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Over on his blog,
Eddie Campbell defends the much-maligned Vince Colletta, the late comic book
artist whose work is so vilified these days by connoisseurs. I guess I'm one of
the main vilifiers and I'd be lying if I said I'm ashamed of that. In fact, I don't
think I've ever gotten through a major comic convention without someone coming
up to me and bestowing thanks for my role in getting Jack Kirby to dump Colletta
as his inker around 1971. It could easily be my greatest contribution to
the world of comics...not that it has a whole lot of competition for that
Jack never thought Colletta did anything but poor work but he also
believed that everyone has to make a living. He also felt that inking
wasn't all that important. Even a bad inker — and Jack had many — usually
retained the essentials of the storytelling, which is what Jack felt comics were
all about. Being a Depression-era kid, he required a little
urging before he felt at ease about taking away a source of income from
(I'd also be lying if I took major credit for him finally making
the switch. What really pushed Jack to replace Colletta was the inker's personal
behavior. Vince was showing Jack's finished DC art around the Marvel offices,
despite being admonished not to do that. More significantly, when Jack and Vince
had an in-person meeting about their working relationship, Colletta offended
Kirby with his attitude, which Jack said was along the lines of, "Hey, for what
this company pays, I just knock it out as fast as I can and you should do the
I agree with Eddie that Colletta's reputation these days suffers from the
poor reproduction his work gets in reprint volumes. Everyone's work is
diminished somewhat but because of the fine lines Colletta so often employed,
his suffers more than most. No disagreement there.
However — ah, you smelled a "but" coming, didn't you? — I've seen the
original printings. I have almost every one of them from the sixties, at
least at Marvel. I've also seen more
Kirby original art, before and after Colletta got hold of it, than most people,
and I still think that the good art was good in spite of what Vinnie C. did to the
pages, not because of him. Everyone's entitled to like what they like and
if Eddie liked it, fine. He's certainly not alone in that viewpoint.
As I wrote in an article in The Jack Kirby Collector, Colletta had a lot
of fans, not just on his work over Kirby but on many of the comics he handled.
let's not pretend that those of us who don't like Colletta's inking are merely being
deceived by faulty reproduction.
Moreover, I think Campbell is skirting the main reason that among comic fans,
Colletta's name is about as revered these days as ol' Doc Wertham's. It's that
almost all the top illustrators whose work was inked by Colletta are on record
as saying they thought he was terrible.
Kirby got rid of him. Alex Toth and Neal
Adams both demanded that he never darken their pencils again. (Adams took
the one job of his Colletta inked and personally retouched about 80% of it
without compensation.) That was just in the early seventies, at a time
when artists rarely demanded such a thing...but what Vinnie did drove Jack, Alex
and Neal to break precedent. And Jack, Alex and Neal were arguably the three
best artists then working in comics. Steve Ditko and Gil Kane — who may
well qualify as the rest of the Top Five — made similar demands.
Since then, others have admitted that they would have barred Colletta from
embellishing their work if they could have. Just on convention panels I've
moderated, we heard that from Gene Colan, John Buscema, Bob Oksner and Marie
Severin. At one panel I hosted, someone asked what tool Colletta inked
with and instantly, John Romita (yet another great artist) piped up with "A
whisk broom," and added that one of the perks of his position as Marvel's Art
Director was that he could make certain his work was not inked by you-know-who.
Joe Orlando, who was an editor at DC during the same period, told me the same
thing. He'd been inked by Colletta before, back when he couldn't prevent it, and
wasn't about to let it happen again. Carmine Infantino, another great artist,
was then running DC. Infantino didn't pencil much during the period but what he
did draw didn't go to Colletta for inking, either.
So it isn't that the fans didn't like Colletta's work. It's that the guys
being inked by Colletta thought it was awful and some of the guys giving out the work
weren't all that fond of him, either. Colletta had more admirers among the
Campbell also displays some samples of alleged Colletta romance art from 1954
to defend the guy. I say "alleged" because a lot of what Colletta signed during
this period was ghost-pencilled by others — so much so that I'm not sure which
examples, if any, actually reflect Vinnie the Artist, as opposed to Vinnie the
Guy Who Had Plenty Of Assistants. But even if Campbell's selections are pure
Colletta, what does that prove? That the man could have done better work later
on but chose not to? That he was simply miscast in all his later work? There
might be something to that latter thought but it doesn't make the thousands of
pages he inked over other artists any better.
Yes, Colletta's speed and reliability did save a lot of deadlines
when books were running late. But most of what he did in comics was not done on
that basis and he delivered the same low level of craftsmanship when the work
wasn't in danger of missing a printer's deadline. Kirby was way ahead of
the deadlines on Thor for most of its run. It's doubtful Colletta
ever had to ink an issue of that comic overnight.
Yes, he was fast and he was cheap. A guy like that can be
invaluable...but no one is arguing that editors didn't have a reason to keep him
around. We're just arguing that what he did wasn't very good.
And yes, Colletta could be a charming guy. No one's arguing that,
either...but hey, I can be a charming guy and I'm not good enough to ink Jack
Kirby, either, as I proved on a couple of occasions. Actually, another reason
that Colletta is not well-liked within the industry is that he had a tendency to
ingratiate himself with the top guy at the company and then to use that clout to
put even less effort into his work. When Jim Shooter was ousted as
Editor-in-Chief at Marvel in 1987, Colletta found himself simultaneously on the
outs with the editorial staff and wrote an infamous
open letter denouncing them for what he saw as their disloyalty to Shooter.
To understand the letter, you kind of have to understand that in the year or
three prior, Colletta had routinely enraged Marvel's editors by handing in not
only poor work but work that was incomplete. He was "in tight" with the
boss so he would deliver pages with no backgrounds, or with some of the inking
unfinished, and tell the editor, "Have the staff guys finish it up."
When Shooter was let go, all the Marvel editors stopped giving
Colletta work. In his letter, he made out like it was punishment for his
allegiance to Shooter...but a number of freelancers who'd been friendly with Jim
kept right on working for the company. No one else suddenly lost all their
work. The reason Colletta was let go was that
all the editors had long since come to dislike him and/or his inking. With
Shooter gone, they were finally free to replace Vinnie...and all did so
immediately. That's what happened there.
Now, if someone wants to argue that this was editorial
misjudgment...well, okay. You duke it out. I'm not particularly
interested in that argument, nor will I debate someone who thought Colletta did
fine, fine work. Certainly, many felt that way and still do. My opinion is
just my opinion. I could even make the case that for most of his career, Colletta did work that was quite acceptable to many of his editors and that you
can't fault a guy too much when that's the name of the game. Hell, I could
even argue that for what the industry paid at the time, Colletta was earning his
money, delivering the level of service that the page rates warranted.
My quarrel here is merely with the excuses that the poor work was
due to him always having to do work in a hurry, or that Colletta is now
much-maligned because fans know his work only from the poor reprints. His bad rep
flows from Neal Adams calling him "the worst inker ever in comics" and other
such comments from his peers. And also from a lot of us who looked at the
work and simply felt Vinnie ruined an awful lot of great comic art.