ITEM! Wouldja believe that the ol‘ Sock It To Stan emailbox has been brimming over with hundreds of delirious demands for more info on everyone’s favorite Silver-Haired Silver-Age inker Vince Colletta? Would you believe dozens? Okay, how ‘bout three? One? Anyway, in response to requests too numerous to enumerate...
This time ‘round your Uncle Stanley’s not going to talk about Vinnie’s Sicilian sensibilities, silk suits, or systematic style of simplifying shortcuts with a single sable stroke. The Smilin’ One is going to put his old art director shoes back on and talk about the artist by talking about the art. As Marc Anthony said, “I come to critique Vinnie, not to bury him.”
First and foremost, the Vin-Man was an accomplished artist par excellence in his own right. Sometimes that point gets glossed over. Vinnie penciled and inked about a zillion mystery and romance mags for Merry Marvel way back when we were only Almost-Above-Average Atlas. In fact, Vin’s best inks were on his own pencils, which may make sense but is not universally true of all comic book artists. His penciling and inking both featured delicate feathering and atmospheric cross-hatching that really set the mood in some of those mystery yarns. In the romance books, he lightened his touch into something closer to his later Marvel work... and his women! Vinnie could always draw a pretty face.
I think that the main source of any dissatisfaction with Vinnie’s inks on Kirby and later super-hero artists has to do with conflicting styles. In a time and an age when the sum total of my art direction to most folks was to “draw it like Kirby,” everyone was focused on giving me bold lines, lots of weighted blacks, complex machinery, and the ever lovable Kirby Krackle. None of this played particularly well to Vinnie’s strengths. In many ways, Vinnie’s style and artistic sensibilities were practically the opposite of Jolly Jack’s. Where Jack would lay down a bold squiggle to indicate not just a reflective surface but also for sinew and musculature, Vin would interpret that same shape as a feathered surface texture. And that right there is the magic, pilgrims! Because sometimes in art as well as in comics, diametrically opposing styles can become quite complimentary and actually enhance the effect of each separate sensibility into a synergistic whole. Like Lennon and McCartney, Fred and Ginger, the Skipper and Gillgan... not to mention (plotting-wise) Lee and Kirby! I think that’s exactly what happened in the very best of the Kirby-Colletta Thor run that made so many fans love that work. Sometimes the synaptic synergy was there and sometimes it wasn’t. For example, what worked wonderfully well on Thor didn’t work out as well on the Fantastic Four.
That all said, Vince the Prince’s inking style also suffered from being rendered in a way that made mechanical reproduction (especially in those days) difficult at best. The original art was beautiful, but the cameras and presses at the time (and some since) just couldn’t deal with all of the decidedly delicate lines. And even some of that was caused by Vinnie’s stubborn refusal to do it any other way besides Sinatra-Style —“His Way”. For examples of having your cross-hatched cake and reproducing it too, see Steven Bissette and John Totleben’s rollicking run on Brand Echh’s Saga of the Swamp Thing book. Or anything by Bodacious Berni Wrightson.
And here’s the very last thing that your Uncle Stanley has to say on the subject. While I’m presciently positive that this debate will rage on for billions of blogs to come, here’s one thing to consider when it comes to creative critiques — if you’re an artist, can you do the job any better? Irving Forbush put me onto this site where’s that’s the challenge! Think you can ink a Jolly Jack Thor page better than Vince Colletta? Then prove it. The riotous results speak for themselves... most of us can't. Your Uncle Stan certainly can’t! I’m doing good just to get up first thing in the morning and find my thesaurus.