Original Art Stories: Jack Kirby: Mr Miracle's Early Days, Part II

A day or so ago I posted a four page Jack Kirby story that was inked by Vinnie Colletta. Don’t bother writing to me saying that Mike Royer inked the job because Mike himself has come out and said that he didn’t ink the pages in question, mind you how anyone can mistake Royers inks for Colletta and vice versa is beyond me, but there you have it. Meanwhile, on the Jack Kirby Yahoo list there’s been a bit of debate overt the relative merits of the art, in particular the inking, and the effectiveness of Colletta’s inking in general. It’s an age old debate, which started when the books first appeared, if not before. People either love Vinnie’s inking or they hate it – I’m in the camp that sits on the fence really. Vinnie was capable of doing some great work, but there are just too many examples of bad inking by the man for him to be classed as one of the all time greats. One comment, from the person known as ‘Dan McFan’ (not his real name), went along the lines of, “I think the inks are, at the very least, professionally done. They aren't THOR but Mr. Miracle was a fun book and I doubt that Vinnie saw it as something that needed lots of detail. What's so bad about the inking job just escapes me, though.”

I replied as such, “That's the problem. Kirby's 4th World material needed to be spectacular. Vinnie inks were competent at best. It did the material a great disservice. I'm sure Kirby saw it as something that needed a lot of detail. For me the series only started to 'pop' when Royer began to ink it. Still, I'd loved to have seen what Sinnott would have done on it.” And that is the biggest problem of them all.

Kirby put a lot of love and attention into the Fourth World material as it was truly his baby. He was able to write, pencil and edit the material on his own and once you see the pencilled pages (and thankfully the bulk of them were photocopied before they were inked) you can see just how much of a labour of love the project was. It matters not if love Vinnie or hate him, if his approach was one of seeing it as something that didn’t require a lot of detail or attention then; frankly, he wasn’t the inker for the job. What the work needed was an inker who’d lavish the same care and attention to detail that Kirby put into the pencils. You can see why Kirby was upset over the treatment of his work by artists such as Vinnie and Al Plastino (who re-drew the faces on his Superman figures) and also why other artists, such as Neal Adams, made very public their appreciation for the work and, in Adams case, asked to ink it in order to preserve the dynamics that Kirby had drawn.

With this in mind Tom Kraft has asked some of Kirby’s better known inkers, who are still active, to ink some of the pencils that still exist. In this case Mike Royer, who replaced Vinnie Colletta on the Fourth World material, was tapped to recreate the pencil pages from photocopies of the original pencils and ink those recreated pages for this Mr Miracle/Scott Free story. This gives us the unique opportunity to compare what Vinnie originally did and what Mike did later. To keep things in perspective it helps to note that Vinnie more than likely inked these pages under a deadline, and with the help of one or more assistants, whereas Mike wasn’t under a lot of pressure and could take time. Vinnie was also working from the original pencils, Mike recreated Kirby's pencils from photocopies of the originals. Having said that the inks that Royer has provided are very similar to other work that he did over Kirby, at the time, so it’s still a reasonable comparison.

In order we have:
The Jack Kirby pencils, as recreated by Mike Royer from existing photocopies
Vinnie Colletta’s published inks - over the original pencils
Mike Royer’s unpublished inks - over the recreated pencils

Back to you – which do you prefer, and why?


Bryan said…
Let's start at the beginning. This by no means was a bad inking job by Vinnie. That said, you can see that he omitted a few figures here and there. Is that a crime? Let's just say, Vinnie's done worse.

Page 2, panel 4, where Vinnie gets rid of Scott's expression of pain, lining up the eyebrows is the biggest crime.

Royer follows Jacks pencils precisely, and I can't always say its the right thing to do. Page 2, panel 6: Vinnie spots the blacks in Scott's uniform pretty solidly. Mike notes that Jack did not pencil those blacks in solidly, and inks to match. Correctly? Something to think about. I also note Scott's head is bobbling, with sweat/blood/whatever emoting off his head.
bob said…
I'm long since retired from the Colletta wars, but I did want to note that what you label as "the original Jack Kirby pencils" are, I believe, pencil recreations, based on copies made of the pencils prior to their inking some 40 years ago (based on Tom's site, in this case recreated by Royer, many of the other examples recreated by Tom).

Now, these copies are of course a treasure trove of information (especially those made for the Marvel work, with Kirby's margin notes), based on what I've seen, comparing reproductions of them to reproductions of some of the few surviving actual uninked Kirby pencils of the era reproduced with modern technology (note I haven't seen the originals of either the copies or any actual uninked Kirby work, so take that into account) the copies really don't capture more than a broad sense of Kirby's work. And a recreation based on them is another step removed, even one done by someone as talented and familiar with Kirby's pencils as Mike Royer (doubly so since Royer presumably was recreating them with the intention of later inking them).

Calling those "the original Jack Kirby pencils" is even more incorrect that Marvel calling a closely redrawn recreation of Kirby's work a reprint of this actual work.
Daniel Best said…
Ahhhh now that I did not know. I'll make the correct adjustment in the text - many thanks for the clarification there Bob.
The Seditionist said…
I'm not a Colletta hater. I loved his inks on Thor -- regardless of the pencil artist -- because I thought the texture of Vinnie's inks was appropriate.

On the 4th world: ugh. For the same reason as I liked the inks on Thor, it was all *wrong*. And outside of Thor, burying Kirby's pencils was uncool.

Royer is one of my favorite Kirby inkers because his work is sooo faithful to the pencils but cleans them up a little. (Inking would do that. And Royer's weakness as an inker is his fealty; some guys' pencils *need* to be refined by the inker, not inked faithfully. Example: Heck/Royer.)
i'm not really a fan of vince colletta's inks...he was certainly a very competant "romance" artist,(both pencils and inks)....i think most people liked jack inked by either joe sinnott,or mike royer....both did a great job.....my all time favorite kirby inker is BILL EVERETT....he inked a few? issues of thor that were stunning....my second favorite kirby inker was syd shores.....i also was not thrilled hearing that vince erased backgrounds on kirby's pencils....colletta takes alot of criticizm,but he certainly helped alot of editors by getting the books in on time....best,Brian...

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