Sunday, April 29, 2007

Vinnie Colletta's Exit 'Conversation'

Vinnie Colletta. Much has been written about Vinnie in the years since his passing (1991), not all of it is true or accurate. Speak to a professional artist and more often than not they'll have an opinion on Vinnie. "He was a no talent, no good hack," they say, "a bum that ruined Jack Kirby's artwork by haphazard inking and shortcuts." In some regards they're right, he was a bit of a hack. He also indeed did take a lot of shortcuts in his work, in some cases he erased the pencils so he'd not have to ink them. Jack Kirby would draw detailed backgrounds only to see them simplified by Colletta. Yet there were other sides to Vinnie.

When I first spoke to Don Perlin he chastised me for chuckling at the mention of Vinnie's name and told me that, "Vinnie was a very nice guy and Vinnie could do great work." He then explained to me why Vinnie would take shortcuts so here's how I now understand it: Vinnie was the go-to man anywhere he worked. A job would arrive late, an inker would pull out at the last second and an editor would face the prospect of missing a deadline. Back in the day if a book missed a deadline then an entire month or more would pass before it'd appear. As companies were racing against time to get product out into a fiercely competitive marketplace missing a deadline wasn't an option. So the editor would call Vinnie and Vinnie would get the job done. He'd get it done over a weekend if need be. It'd look like crap but it would be there, on time, ready to be printed.

That's why Vinnie got so much work. Because he never missed a deadline and could produce fast work under the pump. Often when Vinnie had time (which was rare) he could produce some fine inking. Dave Simons also shared his memories of Vinnie with me a while back. "The funny thing about Vinnie is that I had the same opinion of him as what most people did," says Dave. "But Vinnie was a great guy. Personally I liked him a lot. He was one of these guys, he had the silver hair, he was always a sharp dresser and it was easy to see how people would think he was connected. To this day I don’t know if he really was or not, but he’d always have these stories to tell about some fashion model that he’d met. He loved to sit back and tell stories. He inked me on the Red Sonja and he came in with the pages and I happened to be up there and he was so proud of it, he thought it was one of the best jobs he’d done in years. I was sitting there thinking 'Oh God', and saying 'Oh, yeah, it’s great Vinnie'".

In 1978 Marvel decided to appoint Jim Shooter as Editor In Chief and in the following years he helped revitalise the company. Mention Shooters name and you'll also get very mixed results. Some people will tell you what an utter bastard he was, others will praise him. Much like Vinnie there's not a lot of middle ground. However during his time as Marvel EIC creators such as Frank Miller, Chris Claremont, John Byrne, Walt Simonson and many others emerged and were encouraged. However there was a downside to this - a lot of creators would leave Marvel for DC during Shooter's reign. Roy Thomas, Marv Wolfman, Len Wein, Steve Gerber - it's a huge list. Shooter also managed to personally alienated several people, such as George Perez, Jim Mooney and Gene Colan. In the mid 1980s Shooter was caught in the middle of a no win battle between Marvel and Jack Kirby regarding the return of Kirby's original artwork. The result was that Marvel lost as much top-line talent as it had originally nurtured, and those losses counted towards the end of Shooter's tenure. However by the time the mid '80s rolled around there was more than one person at Marvel plotting his demise by attempting to undermine his efforts.

It worked, in 1987 Shooter was sacked as EIC from Marvel. He then went on to take control of Valiant Comics and helped make that company a force before again being removed from that position under a cloud of controversy. From there it's been one failed company after another. Despite his best efforts and despite being linked with genuine talent Shooter remains a pariah, an outsider who's name is forever linked with failure. It's not a good legacy to carry and in hindsight it's hardly a fair one. Shooter had his faults, but he also had his talents. As a writer he wasn't that bad and his '70s Avengers run is still looked upon with fondness by those who read and enjoyed it. Be honest now: how many people love what Shooter's replacement Tom DeFalco did with the Fantastic Four during his tenure as Marvel EIC?

This brings us back to Vinnie Colletta. One thing that Vinnie also had that not many others in this industry had (or indeed still have) is loyalty. Shooter and Colletta had forged a friendship and that saw Vinnie given as much work as he wanted throughout Shooters time at Marvel. However once Shooter was gone Vinnie was left out in the cold. To your right is a scan of a letter that Vinnie sent to Marvel after Shooter was sacked (click on it for a larger, clearer view). In it, and I'll post the text at the end of this post*, Vinnie let's lose with the full force of his venom. By the time this letter was written, in late 1987, Vinnie had already decided that his career path and Marvel might be at odds with each other. His workload had been reduced and by 1989 the flow had stopped.

So what did happen? For a fair while now it's been accepted that Vinnie and Marvel parted ways over the above letter but there was clearly more going on behind the scenes, which brings us to the meat of this post - the conversation below.

Late last year I was approached by a person who will remain nameless by their own request. They told me that they had in their possession an unpublished, and indeed unheard since it was recorded, conversation with Vinnie Colletta done days after Shooter's sacking in 1987 in which Vinnie gives his version of the events. I was then asked if I would be interested in transcribing the tape with the view of putting it out there. I immediately lept at the opportunity and was given the following conditions: 1] the person handing me the tape would remain anonymous, and 2] the identity of the person on the tape who isn't Vinnie would also remain anonymous. I agreed (after all just how many interviews with Vinnie actually exist?) and the tape was sent (so don't ask who sent the tape or who's talking, make all the guesses you want, I'll neither confirm no deny any of them). There's been a few edits to the final transcript to remove anything that might identify the other person speaking but other than that this is pure Vinnie - his words haven't been altered. Personally I found it to be totally fascinating and it helps explain the events that led up to Vinnie sending his now (in)famous letter.

