Jul 15, 2010

Colletta Comments

Here is the splash to Mighty Thor # 152 (May 1968). Below that is a xerox of the uninked pencils. As you can see, aside from some minor details in the architecture, Colletta does a nice job here of delineating Jack's artwork accurately. I think Vince did good work on pages like this where the images were larger and he had more room to work with a brush, plus since half of the image consists of the title blurb and the publication information at the bottom, this allowed Vince a little extra time to embellish all of the details more accurately.

Over on the Jack Kirby-l discussion forum, the topic of Colletta unsurprisingly led to a fun debate. Here are a couple comments from a few members, and some of my replies. I edited personal comments out of the posts, and also added some additional comments of my own.

Dan McFan (responding to my take from "Colletta Inks Part I"): This is hardly just your take. It's a collage of stuff we have seen and heard about a hundred times. Blogs should be innovative. Give me something fresh. Even if what you publish is nonsense (as my blog was at times) it should be, above all, different. That's my take on your take which was already taken.

My Comment: I'm reviewing and promoting the preview of the book with that post, not presenting new information. My weblog is designed for readers who are new to the topic of Jack Kirby, so they may be seeing this for the first time. I mentioned that I thought using the B/W stat was not the best method of comparison -- using the color panel presents a better comparison, and I used the medium of the color weblog to do that. I have literally a thousand examples of Colletta erasing figures and obscuring details in my files, but the goal of my kirbyweblog is not to criticize Vinnie (notice this is the first time I have done so, and I'm doing it based on a book by another writer), the goal of my weblog is to celebrate the best of Jack's art, so chances are I will spend very, very little time pointing out Colletta erasures and omissions.

Kris Brownlow: On your blog, you wrote: "Also notice instead of drawing lines on the suit of the pedestrian on the left, Colletta made the suit all black, plus Vince simplified the brickwork behind him." In that instance I think Colletta was correct to add the black. Spotting blacks is a tricky thing, in this case the original design by Kirby is somewhat flat around the striped jacketed man, when Colletta adds the black it makes the woman in the foreground "pop" more, giving a better illusion of depth. Less detail in the background wall also adds to the illusion of depth which may have been Colletta's goal in altering that as well.

Greg Theakston: Have to agree. Vinnie had two ways of doing things: fast, or efficient... I don't agree with the simplification of the buildings, but that might have been a deadline thing.

My Comment: I agree with Kris and Greg that making the pedestrian's jacket black worked in this situation -- it provides balance to the empty black area Vinnie replaced the pedestrian with. But, if Vince had inked the piece as it had been illustrated in the first place, this change would not have been necessary. The panel was originally drawn as a packed crowd scene, not Loki emerging from a dark alley. Also, color could have been used to separate the background characters from the foreground -- for example, the jacket could have been colored dark blue, and the woman in front could have been given red hair to make here seem closer to the viewer.

In my opinion, if you gave this uninked pencil page to any inker in the comics industry, I don't believe a single one of them would erase that pedestrian and replace him with blank, black space. I think Vince did this in order to save time. I understand wanting to do an 8 hour job in 6 hours -- who doesn't want to get home and spend time with family /friends -- but if Colletta consciously eliminated, erased, omitted, and obscured elements of Jack's art because Vinnie felt his personal artistic vision for Thor was superior to Jack's (Thor should live in a modern world of bland checkerboard buildings, black skies, and streets with only a few pedestrians), then that strikes me as disrespectful to Jack's original artwork. Whereas if Vinnie cranked out 8 hours worth of work in 6 hours so he could go home and do other things (or pick up additional work), I think we can all understand why someone would do that (although many understandably might not be a fan of the results of that method).

Mark Luebker: comics back in the mid-sixties weren't intended as art. The whole "creative" process was more like piecework on a factory assembly line, with each contributor scrambling to "make rate." In that environment, an inker's primary job was to go over the penciled art with India ink and make it reproducible, and to do it against whatever deadline he was given. A professional job was one that got back to the editor on time and would show up clearly when photographed by a stat camera.

