast.

I also have mixed feelings about that subject. Having seen examples online of his corrections to artists' work, I can see why they'd be annoyed at having things they'd put hard graft into drawing simply disappear without trace from the finished comic.

On the other hand, to some of us, the erasures, blackings-out and simplifications did often (but not always) improve the composition of the panels in question. There's an old saying in writing about the need to improve your work by, "Killing your darlings," and - perhaps appropriately for a man with supposed Mob connections - Vince Colletta certainly wasn't scared of killing other people's darlings.

But that's enough about me. The whole point of this post is to find out what you The Reader thinks. And, right at the bottom of this missive is where you can do it.

15 comments:

cerebus660 said...

Although much of Colletta's simplifying and erasing can be seen as inexcusable the fact is he was a hard-working artist who was often brought in at the last minute as a "Mr. Fixit". He was the first port of call for Stan Lee in particular when pencilled artwork was late and deadlines were looming. It must have been difficult for artists to see their work tampered with in this way, but they were all "work for hire" and were probably under no illusions that commerce came before art.

As for the quality of Colletta's inking, I think he is often underrated because of this controversy. He rescued many a hack job and often added a certain glamour to lesser artists' work, especially when it came to the female form, as you mentioned above. His inking over Kirby's Thor and Tales Of Asgard is definitely one of the highlights of his career and he also helped "soften" Kirby's later, more abstract work on the Fourth World books at DC. I know I'll be in a minority for defending ( with reservations ) Mr. Colletta, but I think in this case the positives outweigh the negatives...

Comicsfan said...

I'd love to take a look at those online examples of Colletta's corrections, if you have the link(s) handy. I really wasn't aware of that aspect of his work, and my curiosity is piqued.

Steve W. said...

Comicsfan, you can find a preview sample of Twomorrows', "The Thin Black Line," a book about Colletta's work, here: http://issuu.com/twomorrows/docs/collettapreview?mode=embed&layout=http%3A%2F%2Fskin.issuu.com%2Fv%2Flight%2Flayout.xml&showFlipBtn=true

It's full of examples of Colletta drastically modifying Jack Kirby's pencils in order to speed things up.

Steve W. said...

And here's a simplified version of that link: http://tinyurl.com/bv3tvlh

Kid said...

"Less is more". Colletta certainly gave more to Kirby's artwork than he ever took away. To my mind, it was a fair swap. I even liked the four (I think) '60s FF tales he inked because Sue Storm looked great.

Steve W. said...

I think, looking at samples of his changes, his biggest crime, from the readers' point of view, was his simplification of background buildings, which does seem genuinely gratuitous and detracts from the work.

Meanwhile, in the interests of balance, here's an example of his work on romance comics, which shows him working to what seem to be his true strengths: http://tinyurl.com/cmvlyow

Ade Salmon said...

I'd suggest that Kirby had already applied the old adage *less is more* before Vinnie got anywhere near his pencils. Kirby's whole style was about distillation of the storytelling essentials. That said I was brought up on reading their collaborations in the Marvel UK mags - specifically Thor which as mentioned had an aged , mythic quality that was partly down to Vinnies inks - those gnarly trees etc. I guess if others didn't erase the King's work then Colletta shouldn't of either...

ade

Michael Perridge said...

It was a job. You get paid, you go home. If you want to be an 'artist' you need to do something else.

Comicsfan said...

Steve, thanks for that link. It's fascinating reading. Most of the points raised are valid ones, on both sides of the issue; but if I were to bottom-line it, I'd probably conclude that whatever quality Colletta as an embellisher added to Kirby's layouts is no justification for tampering with them to the extent that he did, nor should that all be laid at the doorstep of time constraints. His job was really to embellish the work that was already done, not to make unilateral decisions as to what character(s) or object(s) to leave in place or otherwise alter. If his professional relationship with Kirby was more collaborative in nature, and all of this was on the table and understood between them, that would put this issue in a different light--but from reading the brief comments of Colletta's peers at Marvel, that's not the impression I have. That's not to say I couldn't be wrong.

It's a little surprising that Colletta didn't gravitate toward doing pencilling, rather than inking, given his apparent desire to be more involved in directing the elements of a story. I suppose he could only understand this issue if he were the penciller whose work was being thus altered.

Kid said...

Why do people say "shouldn't of", when the correct English is "shouldn't have"? Is it because it's usually shortened to "shouldn't've", which sounds like "shouldn't of"? Will we ever know? Do we even care?

Kirby had a tendency to draw what was then modern New York like it was still the '30s. I think that Colletta, as well as saving time, was 'modernising' Jack's dated cityscapes. He may well have been following Stan's instructions to uodate things. Stan certainly never complained about it and he must've (not 'must of') noticed. He did once leave a margin note for a fix, saying that Vince had ruined a panel, but it was nothing to do with the buildings.

BrittReid said...

You can see the original art from a never-published romance story by Kirby and Colletta here... http://truelovecomicstales.blogspot.com/2012/02/soul-love-fears-of-go-go-girl.html
And romance tales by Colletta over various other artists here...
http://truelovecomicstales.blogspot.com/search/label/Vince%20Colletta
For romance tales, Colletta's inking was ideal, but on hard sci-fi, where detail was critical (like his brief run on FF), he was a disaster.

Ade Salmon said...

I knew I shouldn't of , shouldn't have got involved in this discussion!

Hoosier X said...

Colletta, quite frankly, worked on some comics that don't look so good.

But he also did stuff like this.

I usually post as Hoosier X, but my real name is Tony Seybert. I mention this because I'm quoted in Colletta's wikipedia entry. And it's positive!

dave said...

When people defend Colletta's erasing of backgrounds and "simplifying" things, they often mention that he was brought in at the last minute to "save" a "late" project. This was absolutely NEVER the case with Kirby. And Colletta had as steady an assignment imaginable on THOR - he was the inker from 1965 on (if not earlier). It actually appears that Kirby was the one suffering from his inker's schedule - Colletta was trying to cram as much in as possible to make as much as possible and treating the steady, long-standing gig he had on THOR as a second thought - the exact opposite of what a real "professional" should do. He could count on the money from the THOR gig every month. Later, when Kirby left Marvel, Colletta got FOUR regular paying assignments, and he still treated the art like crap. His destruction of Kirby's artwork was the lowest form of hack work - I say that because it was done strictly for money by someone who could ink at least competently when he wanted to. He didn't want to with Kirby for God knows what reason. I don't have a problem with artists (esp. in those days) trying to make a decent living and overextending themselves - Kirby did exactly that when he went to DC. He, however, made a legitimate effort to turn out decent work, and that work is still selling today. Colletta made no such effort, and that's why he's scorned.

Gene S said...

Colletta did beautiful inking over Kirby's pencils from the late 1950s well into the 1980s.Obviously, Jack thought so too.

I agree that Colletta is scorned in some circles but the amount of respect he's gained over the last few years is nothing short of amazing. I guess that people started looking at his artwork more closely. Either that or they are becoming less afraid to speak up. You risked being stoned to death a few years ago if you made anything resembling a positive remark about Vince Colletta.

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