So, ten years after the event here it all is. Read, enjoy and, of course, feel free to make all the comments you want.

DISCLAIMER: (due to repeated comments/requests) Now I want to make it clear that it's obvious that this isn't an interview as such. It is a conversation that Vinnie himself originated to air his views and must be taken in that light. The views expressed in the conversation and in the letter are Vinnies, not mine, and I present them as historical artifacts of events that clearly still capture people's interest well after the fact. If anyone from that time wishes to come forward and present their own point of view about all of this, or wishes to have right of reply, then I'll have no problems presenting those views. Indeed you'll get the same amount of space and I'll not edit those views in any way, shape or form. Feel free to email me and we'll work something out.

-------------------------------------------------
INTERVIEWER: Hello?
VINNIE COLLETTA: This is Vincent.
INT: Vincent. How are you doing?
VC: How are you doing?
INT: You know.
VC: Yeah, I know. I spoke to him the other night.
INT: Shooter’s back from L.A.?
VC: Yeah, but he hasn’t called me since. So what’s happening over there?
INT: I have no idea.
VC: Well…
INT: DeFalco is not Acting Editor In Chief; he is Editor-in-Chief.
VC: Yeah, that’s okay.
INT: Is it?
VC: Well, you see, with this bullshit of acting, okay, see you gotta understand one thing; they were stuck with this guy. The talks that I’ve had with Mike Hobson, I’ve had three talks, one lunch and another talk and then four hours in the bar. I knew that Tom was going to take over a long time ago. See the first time I spoke to him because I was trying to get Shooter and him in good graces you know. But it didn’t work because Jim wouldn’t go along with it, you understand? You understand?
INT: Not really.
VC: You see the thing is I sat with Mike…I never talked to you about this so I think I should. I sat with Mike & I said “Ahhh Mike,” well when I ran into him in the hall first of all I said to him “Mike, is there any way I can help?” he says ‘Yes”. He said “let’s go get a drink”. Okay?
INT: Yes.
VC: So we went out, we were there from 5.30 till 9.30-10 o’clock, talking.
INT: So he didn’t really want to get rid of Shooter?
VC: No. You see when you negotiate like this, you have to give up something, and you get back something.
INT: What did he want Shooter to give up?
VC: No, no, I gave up something. I said “Mike, look before we start, okay, I’m not here to praise Shooter, I’m here to see,” I said, “what he did was not acceptable.” I had to give him something, you know? I said, “Those memos – that is not acceptable, but you gotta understand he’s the type of a guy, that to get better books, he will do it to his mother. He is so interested in his books that if somebody in the advertising department doesn’t do it right he’s gonna yell at them, even though it’s not his turf.”
INT: Right.
VC: Okay? “Now, he does not understand,” remember, what I was trying to tell him was that there was no malice behind it, you understand?
INT: Yes.
VC: Okay. I said, “He does not understand corporate, how it operates, how everybody is in charge of their little turf and fuck the other guy.”
INT: Shooter understands that.
VC: No, No, no, I gotta make Hobson think that. I don’t want Hobson…
INT: Did Hobson buy that?
VC: Yes he did, he did, 100 %.
INT: Alright.
VC: So, I said “You gotta understand this, even though he said this to you, if you call him up 3 o’clock in the morning, that you were stuck somewhere, he’d come and get you and help you.” He says, “I know”. “So this is what we’re trying to figure out, like how to get everything nice again because, he did nothing because he dislikes you. He did nothing because he dislikes (Jim) Galton.”
INT: Shooter thinks Mike hates him.
VC: Well, after what he did to Mike, c’mon.
INT: Shooter was trying to get Mike fired or at least removed from Marvel comics. The goal wasn’t necessarily to get Mike fired but he did not want Mike in charge of the comics anymore.
VC: Well, whatever it was, but he told the people of California that Mike was a drunk.
INT: Mike Hobson is not a drunk!
VC: Will you stop this? I’m telling you what he said.
INT: Shooter wouldn’t say that.
VC: “He’s never there when he needs him,” “ He’s out on 3 hour lunches.” He cut Mike a pass.
INT: Not very sporting.
VC: Anyway, the point is…
INT: That’s not the point. That’s bullshit.
VC: What’s bullshit?
INT: Whether Hobson drinks at lunch, how long his lunches are. That’s not going to get anyone fired. Not a Vice President of publishing. It isn’t important if you drink or how long you take your lunch so long as you get your job done. That’s what counts.
VC: You don’t understand, you don’t understand. He made Mike and Galton look bad to the people in California.
INT: Alright.
VC: That’s what I’m getting at.
INT: I see.
VC: Alright. And by doing these things, he’s a part of it, okay? So I said, “Mike, you gotta forget this bullshit,” I said, “You’ll never replace Jim.” He said, “I know.” I says, “Forget the bullshit,” I said, “This is the best man, and I’ve been around longer than you, Mike, in this business. I’ve know them all, from Stan Lee to… Stan Lee is a big piece of shit.” I said. I said, “Now, this man is like a fucking messiah. Now, he’s got weird ways sometimes, but he’s the best man for the job. He’s a fucking computer.” He says, “Tell me about it,” He says, “That man knows everything.” I say, “Right. So we gotta fix this thing up. So tell me what you want me to do. Tell me what you want Jim to do.”
INT: What did Hobson say?
VC: He said, “I want you to see if Jim will sit down with me, promise me that he’ll change his ways. Okay? Try to get along better with the editors.” In other words, turn the other cheek, you understand?
INT: Yes.
