Tuesday, 15 April 2014

The Thin Black Line – Perspectives on Vince Colletta

The Thin Black Line – Perspectives on Vince Colletta

The tired Colletta clichés are – “you either love him or hate him”, “he polarizes opinion”. You hate him for ignoring Kirby’s pencils and leaving out stuff or you love him for his fine feathered work on Thor, you hate him for not caring enough about the art and employing “assistants”, or you love him for the letter he wrote to Marvel when Jim Shooter left.

I certainly started out in the anti-Colletta camp, a few years ago I even took a side swipe at Vinnie on a BBC blog I wrote –

I met a man called Hans today. Hans looks like Jack Kirby drew him. He has a large head, a brow overhang that juts way over his eyebrows leaving his eyes in permanent shade, a thickset square jaw, wide mouth and hands like industrial shovels. He must have been inked by Vince Coletta though as his left thumb is missing.”

Now, as well as learning to spell his name correctly, I’ve learned to appreciate him slightly more, but I’d actually say I still agree with all those opinions above to some extent, deleting-bad, Thor-good, assistants-bad, funny letter-good, so I approached the book with mixed feelings and an open mind.

It’s quite a slim volume, you’ll easily finish it in a couple of sittings, and there’s not really a massive amount of biographical detail, some interesting quotes from his family I hadn't seen before, lots of online stuff I had seen before. Art examples, and decent panel comparisons, most pages have an example panel or two, examples good and bad from across the span of his career, so giving a fair and rounded view, which I liked. Not a hatchet job that just laughed at his lazy deleting, or a love letter that ignored the negatives, it was balanced by examples of his work that showed he could be great when he had time, and gave some insights into why he often didn’t have time.

The book is split up more or less chronologically, covering stages in his career. The early chapters and the ones covering his time as art director for DC probably interested me most, nothing really new in the Kirby section, and this is a personal bias, but I would have loved to see a more detailed breakdown of what exactly happened between him and Kirby, it’s covered, but I wanted nitty gritty detail.

The titbits of information from actress and model ladyfriends are fascinating, as are the quotes from his family and insights into how his massive mortgage overshadowed his life. His family mafia connections one generation removed that he played up, and the affection with which just about everyone who worked with him has.

If you’re expecting a biography, this isn’t it, if you’re expecting a thick coffee-table book devoted to Colletta art, this isn’t it either, but neither of those things exist, so this is the best you’ll get for now, it’s a collection of anecdotes collected via phone, email, and from online forums, peppered liberally with art examples. That’s not a criticism of the research, nothing wrong with getting your source material from phones calls and emails, the title of the book isn’t misleading, it’s exactly what this is – people’s perspectives on Colletta. I’d just have liked to see more personal information on the man himself, more biographical details we don’t know, more photos from his life, more pages. In saying that though, even a hardened comic lover who has spent the last 40 years obsessing over Colletta’s inks will find something in here to enjoy, and it’s a great springboard to use as a way to open up a fresh debate with any Coletta hating/loving friends you have.

Most disappointing omission is Jim Shooter, he declined to comment on the book because he felt it would not give Colletta a fair shout, he was wrong, it does, and it left me with a renewed admiration for the man. The best bits, like the letter he wrote to Marvel and most of the Kirby panel comparisons, I'd already seen, so that probably lessened my enjoyment, still well worth reading though, I'd recommend it. An absolute must buy if you’re a Colletta fan, but also highly recommended if you’re not, maybe you’ll learn to appreciate Vinnie for what he was, the most prolific inker of all time, the man who discovered Frank Miller, a complicated man who met his deadlines even if it meant staying up all night in the poolhouse, working till he dropped, because of that he cut corners and despite that produced some work that was outstanding.

Should you buy it? You know what Kirby said –“Don’t ask.” It's available now from TwoMorrows publishing.

1 comment:

  1. Given the way creators were treated, and to a large extent still ate treated, by the comics industry, I can't help but feel some sympathy with Collette's seeming slapdash approach to the work sometimes. There also seems to be a self appointed group of people, lead by Gary Groth, who want to decide for everyone who the heroes and villains should be in the US comic business. By strange coincidence that includes both Collette and Shooter.

    Interesting article. I'll have to seek this book out.