The Unknown Vince Colletta

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.

17 thoughts on “The Unknown Vince Colletta

  1. Despite his failings, I actually didn’t mind Colletta’s work too much on Thor, his thin lines seemed to suit the character I guess, and if you didn’t know there was stuff there that had been removed or shadowed out. you were non the wiser. I always wonder what those early Thor books would have looked like had Ayers or Sinnott worked on them instead. There’s an interesting book called The Thin Black Line that is an interesting read, no doubt you have it, but others may like to have a read of it if they want to know more about Vince’s life and work. It was on Amazon the last time I looked.

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    1. As a child reader, 8 years old when I discovered US comics in the English shops (B&W reprints & original books) I preferred Thor to the FF. It may have been the storylines and characters more than anything, but I certainly also liked the look of the artwork. Impossible now to say why. Perhaps less slick than Sinnott, more gritty and ‘powerful’…?
      Later I saw the weakness of Colletta’s finishes, and when Royer took over on the DC books it was a breath of fresh air. (I had my reservations about Kirby by then, but that’s a whole nother story!)
      I will look for this Thin Black Line book; thanks Gary.

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  2. I often thought the gritty finish of Coletta’s visually connected him a little to Klaus Janson. These pages don’t discourage me from that.

    Ialso get a David Lloyd feel from his qork in that job from the 1950s. Something similar to the horror comics DC tried written by Del Close & John Ostrander. “Wasteland”?

    I also didn’t hate his inks on Thor. It gave the art a granite weight. A hard finish, worthy of a Viking god of thunder.

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  3. The guy did what he was told and got the job done each and every time. None of us can make that claim. The story you showed was penciled and inked by Colletta long before editors started the “We need these 20 pages inked by Monday” routine that became a weekly ask. No matter whether at DC or Marvel, Vince seemed to be the only inker who could bail out their late books. In any event, I will trade a few background omissions and simplified architecture for the beauty of his contributions. My own taste leans toward the illustrative style. Looking at his finished pages alongside those of Mike Royer, it’s obvious which of them was the artist and which was the tracer.
    PS: You can pre-order the new Vinnie book from Amazon. Compared to Thin Black Line, which was very enjoyable reading, this book promises to be a real deal biography with examples of Colletta’s best artwork. https://www.amazon.co.uk/Most-Beautiful-Women-Comics/dp/1913606813

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    1. Yes, I think sometimes there is some ‘bandwagon jumping’ with respect to Vince at times, and if he was given the unenviable task of getting a job done in no time flat to meet a deadline, he did it. Maybe we should be thanking him for getting it out on time rather than complaining to the quality, as the alternative would have been that book being delayed a month, and with Marvel being limited in output, no way to make it up.

      Thanks for the link, I’ll add it to my watch list,

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      1. Sadly, if Vinnie _wasn’t_ being requested to do a rush job, he’d take on more work until he had to rush to get the pages done. Kirby was well ahead of schedule on THOR, but if Vinnie did other jobs until that one was due, well, time to cut corners.

        I see that early work as evidence that he cared about what he did early on. But as time went on, producing lots of pages for the check became more important to him.

        It certainly made him useful to editors and publishers. But that’s not an argument for why readers should like it; they didn’t charge us less for those issues.

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  4. Odd coincidence. The date referred to in the early Coletta story happens to be my birthday, and that date is coming up in just about a year and a quarter! …Time for me to retire!”

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  5. The Uncanny looks great and the Thor original art / inked doesn’t look that bad, some lines have been changed but overall the page looks fine at the end. I would never expect a line by line inking of the page, you may as well have a robot do it if that is what you want.

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  6. The way it’s been explained to me is that Vince never turned down work simply because he knew that he could complete the assignments. Almost every artist and/or inker we read about has a history of either setting a quota, lagging behind or complaining about their jobs. Few inkers agreed to take on pages that were no more than rough layouts or those penciled by newbies. If Marvel or DC needed the job yesterday, concrete evidence shows us that there was literally only one guy to turn to and that was Vinnie Colletta. He was fast and he was accurate. Show me a poorly-inked page by him. Sure, some of them may have been simplified but were any of them less than professionally-inked? Along the way, Colletta managed to create iconic comic book art. Also, if you want to improve your family’s lot in life, you need to earn big bucks. Colletta was an astonishing success in that regard. How many artists live in a place like Saddle River? Look up the town in Wikipedia. You were in the business, Kurt, so you know how difficult the publishing game can be. Navigating those treacherous waters is no simple task yet Vinnie’s creator credits for pencils and inks far surpasses anyone else. You could liken it to Joe DiMaggio’s 56 game hitting streak. A record that will never be broken.

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  7. I often really enjoyed what Vince did on some pencillers, even if he wasn’t the most suitable inker possible. For instance, the few jobs I can think of over G Perez, which you reference, I liked quite well (Perez’ first few Avengers issues, I believe). Sometimes his inks looked terrible, too–so my biggest criticism (aside from the undeniable erasing of details) is inconsistency.

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  8. No-one so far has commented on Colletta’s extensive use here of Craftint board — the great favourite, of course, of Roy Crane for his daily strips in B&W. Also seen in those ‘3-D effect without the specs’ comics, and elsewhere.
    Interesting that the colourist has either been instructed to add minimal colour, or realised him or herself that colour dots and lines would probably produce Moire patterns over the black Craftint patterns.
    Overall a highly unusual and rather lovely art job.
    Anyone know if there were others like this?

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  9. My understanding that a lot of the full art jobs credited to Colletta were actually penciled by others — famously, Joe Sinnott when he was starting out. Dunno that there’s documented, as opposed to credited, pencil jobs by Colletta.
    And apropos that, if I’m not mistaken, one of the reasons he was fast is that he would not accept jobs that weren’t full pencils. Didn’t have the time (and/or maybe skillset) to embellish layouts.
    Gotta note though that I really like his inks on Thor and some other jobs. But as noted in the post, rush jobs, let’s say, didn’t result in his best work.
    And, oops, almost forgot: Colletta created the look for romance comics.

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      1. Count the number of Timely-Atlas romance titles in the 50s and 60s. Now count the number of covers that were penciled and inked by Vince Colletta. Right….most of them were by Colletta and for good reason. You are comparing Simon & Kirby romance art to Vinnie Colletta? S&K drew cartoonish figures! Colletta and Frazetta were the first comic book artists to portray characters realistically. Fine, illustrative art vs graphics. Taking nothing away from Jack’s ability to create great scenes, iconic characters, intriguing story lines, just saying that he couldn’t match Vince’s realism, especially with females.

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