VC: “And let me sit in on some of these meetings and get me more involved in it.” I say, “In other words, Mike,” I said, “Look. The reason you haven’t fired him now up to this point is, because you can’t fire him. The people in California won’t let you.” And he admitted it to me, he said, “You’re a smart person.” I said, “That’s right. But since all these guys (a group of editors) came in to lynch him that night, you’ve got enough ammunition now to go to them in California and say, ‘Look, we’re trying to keep him, but everybody, you know, they wanna lynch him,’ And see, you got a lot of ammunition and what do I have to do to keep you from using that ammunition?” He says, “Again, you’re a pretty smart guy,” and I said, “No, you can use this! You can get Jim fired tomorrow by going over there and telling them what happened.”
INT: So they would accept Shooter causing trouble with the higher ups, or dissatisfaction amongst the ranks, but they could not deal with both.
VC: Right. He says, “Get me Shooter, too.” So I went to Jim and I said, “Jim, look. I opened the door, now play the fucking game. Please. For me. For you. For the people who care for you in this place, not the scumbags, the people who care. Because if you go down the drain all of those who care for you will go down the drain with you.” I said, “Play the game. Say that you’re going to change, say okay, you’re going to make an effort to bring them all up.”
INT: What did Shooter say?
VC: “Nope. No, I will not change because what I do is right.” I say, “Jim, I know, okay? Let’s say I agree with you, but until you…”
INT: [interrupts] Shooter did not do everything right.
VC: What?
INT: He obviously did not do everything right.
VC: But he wouldn’t admit that. So I said, “Jim…”
INT: [interrupts] He knows what he did wrong.
VC: He will not admit it. I said, “Jim, look, until you get your new contract, until you’ve started back again you’ve got to do this for me,” and he said, “No.” I said, “Look, I’ve got another meeting with Hobson, I’m going to lunch with him in a couple of days. Now I want a good answer from you.” He says, “They’re lying.” I say, “Jim, they don’t want to get rid of you.”
INT: How is Shooter going to make nice to Higgins and Bob Harras?
VC: It doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter. What matters is to get back on the saddle and then get rid of these bastards.
INT: The point is that Shooter had already gone over their heads to New World. That was fact, right?
VC: They’re gonna forget that.
INT: Alright. But now he has dissatisfaction amongst the ranks. You know how hard it is to change public opinion?
VC: No, no…the only reason, and let me tell you this, the only reason the ranks did what they did is because he was against the ropes and they know it. In fact they were planning another knockout blow. You didn’t know this did you?
INT: I think I did.
VC: Alright…
INT: Do you want to know how I knew?
VC: …I told Jim. Go ahead.
INT: I didn’t really know. The day before they fired Shooter I saw Bob Harras and Mike Higgins. And they were just sitting back, very smug and self-satisfied. But they didn’t think it was going to happen the next day. They were just expecting his contract not to be renewed. And whether they were planning another event or not, they were very satisfied.
VC: I was told they were, by somebody.
INT: But there was nothing to plan on.
VC: No, no, they were going to come in again…
INT: And ask for what?
VC: …in a big bunch….
INT: And ask for what?
VC: …and ask Mike either they fired him or they’d quit.
INT: Big deal.
VC: But don’t you understand, Mike is looking for ammunition. And they were giving it to him. Okay, under normal circumstances Mike might have said ‘Get lost,’ but he was looking for this. Galton was looking for it. They wanted a reason to fire the guy.
INT: Right, but they didn’t want to fire him?
VC: No. Because of California.
INT: Right.
VC: Okay. Not because they like him. So, that’s what happened. So I went to lunch with Mike and he said, “What did he say?” I don’t want to tell him the truth. I say, “Mike, we’re still talking about it.” He says, “Well, we gotta do something. We can’t stay like this.” So here’s a man who was willing to talk to me for four hours, here’s a man who was willing to go to lunch with me, here’s a man who was willing to see me again…
INT: Because New World didn’t want to fire him?
VC: Right. They didn’t want to fire him.
INT: Then there’s no real interest on Mike’s part. He was only doing it because he felt he had to.
VC: It doesn’t matter!! What matters is he could have got away with it. So, I went back to Jim and I said, “Jim, please. This is me. These bastards are all lying, play the game a little bit because I know that Tom DeFalco is waiting in the wings.” “No, no, no, Tom said he would never…”
INT: [interrupting] DeFalco wasn’t “waiting in the wings.” Obviously he wasn’t going to turn it down.
VC: No, but he was telling everybody he wasn’t going to take it.
INT: Oh, right.
VC: Ahhhhhhh! Listen to what I’m saying.
INT: I would have done the same thing. So would you.
VC: He knew he was getting this job when he rode out to California with Mike. And I told this to Jim. Listen, I never say anything unless I have perfect proof.
INT: Wait a minute, Vin. When were they in California with Mike? Last summer?
VC: No. The last time they were out in California …
INT: DeFalco wasn’t there.
VC: No, Tom was someplace else. And he met with Hobson when they went on that trip to California. Mike went to California. This was about four months, five months ago. This is right after the letters. And the reason also that I know is, when I first talked to Mike I said to him, “Mike, look, one of the reasons why the editors and everyone is shitting in their pants about Shooter being fired is because, who will take his place? Some of them couldn’t care less, they’re just worried about who’s gonna take over.” I says…
INT: [shouts] NO! A few of them were rabble-rousing…
VC: [shouts] HEY C’MON!! I’m telling you what I said!! Don’t argue with me!
INT: And the people that were up against him, half of them were worried about their jobs…
VC: [shouts] RIGHT!
INT: …the other half were just followers.
VC: Right. Hey, don’t argue with me, because let me tell you something. Mike Hobson said I did a terrific job and nobody else would even put their foot out for this guy. He says, “Let me tell you, they respect you for that.” Not one of his friends came forward so don’t tell me…Shooter knows I did a good job. So, I’m negotiating at the same time I’m not sticking up for Shooter. In other words, to make him trust me.
