Vince Colletta Remembered
Had Vince Colletta been the type of comics artist whose self esteem was dependent on his peers’ opinion of his work, it’s very likely that he would not have lasted out his career as a comics inker during the 60′s decade at Marvel.
Those familiar with the controversy over Coletta’s craftsmanship, know that perhaps no other comics creator has been the subject of personal and professional criticism of the type leveled at him. While he also elicits notable praise from the comics readership, many of the great artists whose work he embellished have been noted to say that he was the last choice they would make for an inker of their pencils, and such are not of the least flattering comments. Writer/historian Mark Evanier, of Colletta’s more vociferous critics, who led a charge to remove the inker from Jack Kirby assignments at DC in the early 70′s, explains his position here and here, in response to favorable commentaries on Colletta’s art by Eddie Campbell and Stuart Immonen.
Artist Eric Larsen also posted an opinion on the debate, opening his short essay with the statement: “Vince Colletta was one of the most prolific inkers in the history of comics.” Considering the duality inherent in any controversey, the following quotation currently adorning Vinnie’s Wikipedia biography, stands out in its praise of his inking over Jack Kirby pencils in their critically acclaimed run on Thor during the 1960′s. From Marvel Comics in the Silver Age, by writer and comics historian Pierre Comtoise:
. . . Colletta’s hair-thin, detailed inking style . . . seemed devoid of large areas of black, [which are] used to give figures weight and heft but an artistic concept yet to be fully explored by the time of the Middle Ages, an era whose crude woodcuts most reflected the art style needed by the Thor strip[. It] captured the elusive quality of otherworldly drama that the strip would increasingly demand as [Stan] Lee and [Jack] Kirby took it away from the everyday world of supervillains to a mythic plane where the forces of evil were on a far more gargantuan scale. Despite the serendipity of the two men’s styles, Colletta would later be criticized, with good reason, for compromising Kirby’s artistic vision by eliminating much of the detail that the artist put into his work. Be that as it may, what Colletta chose to keep, he rendered in such a way that showed off aspects of Kirby’s art that no inker before or since has ever been able to reproduce.
Our good friend Daniel Best has also posted extensively, and quite forthrightly, about the Colletta controversy over the years. Childhood comics reader “Dan McFan” dedicated an entire blog in praise of Colletta, named after his contentious view of Evanier and other detractors, where he cites a remark I once made at Imwan Forums about the personal nature of Vinnie’s reputation amongst his colleagues. Forum discussions such as this 98 page thread at Comicon.com, or these here, here, and here at The Comics Journal Message Boards, paint a largely accurate picture of the love/hate sentiment in comics fandom for the legacy and art of Vince Colletta.
Immersed into the world of comic books at youth, I remember having a reverence for the Thor comics, much for the same reason cited by Pierre Comtoise. All that changed, however, as I edged closer towards fandom and came into contact with other aspiring artists. The mere mention of Vince Colletta was often synonymous with “the worst inker ever in comics”. The phenomenon only intensified when I became a professional artist working at Continuity. Still, Vinnie was art director at DC where I’d pretty much settled in as a penciler – and he was inking a great deal of books at the time. One can thus imagine my apprehension upon learning that he’d ink the fill-in issue of Wonder Woman, #232, that I penciled in 1976.
It wasn’t the type of apprehension based on an independent artistic assessment of the pros and cons of such a collaboration – rather on how that work would be viewed by the professional and fan community which largely saw Vinnie’s work in a negative light. In retrospect, I have nothing but good sentiment towards that project today as it’s clear to me that Vinnie’s sensitive line and professional experience contributed towards making that early work look a little better. The same is true for a Flash story I penciled in World’s Finest Comics that Vinnie inked several years later. There was a similar tension in the air then about Jack Abel inking my Legion of Super-Heroes stories, but it never reached the intensity that it did with Vinnie – perhaps because Jack was working from Continuity and was considered one of the good guys, while Vinnie was mostly villified as a distant “hack”, worthy of the most dire slander as a destroyer of comics art, by the sometimes overly proud community of artists that we are.
As a pertinent digression into the expectations that a comics penciler has regarding their work, it seems that submitting pencil art to be inked and colored by others is by itself a relinquishing of any rights the artist holds over the finished work. Though we should hope for the best effort possible by everyone contributing to the final product, the nature of the beast necessitates that we understand how unenforceable such expectations truly are. In that some artists are able to command a better personal result for their work, it cannot be said that any such collaboration is able to entirely satisfy a penciler’s expectations. This is inherent in the nature of a collaboration and has little to do with the degree of proficiency or artistic merit of an embellisher.
More so, there exists a quality to pencil art which an ink line can never capture for print, and which further stretches the divide between the potential inherent in the pencils and the finished product in a printed book. Thus, every inker must take a certain measure of liberty in order to interpret pencil art. And regardless of the degree of liberty taken, the finished product will never live up to any penciler’s vision for the potential their art holds for them. When compounding an independent artistic vision of an inker, such as Vinnie had, and considering his propensity for keeping the trains running on time, it’s more understandable how he’s come to evoke such a polarized range of sentiment regarding his work.
This is not, however, about the artistic merit of Vince Colletta. Not about his 1950′s, mostly romance, comics which he penciled and inked exquisitely. Not about his subsequent inking for Marvel and DC beginning in the 1960′s, for which he gained the unflattering reputation. It is not even about whether it’s fair for a community of comics creators and fans to so injuriously malign one of our very own, whose contribution to the medium is indisputable. No, good readers, this is not about any of these. It is only about the unfathomably resilient spirit of Vince Colletta. An artist who was more than confident about his approach to inking some of the best pencil art of his time. Certain of his own self esteem and unique uncompromising artistic vision, balanced by the time commitments he made. Resilient in that he never allowed his colleagues’ resentment of him to sway from the path he charted. Good natured in that he never answered any of his detractors in kind, and maintained a warm and personable friendship with everyone whom he knew was maligning him behind his back.
It was a privilege and honor to have known and collaborated with you, Vinnie. Time to join Portraits of the Creators Sketchbook and perhaps finally offer a copyright free image for your Wikipedia biography. If this portrait doesn’t quite live up to the standard of others I’ve drawn, the only explanation I have is that it’s the best I could do in the short time I could allow myself to do it.
I simply had to hack it out.
Vince Colletta – Portraits of the Creators Sketchbook.
* Most images of Vinnie’s art borrowed with gratitude from “Dan McFan”