While that may not have been consistent with fans' expectations, an inker who did fast, competent work clearly was providing what employers wanted and needed. Being true to an artist's pencils was good, since individual creators were clearly beginning to develop followings, but that wasn't the main concern or requirement.

So to me it's unfair to rail about a particular inker's skill or professionalism--whether they were nine-to-fivers, incredibly fast at the expense of erasing or simplifying had an overpowering line, or whatever--as long as that inker was providing what his employer wanted. And we can determine that based on whether (and how much) employers continued to give them work. So near as I can tell, Colletta was highly valued by his employers, more so than inkers (and some pencilers) that I prefer, which means he was a success.

Glen Story: I agree with what you're saying. Clearly Colletta was in demand, serving a valuable function for his employers, and important in terms of production. Timely production of product for kids was what it was all about. There were quality standards, but they weren't concerned with aesthetics... getting the books out on time was paramount.

As adults, we now sometimes look at the work differently, and realize that some of it reached a higher level than was necessary to meet production standards, and we perhaps capitalize the "A" in "Art". Is it Art with a capital A? Does it compare favorably with Vermeer and Velasquez? Does it have to, to be Art? Or is that all a little pretentious, considering that, at the end of the day, they're still just "funny books"? I don't know... there's material there for endless debate. But, at any rate, we do look at it more critically, with more of a sensitivity towards aesthetics, and there's clearly work that shines, and work that's just functional.

I like some of Colletta's work quite a bit. There's other work that I really dislike. I understand that some of the work I dislike is because he was rushed. I can even empathize with his situation: that he had to occupy that particular niche producing the volume of work at the speed he did, to make a comfortable living. It just doesn't change how I react to a particular page.

My Comment: In many respects, I think Colletta probably has been unnecessarily vilified by comics fans for his "crimes of omission." It does appear Vince did delineate the bulk of Jack's original compositions, and I honestly can't think of any examples where Vince radically altered Jack's artwork to the point where his story wasn't crystal clear.

I realize that at times Colletta was under crushing deadlines, he may not have been getting paid very well, and he may have genuinely felt he was improving Jack's art, but here is my theory on Colletta's approach towards inking. I think Vinnie had developed a "Colletta studio style." Not saying he used assistants on Thor, just saying that I think Vince had developed a personal approach towards inking that he used on virtually all of the pages I've seen, regardless of his deadline pressures.

I suspect that Vince would look at a pile of, say, 3 pages of Kirby Thor artwork, and his goal was very simple: to finish that artwork as quickly as possible. I think every part of his inking process was designed for speed: he'd go in first with a pen and ink the major elements on the page. If there were extra figures in the crowds -- they're gone; if Jack has complex architecture -- it's gone, replaced with checkerboard buildings; if Jack drew complex cosmic skyscapes -- Vinnie obscured much of this in black. Vinnie's methodology was speed. After his pen-drawn inks dried, Vinnie went in with a brush and beefed up some of the contour lines, and spotted blacks. This approach gave Vinnie's inks a consistant look whether he had a heavy workload or a light one. Whether Vinnie had to ink 3 pages in a day, or a whole book in a weekend, this style made the work distinctively "Colletta." Lee kept giving Colletta work, Jack never complained and Thor sold, so in that sense, Colletta was successful.

But that's just my theory based on looking at 100 or so scans of Kirby/Colletta originals years ago. In the final analysis, I have a pretty pragmatic view of Vinnie. I figure Thor is what it is, and I'm grateful for the great Kirby compositions (although, in my opinion, the only way to see that art is to buy the original publications, the reprints look awful -- so much of Colletta's linework is lost). I also think Vinnie did great work on large images like the splashes, but I suspect he cut corners on interiors to save time, and some folks aren't fans of that artistic philosophy. Hopefully the new book will give us the facts. Thanks to everyone for the feedback and comments.