INT: Right.
VC: Okay, so. I said to him, I says, “There were talks of Wolfman coming back.” He says, “Ha ha, forget it.” I said, “There were talks of this guy coming back.” “Forget it.” I said, “Well, what they are afraid of, a little bit, is that DeFalco will take over.” He says, “Why?” “He’s a known prick,” I said. “Weelll he’s mellowed…” Then I knew, okay?
INT: Yes.
VC: Then I knew. Then I knew that DeFalco was already in.
INT: A lot of people don’t like DeFalco.
VC: That’s right.
INT: I don’t know who they are, but I know a few don’t like him.
VC: Awwww, a lot of them. So now I went back to Shooter. Now I know that Shooter is going to lose the game because Shooter won’t play ball.
INT: Right.
VC: Now I’m going to tell you something and I want you to keep it to yourself. Not even to Jim, because Jim and I discussed it already and he understands and he’s says, “You’re right.” I have to get them to be afraid of Shooter, ‘coz I know I lost getting him his job back. I lost it because Jim will not co-operate, okay?
INT: Right. Although, on the day Shooter said he got fired, I understand that he said, “Oh, I’ll be a good boy now.”
VC: No, it was too late. Too late.
INT: I know.
VC: So now I knew I had to save something for him so you know what I did?
INT: What?
VC: I said, “Mike, don’t feel sorry for Shooter.” He said, “What do you mean?” I said, “He’s got two big offers,” he says, “Really?” I said, “That’s right.” He said, “How do you know?” I said, “Mike, I’ll tell you this, I swear on my kids. He’ll be starting a new company for new people,” and then I told him, I says, “And then there’s a third one,” I say, “(Robert, ‘Bobby’) Sarnoff. (son of ‘General’ David Sarnoff, chairman of RCA) He said to me he’ll call me on the phone because he knows I’m good friends with him and he said, ‘I’d like to chat with Jim.’” He said, “Now I know how you’re not lying, because every time I talk to Sarnoff he uses that word ‘chat’”. So I said “Let me tell you something. You fired this guy; the people in California are going to be pissed off because you’ll have another company for competition.” He says, “Something tells me you’re not lying,” I say, “No, I don’t lie. I never lie.”
INT: So that is why New World made him an offer.
VC: That’s right.
INT: I heard that Shooter said that the offer that Galton made him was a bogus offer and New World made him a better offer.
VC: That’s right. So when I spoke to Jim the other day I said, “Remember what I said?” and he said, “That’s right, that’s why he did it.” “It doesn’t matter why they did it, Jim, it doesn’t matter, but I scared them.” They were afraid, because now New World, he wants to kill DC. They want to bury everybody. And can you imagine if Jim left there and a new company started with Jim? California will be pissed off at Galton and at Hobson. That’s why they made him an offer. That’s between me and you. If Jim tells you that it was because of what I did then fine, but I don’t want you to say anything. So that’s where it’s at now.
INT: What kind of an offer did New World make?
VC: The same thing only bigger. He’d have his own company, his own space, his own people, whatever. I don’t know, he didn’t have time to tell me too much.
INT: Is he going to think about it?
VC: He told me he’s thinking over a few offers, but I told him, “If you’re going to take anything, then take this one. For the simple reason that if you go over to a new company, distributing, this, that, it might fold in no time, you don’t know.” I says, “Here, at least, you got Marvel behind you, but one thing: don’t take space in the building. You don’t wanna see these bastards again.” So this is the way I think, so that’s what we’re going to talk about. So don’t even tell him that we discussed anything, because I just wanted you to feel better about it. That’s why I’m calling. And if you tell him, he’ll say, ‘what the hell are you doing discussing these things behind my back?’
INT: Do you tell him that you are the only friend he has?
VC: I didn’t say that.
INT: Don’t you tell Shooter that? And that everyone hates him?
VC: I didn’t say that.
INT: No?
VC: No. I say I’m the only one who went up there. That’s all. Bob Layton tried to get people to back him and they all turned him down. Including JR. Did you know that?
INT: No.
VC: Right. Shooter knows that because Bob told him. I’ve tried to get people. I’ve tried to get people…
INT: Even if JR went, even if Layton went, even if…
VC: [interrupting] That is not the point.
INT: …they’d just have said, “Of course, they’re Shooter’s friends.”
VC: No, that is not the point. The point is that they said no. That is the point. That’s the difference.
INT: Did you ask anyone to back you and go with you?
VC: Yes.
INT: Did they turn you down?
VC: Every one of them.
INT: Wow.
VC: Including Jim Owsley. Everybody. So then I called Bob (Layton) and said forget about getting people because if only two or three people go up there, then it’s no good. Because Bob and I thought if we did this, hundreds of letters would pour in, right? Nobody. And I don’t say things like, “I’m his only friend.” So don’t say that. I said I’m the only one who went in there and Mike even said it. He said, “Where’s all his friends?” And he says, “Let me tell you, I respect you for doing what you’re doing.” That’s all. That’s all I said. I know he’s got friends, come on. Robbie in the stat room loves him. Don Perlin loves him. Come on! I’m not stupid. I never said that.
INT: All these people, like Ann (Nocenti) and Bob Harras and Mike Higgins, people that had their own intelligence, skills and abilities when they came to Marvel, but it was Shooter who helped them use their talent and gave them positions and authority…
VC: They’re ingrates. They’re fucking cheap ingrates. Period!
INT: I’m not saying that Ann couldn’t have gone to any other company, publishing or whatever and started there…
VC: You don’t know if she could have.
