Vince Colletta inks Jack Kirby on Thor.


Born: 1923 : : : Died: 1991
Job Description: Inker
Worked in: Comic books
Noted for: Shoddy work from one end of the industry to the other
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There is an old aphorism that applies to most businesses involving creative work, for example comic books. You can be good at your job, you can be easy to work with, or you can get the work in on time. To succeed, you need at least two of those three qualities. Inker Vince Colletta was easy to work with (at least for editors, which is what counts), and he was reliable about meeting …

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… deadlines, even very tight ones. What he was not, at least according to most comics fans and a large majority of pencil artists whose work he inked, was an aceptably good inker.

Colletta was born in 1923, and got into the comic book business in 1952. For the next few years, he mostly worked in romance comics, first for the publisher of Supermouse and Jetta of the 21st Century, and later for that of Lorna the Jungle Queen and The Yellow Claw — or as we know the company today, Marvel Comics.

But in the 1960s. the romance genre lost a lot of its early popularity. Colletta began to specialize in inking the work of other artists. He inked Jack Kirby on The Fantastic Four, Gene Colan on Daredevil, and many others. At first, his work received a good deal of critical acclaim, particularly what he did on The Mighty Thor and its back-pages series, "Tales of Asgard". His skillful use of fine lines, which was said to give the work an other-worldly appearance, was particularly cited as being appropriate to stories set in a fantasy realm. During this period, he also worked for Charlton, Dell and even DC, which continued publishing romance comics until well into the 1970s.

But then he began cutting corners, citing low page rates, which made it necessary for him to churn out as many pages as possible to make what he thought of as a decent living in the field. Giving no evidence of concern over the finished product, he'd sometimes scribble in superfluous lines to give an illusion of detail, render fully-realized drawings as silhouettes, or even erase pencilled backgrounds when he didn't want to take the time to ink them. Yet, he continued to get work from editors who were apparently less concerned with quality, then with getting artwork to the printer on time.

When Kirby moved to DC in 1970, creating The New Gods, Mister Miracle and more for them, Colletta went along as his inker — retaining his work at Marvel as he did. Kirby, not overly concerned with inking and reluctant to interfere with another man's ability to earn a living (in fact, he didn't want to take over any existing DC titles until he found Pete Constanza (Captain Tootsie) was already planning to retire from Superman's Pal Jimmy Olsen), made no objection. But his assistant, Mark Evanier (DNAgents), prevailed upon him to ask for Colletta to be reassigned, because he was damaging Kirby's art. Kirby complied, partly because he agreed Colletta was taking too many shortcuts.

Colletta's reassignments included inking Batman, Green Lantern and many other DC titles. He even became DC's art director in 1976.

Kirby wasn't the only comics artist to object to Colletta's inking. Steve Ditko (Doctor Strange) would sometimes drop by the Marvel offices to look over the recent comics lying around, and pointedly discard those with Colletta listed in the credits. Gil Kane (The Atom) once called Colletta his second-favorite inker for his own work, the first being anybody else. Writer Len Wein (Brother Voodoo) cited as one of the pleasures of working on the Luke Cage title, "Getting to work with the wonderful George Tuska (Buck Rogers), before Vinnie Colletta got his hands on the pencils and ruined them".

Yet, he had his supporters among comics professionals. John Buscema (The Silver Surfer) liked Colletta inking his work, and often asked for him by name. Many people who didn't directly work with him also defended his work, citing poor reproduction in the reprints most fans are familiar with, as the reason it looks so sloppy. Others, however, pointed out that even tho the reprinted work looks sloppier than it did before, it was quite sloppy enough the first time it was printed. Still others said erasing backgrounds sometimes improved the storytelling, which is the point of art in comics — but those same readers would also acknowledge that more often, it didn't.

Colletta died in 1991. But the controversy over his comic book work continues unabated, to this day.


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Text ©2008-10 Donald D. Markstein. Art © Marvel Comics.