An awful lot has been written about longtime inker Vince Colletta, most of it not good. These days, the man’s primary claim to fame is having inked several years’ worth of Jack Kirby’s pencils on THOR. In doing so, Colletta would routinely simplify backgrounds and eliminate details or even whole figures in order to make the job get done faster. He’s considered something of a defacer, a hack who simply cut corners and ruined the work of the King and others. And there’s some truth to that–even before I became aware of what he’d done on those THOR assignments, I wasn’t fan of Colletta’s work. I’d seen him blunt the work of too many other pencilers as I was growing up: Curt Swan, George Perez, you name it.
Colletta had a work ethic that said that he needed to complete a certain amount of work every day in order to finance his lifestyle, and that’s what he did, regardless of what he needed to do in order to accomplish that goal. He was a favorite of editors, especially when a story was in trouble schedule-wise. Vinnie could always be depended upon to get the job done lickity-split, and nobody was all that concerned with how much may have been lost in translation so long as the presses could roll. He was also an inker that could be put over a young and inexperienced penciler and he would improve the final result. This led to Colletta being known in some circles as the “great equalizer”–meaning that he brought every artist he worked in, better or worse, to the exact same level. And that level was publishable.
But it’s too easy to dismiss Colletta as nothing but a hack, and as a bit of evidence, here’s an example of his full artistic prowess. This story was published in 1954, and was both penciled and inked by Colletta. The story itself is nothing more than a knock-off of an EC story adapting one of Ray Bradbury’s prose shorts, it’s nothing special. But the artwork that Colletta produces here is really quite nice.
I’m not looking to apologize for Colletta–as I said earlier, he is far from my favorite inker. But I think it’s also one-sided to simply vilify him. Like everybody, he was a complex individual, and he wouldn’t have gotten into the comic book field or stayed in it so long if he didn’t have some love for what he was doing.
(There are other stories about Vinnie as well–about how he sidelined as a photographer for smutty girlie magazines and he’d shop dates around to the editors he was plying for work, about how he may have been connected to the mob, about the scorching and excoriating letter that he sent to all of the Marvel editors after Jim Shooter, one of his great benefactors, was fired from Marvel. But all of those are separate from the work itself, so that’s all I really want to say about them in this context.)
And just for fun, here’s a compare-and-contrast of the pencils to a page of THOR #152 by Jack Kirby and the final inked page by Vince Colletta. You can see where details and figures have been eliminated.