INT: Ann’s very smart, very talented and creative. So she could have gone to any company and worked her way up. But it happened at Marvel and who did it for her? Shooter. She had her own skills and abilities and if she didn’t have them, Shooter would not have promoted her.
VC: He gave her big, money making books. She got a $15,000 incentive last year. He gave her an eleven percent raise.
INT: Right. So how come?
VC: So she winds up making over $60,000.
INT: Not to mention her own freelance writing…
VC: That’s right. So how do you do that to the guy who opened the door for you?
INT: I don’t know. How could you do that?
VC: Because they’re all ingrates. They’re all ingrates.
INT: Bob Harras was nothing when he came to Marvel. He worked at Macys.
VC: Right. Do you know what happened when I went in to see Bob Harras?
INT: No.
VC: After they marched through Shooter, the next day I went in to see Bob. I said, “You know, you’ve gotta remember what Shooter did. Remember all the good things, okay? Now, I know you guys were pissed off at him, maybe you were right. I don’t think it was right the way you did it, like a lynch mob, but maybe it would be nice if you went in there and said, ‘Look, Jim, I’m sorry we did it this way but we wanted to get a point across.’” They practically threw me out of their office.
INT: Really?
VC: I swear to God. Ask Larry (Hama), he was right next to me. He (Bob) said, “You get outta here! He got what he deserved and he’s gonna get more!” He had both of them and you know who was more vicious, well both were vicious and I backed out of that office. I backed outta there. So what I’m saying is, now I don’t know what’s going to happen. I don’t know what it’s all about. I don’t like to see Jim come in there and get his stuff out. I’d like to see him come in there, maybe at 10 o’clock or so and take some of his stuff. I’m going to suggest this to him. I don’t want him to come in there and everybody laughs up their sleeve.
INT: It doesn’t matter. He’s still going to have to make at least one business hour appearance to talk to personnel and sign final papers and wrap up his affairs with Marvel.
VC: What? Upstairs?
INT: Yeah.
VC: I’m talking about downstairs.
INT: I see.
VC: That’s fine. That’s what I mean. I’m going to suggest that to him because I don’t like to see him ridiculed and these bastards, they’re all like dancing in the aisle from what I hear.
INT: I hear there’s a little smirking going on. And I understand that the week before, they burned something. They burned Shooter in effigy or something like that.
VC: You know, that’s sickening. That’s sickening.
INT: Did he know it was going to be on Wednesday?
VC: No. In fact…
INT: Most people figured it was going to be in June, when his contract expired.
VC: Right. See, what happened, he did another bad thing. He was waiting to see what was going to happen, and don’t say anything about this either. Like I said, the only reason I’m opening up to you is because I know you. I said, “Jim, you’re on pins and needles, you don’t know what’s going to happen,” because Jim listens to me because I’m very objective with him. When I say objective, he was going to fire Tom last year. You didn’t know that did you?
INT: I did not!
VC: Right. And I talked him out of it.
INT: Why would he fire Tom?
VC: Because Tom was jumping on Owsley’s ass and being a bastard, because he’s an evil person and he wouldn’t stop.
INT: I’ve heard another story and I’m really worried about this Tom and Sue (DeFalco’s assistant/lover) business.
VC: Forget this, they’re done.
INT: The problem there will affect what’s going on there. One can see a whole bunch of domestic squabbles going on.
VC: Well anyway. So I said to him, “Here’s what you do Jim, here’s what I’d do. I would go up to Galton tomorrow and say, ‘Okay Jim, my contract is coming up, let’s discuss it’” And then he’s either gotta shit or get off the pot. He’s gotta say that there’ll be no contract, is there?
INT: Is that what Shooter did?
VC: Nope. So he agreed, he said, “You’re right. That’s a good thing to do,” I says, “Then, if you do that, the man’ll say, ‘There’ll be no contract unless you change your ways’”. It’ll be face-to-face. Or he’ll say, “I’m sorry, there will not be any contract, you’re through.” He said it’s a good idea. The next day we had dinner again, and it was on a Saturday and I picked him up in New York because I usually go on weekends and we go to dinner, and I said, “Well, did you do it?” and he said, “No. I got a better idea. I’m going to call the lawyer in California and ask him for a contract.” New World Pictures. I said, “Jim, don’t do that! Don’t do that! You’re throwing salt into the wound! You’re going over this guys head again!” “Nope, nope, I talked to the guy, he sounds like a nice guy…” “Don’t trust him!”
INT: He’s Hollywood, don’t trust him.
VC: So what did he do Monday? He calls up the guy and says to the guy, “Who do I turn to for a contract?” He says, “Me! I’m the lawyer. I’ll get back to you.” So what happens is that the guy tells Rami, Rami tells Galton and says, “Hey, Shooter called us for a contract.” Comes Wednesday he gets fired. Understand?
INT: Yeah. Was it just Galton up there or were there other people in there with him?
VC: I have no idea because I haven’t talked to Jim except for on the phone. He called me on the beeper…
INT: Yeah.
VC: …and I read the beeper and it said, “I’ve been fired”. Jesus Christ! He usually calls me on the beeper because he gets me anywhere I am. He calls me on the beeper and says, “I’ve been fired,” I nearly had a heart attack and I called him straight back. The only thing I can do to stand by him is give him sound advice because sometimes when you’re in the middle you don’t see the truth, you know?
INT: I heard that Higgins went to Hobson right after he and Shooter had it out the first time, then I heard that Higgins was with Dorothy Marcus and Jackie Green of personnel right after that.
VC: Well, you know. Look at me; I’m on everybody’s shit list.
INT: Yeah. You’ve had years of practice.
VC: I know, I know. Let me tell you, I did what anybody should do to someone who was good to me.
INT: The fact that Bob (Layton) didn’t go because he and Mike Hobson have at least a friendly relationship, even while he was a drunk, even while he was a big drunk, I don’t think Hobson ever said to Shooter, “Get rid of Bob.” The fact that Bob would at least go and talk to…
VC: …I’m not questioning that. I not questioning that. Hobson said it to me. He said, “I respect you, you’re the only person who’s at least come forward to try to do something.” You see, the only people Hobson had were the ones who were against him. Never anyone that was with him. So what I’m trying to say is that I don’t know how deep DeFalco was in on this. I have no idea and I’m making no accusations. All I know is that…
INT: I suspect that DeFalco said that if Jim left, he would not immediately pack up his bags and exit behind him.
VC: What?
INT: I think he agreed that if Jim left, he would be willing to stay in charge for a period of time.
VC: Nah, he’s full of it…let me tell you, he’s got the floor plans of that office planned out for a long time. All I can tell you is this. Number one: I’m on the shit-list.
INT: I don’t know about that.
VC: Why not?
INT: Because you’re an artist. Perhaps he likes you, perhaps he doesn’t. But I don’t believe he’s going to stop you from getting work. The editors who have been giving you work, will still give you work. Those who went out of their way to please Shooter and give you work probably won’t give you work anymore.
VC: No, nobody did that.
INT: Okay.
VC: I only took books that were late and nobody else would. I just did a Justice in six days! They had nobody else to do it.
INT: Right.
VC: I’m doing the Spider-Man because each Spider-Man has two or three guys on it. Why? Because you think he likes me? I’m doing the annual because nobody else could do it in the amount of time and everybody fell down on the job and I wound up with it.
INT: You’re inking the Spider-Man Annual with the wedding?
VC: That’s right!
INT: You know the guy who designed the wedding dress? Willi Smith?
VC: Yeah.
INT: He just died.
VC: Oh God.
INT: Yeah, thirty nine years old and he just died. And they mention Mary Jane Watson and the wedding in the obituary.
VC: Yeah, because Mark gave me that. He said, “I know all the work you get is because they need you.” I said, “You know, I’ve never had books of my own.”
INT: You were the regular inker on plenty of books (The Mighty Thor, Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen, The New Gods, The Forever People, Mister Miracle, etc.,).
VC: No, never. Never! Only one, because it was a girl book at the beginning.
INT: Wow! You do great girls.
VC: Never was I on a regular book. Only when they couldn’t get somebody to do it. In other words when I got the job, three guys turned it down already. You understand what I’m saying?
INT: Yes. Well, I don’t think that’s going to change then, so you probably don’t have anything to worry about there.
VC: We’ll see.
INT: You know the editors just trying to kiss ass. They’re trying to play up to DeFalco. The two of you should go out to lunch and talk, and work out whatever you have to work out…
VC: No, no way! And I’m not taking him out to lunch unless he asks me to lunch.
INT: Don’t take him out. He’ll take you out.
VC: Only if he asks me. Let me tell you something. I don’t…I didn’t want that. In fact I might side-step him. I’m not going to go and confront him. No way!
INT: You could stop by and see him and shake the man’s hand.
VC: No, I will not!
INT: Oh, stop being an idiot, Vin.
VC: I will not.
INT: You should tell DeFalco that you hope that whatever it is that he doesn’t like about you, you can work it out, or something like that. You just need to get together with him for a while.
VC: (When I was asked) I said, “I dunno, the guy doesn’t like me, so we’ll see what happens.” That’s all I said. That’s all I said. I didn’t say anymore than that because that’s the last guy, okay. He hates my guts…
INT: Why does DeFalco hate your guts?
VC: Don’t you know what I did?
INT: No.
VC: When Jim gave him the job of Executive Editor, before that, Jim took me to dinner. He said, “Listen. I need an Executive Editor and Tom has been asking me for it, but I want to talk to you first. What do you think of the idea?” I said, “Well, Jim, look, you’re the best guy I’ve ever seen in this business. You’ve got your hand in your pocket all the time to help people and you waver sometimes, but your heart is right there. If somebody breaks a leg then you go and give them money to get it fixed. Tom is not a well liked person. Now, you need an extension of yourself as an assistant. You don’t want somebody doing the opposite of what you do.” He said, “You’re right, I was afraid of that.” He says, “I’ll be right back,” he went to the bathroom, came back and said, “The reason I wanted to talk to you is that I’m afraid of putting Tom there. I’m asking you to be my Executive Editor.” Okay? He asked me to be his Executive Editor. I said, “Jim, if you pick Tom, you’re making a mistake. If you put me there you’re making a bigger mistake. I’m not into that. And not only that these editors aren’t going to accept me.” “No, no no, you’re going to be my Executive Editor.” This was on a Friday. “Monday I’m talking to Mike and that’s it.” I said, “No, I don’t want the job. Please, I’m begging you, I don’t want the job. I can’t take nine-to-five, that’s why I’m a freelancer.” No, I need you.” Saturday he called me twice. Sunday he called me twice and I kept saying, “No. Please Jim, I can’t.” He said, “Alright.” And he made Tom the Executive Editor. So then, after he made him Executive Editor, I got a call from Danny Krespi, he said, “Oh Vinnie, today’s not a good day at Marvel.” I said, “What do you mean? Danny, what are you talking about?” He said, “It was announced today that Tom was going to be the Executive Editor and everyone is very gloomy because he’s not liked.” I said, “Oh, don’t worry about it. Jim’ll straighten him out,” so now Jim called me on a Tuesday and says, “Would you do me a favor?” I said, “Sure.” He said, “Will you take Tom out to lunch and explain to him what people think of him, to straighten him out,” you know, and on and on. I said, “Why the fuck can’t you do that yourself?” He says, “No, no, please do that for me.” He fixed the lunch up for us, so we went to lunch and I said, “Look, Tom, sometimes we don’t realize what we do. Now Jim thinks an awful lot of you to give you this job and Jim is a wonderful man. He’s well liked, especially by the workers.”
INT: At one time.
VC: Right. I don’t mean the editors, I mean the workers around the place.
INT: It’s true. I understand that the production department is really upset.
VC: That’s right
INT: Most of them weren’t hired by Shooter or Danny, they were hired by Anita.
VC: So I said, “Now, you’ve got a very bad reputation for being, you know, not such a nice guy. You gotta change it, because you’ve got a good job now and anything you do reflects on Jim.”
INT: You think he’s changed?
VC: Noooo, worse.
INT: That’s bad.
VC: No, but Shooter knew, wait a minute, let me finish. So he says, “You trying to tell me I’m a prick?”
INT: [laughs].
VC: I says, “Tom, listen, I’m not here to tell you’re a prick. I’m here because I was asked to take you to lunch and to talk to you because I know you. If you are after somebody, you won’t stop until they’re fired. All you’re doing is firing and talking like you’re going to fire them and this and that, and you’ve got to stop that because now everything reflects on Jim.” So we went upstairs and he ran into Jim and, “What did you do? You sicc’ed him onto me! You sicc’ed him onto me!” So what happened was that Jim said to me, “Boy, you were really rough on him.” And I said, “Hey, you wanted him to know the truth, so I gave it to him.” Now, ever since that time, he’s hated my guts. Not only that, but Jim, at least twenty times. He’s said to me, “Vince, you were right about Tom.”
INT: Yeah, but he and Tom have become good friends.
VC: Yes! Yes! In fact only last month he said, “You were always right about Tom.” So in other words I’m always very objective. So when he was after Owsley, he took me and Owsley to dinner, Jim did, and he’d fired Owsley when Jim wasn’t around…
INT: DeFalco didn’t fire Owsley.
VC: He went in and scared him so much the guy couldn’t work, okay?
INT: That’s true. I heard there was a month where he could hardly work at all.**
VC: What happened, I talks to Shooter and I says, “Shooter, Owsley looks up to you. He wears a tie because you wear a tie. He tells me he owes you everything. If you’re going to fire him, then you fire him yourself.” So he hired him back. So then Tom kept bringing stories about Owsley, kept bringing stories about me, unsubstantiated stories, so Jim says, “Look, I don’t wanna hear that shit anymore. You’re always making up stories because you want to get even with guys, okay? Now stop it.” So he thought he’d talked to him. Next day he came in and Tom says, “Hey, I got a way to get Owsley now. We give him lousy books, we’ll see that he does bad and then we’ll fire him.” And Jim says to me, “Vinnie, I can’t believe this guy. Right after I talk to him, he comes in and is giving me ideas on how to get even with Owsley. I can’t believe this guy! I can’t take him anymore, I gotta get rid of him.” I says, “Jim, look. You’re making a mistake getting rid of him.” I says, “Jim, don’t fire Tom. Talk to him, because if you get another guy, it’s going to look bad that you fired your number one guy. Talk to him. Not only that, but if you get another guy you’re going to have to go through the whole thing of teaching him again.” He says, “You’re telling me not to fire him? Here’s a guy who’s after your ass all the time!” I say, “I’m being very objective. I’m telling you this for your own good. If you fire him it’s gonna look bad, number one, and number two, you don’t know who you’re gonna get and you’re gonna waste a lot of time teaching him.” So that’s why he kept him. So since then, Tom has never, ever liked me.
INT: Hmm.
VC: But I didn’t do anything.
INT: We’ll see how it goes.
VC: But I didn’t do anything to him. All I did was say, look, be a nice kid because this man likes you and gave you a job to do, so don’t, because it reflects on him. Of course, he doesn’t like the idea that I was offered the job and turned it down. He didn’t like the idea that the reason he was there was because I had turned it down. But I turned it down because, first of all, I’m honest, I didn’t think I could do the job. Number two, what do I know about writing? I don’t wanna know about that. I just wanna do freelance. Somebody else would have jumped at it, but I said no. I said, “Jim, your editors are never going to accept…” “Oh, I don’t care about my editors.” “No, no, no,” I says, “how can they come to Vince Colletta, the hack? How could they come to Vince Colletta and look up to Vince Colletta?”, in an area of writing which I knew nothing about. I said, “Please, I don’t even wanna be considered for the job.” So this is why Tom has this thing. You could ask Jim this, before this blow up, before he wrote the letter to California, before the company was sold, I said to Jim, “Jim, I don’t like this idea of me and Tom being on the outs all the time. I wanna be friends with him. Why don’t you invite him to dinner, the three of us, and we’ll go right in and discuss it.” He said, “Good idea.” It never happened. I don’t know why. Either he asked him and Tom said no, I don’t know. But then again I said, “Jim, let’s bring him to Jersey and, you know, I want to be friends with the guy; I don’t like going in and not saying hello.” He says, “Okay,” and again it didn’t happen. Now this is the guy, and I wasn’t trying to kiss Tom’s ass, this was before anything happened, so if I did it now, well, now I don’t wanna do it.
INT: How does Shooter feel about Tom staying on?
VC: He doesn’t say much, but he feels there was some sort of betrayal.
INT: Is Shooter going to set up shop in California?
VC: No, I don’t think he’s going to do it in California.
INT: He might.
VC: He might. But what I’m saying is everything is here, you know? All the businesses are here. You understand?
INT: True.
VC: All the artists are here, but anyway, as far as what my future is there at Marvel I don’t know. I’m going to play it day by day. I’m not going to kiss anybody’s ass, if they send it (work) to me, fine. If they don’t, you know.

----------------------------------
NOTES:

Thanks to Alan Kupperberg for allowing me to use his drawing of Vinnie Colletta as it appeared in the book Streetwise (TwoMorrows) when I couldn't find a clear enough photo.

* This is the text of Vinnie's letter as he wrote it, with original spelling and grammer intact:



Marvel Editor-

You are the droppings of the creative world. You were destined to float the cesspool till urine logged and finally sink to the bottom with the rest of the shit but along came Jim Shooter who rolled up his sleeves and rescued you.

He gave you a title, respectability, power and even a credit card that you used and abused. He made you the highest payed Editors in the history of the business. He protected you against all that would tamper with your rights, your power and your pocketbook.

He backed you against all Prima Donna free lancers no matter how big. his pockets were always open to you. No cry of help was too small for him to turn his back on.

As heard in the "Brass: section of the company. "He never asked for anything for himself.always for his men."

The roof over your head, the clothes on your back, the car you drive and the trinkets you buy for your blind wives and girlfriends you owe to the Pittsburgh kid.

For all he did for you.you repayed him by attacking him like a pack of yellow, prickless faggots. Ripping away his flesh from his body and laughing and pounding your chest like conquering ghouls and long after his bones were dry you continued to pour salt on them to squeeze every ounce of pain out of him.

Not the slightest whimper or cry or tear came out of this man. With you still biting at his ankles, he put on his coat and walked away. Displaying more class and poise in defeat than all of you did in victory. Jesus had one Judas. Jim had many, those that speared him and worse, those that watched.

I stuck by him and for that you've nailed me on the same cross. I thank you for that. It's an honor to be crucified with Jim Shooter.a man who none of you will ever be.

Vince Colletta


** Christopher Priest, aka Jim Owsley, has written about his tenure at Marvel here. Priest's account is one of the more graphic and touching around the place and is more than worth the time it takes to read.

5 comments:

Ferran Delgado said...

This is the most revelating text that I ever read about the age when Shooter was fired. You can't find this kind of crude talking in public interviews. And it allows you to imagine how Colleta was like a person.

But I find it very strange that Vinnie would say all this in an interview. IMHO, this is more like a recorded private conversation by phone rather than an interview. And if you put this conversation in that troubled context, it seems to me like it was a way to get unapproved proof of his way to act and think in that affair.

I can understand that Vince could talk from anger and frustration against some people, but the way that he talks about his way to act in this kind of political situation and power fight, is too revelating about his strategy and his efforts and way to manipulate Hobson. You only admit this to a very trustfull friend, but not in a "interview" that could be aired.

I also would like to know the oppinion of involved people related to this situation. I feel that they deserve an opportunity to defense themselves, like Shooter, DeFalco, Hobson, etc...

Thank you for sharing this incredible piece of Marvel history! Now I understand why Shooter interviewed Vinnie in his monthly column in Marvel comics!

Danny said...

I have no problems with anyone named in the conversation to have a right of reply and indeed if anyone wanted to come forward then I'd be more than happy to put their side of things out there. I doubt highly that anyone will speak - they haven't yet and this won't start them off. There were some things edited out of the conversation, but as they were of a personal nature I'm sure that you'd understand. Personally I find this 'fly on the wall' type of stuff to be fascinating beyond belief. Too much of this material ends up being 'privileged information', that being that a lot of people know all about it, but they never share it with anyone, or go on public record. This is one of the few times that such information has come to light and that someone has been willing to allow it to get into the public arena.

Imagine if someone 'discovered' a phone conversation relating to the Jack Kirby and Jack Schiff affair. It'd add to our knowledge of the thing as a whole - or the Siegel/Schuster vs DC over Superman? Anything that helps us understand a situation better only enriches our knowledge.

Ferran Delgado said...

Hi Daniel,

I fully understand that you edited some parts to protect your source. I just wondered where this conversation came from, and how it was made, and maybe the moral behind this, but I didn't want to guess who was behind it.

I was also critic about calling this conversation an interview. If you just pay attention to the first tens of "questions", you'll find out that this is hardly an interview.

I have some conflicts about this conversation. I share your fascination about it and I find that it is very valuable to understand Marvel history and what's behind the curtains.

But in the opposite side, I have some fears about how this conversation was recorded, and if Vinnie knew about that, and the moral behind that.

Let me share that I enjoyed very much with that conversation because, as you say, is something unique, and I doubt that we'll enjoy another piece of history like that again.

BTW, I just made a post in my blog about this, and I linked the conversation and gave proper credit. I hope you don't mind.

Best,
Ferran

McSplurge said...

The two things that I take away from this article: 1) Vince Colletta was an incredible artist who would have blown all the rest of them away if he had adequate time to do his best work. As it is, his "B" work is better than the best that most other inkers could summon. 2) Colletta's loyalty, and his concept of loyalty, was far above that of anyone I have ever met, anyone I have known personally, or myself, for that matter. True loyalty requires, among other things, courage.

El said...

Dear Danny, I applaud your decision to release this interesting slice of comic history. I also appreciatee the "obfuscation" employed to conceal the interviewer.

On the other hand, if one spent somee time with Vinnie, one would see the self-agrandising and narrow point of view he effected. Vinnie was vastly talented, no doubt. But he was a true freelancer in that he was lazy too. Once he acquired the taste for doing books over a long weekend, he hardly every did any good work again. What he did do was the 'big' stuff, faces and hands and let the background crew do everything else.

So I would view this lens of history as a little skewed. I know; I was there for much of it. A few good facts sprinkled in, much time-line shifting here and there plus a little too much self-serving and outright confabulation. But it is pure Vinnie.

My only crits are "Krespi" is spelled with a "C" and I really think you should have removed the descriptor of "Sue" as "-/lover." Who needs to dwell on that at this point? I think you should've exercised your "political" pen as hard as you worked your "anonymity" pen.