Non-Review: The Thin Black Line

I must be getting more mellow in my old age as I decided to wait a fair while before I made any real comment about this book, but here we go.

The Thin Black Line, released by TwoMorrows, is supposed to go a long way to reconcile inker Vinnie Colletta ‘s position within the comic book world and to rehabilitate his reputation. Colletta was known as an inker who took vast shortcuts overt his career, mainly due to some enormous deadline pressure, which saw the poor quality of his inking was often attributed to a lack of talent or ability. Let me get this out of the box straight away – Colletta had both talent and ability in spades. He was an accomplished penciller and would ink as well as anybody in the field whenever he wanted to. And therein lies the rub – more often than not he didn’t bother being as good as he could be.

Colletta was the ‘go to’ man for both Marvel and DC, and probably any other company he ever worked for. It’s well known that when one of the companies found themselves up against a deadline they’d call Colletta who’d get the job done. There’s stories about how Vinnie would be assigned a book on the Friday evening and deliver it, finished, on the Monday. The work wouldn’t be that good, but it’d be there and the deadline would be met. With any publishing company deadlines will always win out over talent, unless, of course, you’re the editor-in-chief, and then deadlines cease to apply no matter how detrimental that proves to be for the company at large.

Still, I’ve covered Vinnie Colletta enough times on this blog, and elsewhere (yes, Mr Bryant, the quote opening your book was mine - but if you'd clicked the link at Eddie's blog you'd have seen that, or better yet, scrolled down through the comments, which you probably did and seen that the comments were left by me), and have done quite a few interviews with artists who both knew and worked with Colletta, and have had said both kind and not so kind words about the man and the artist. I don’t think I have much more to say about him, but I have a bit to say about this book.

The book shows both before (pre-inked) and after (inked) examples of Collettas work over pencillers with varying results. You can see many examples of erased pencils, changed backgrounds and much more in this book, none of which does anything for Colletta than to make him look fairly bad as an artist. Even some of the examples of Colletta’s fine work falls flat, which I can’t work out. The book claims to not be a biography of Colletta – a shame as Vinnie was an interesting person and a full blown biography would go a long way to helping people understand Colletta both as a man and as an artist – which leaves us with a question – what is this book? The answer, this book is merely a compilation of material.

I can’t say that this is a good book, nor can I say it’s a bad book. What it appears to be, to my eyes anyway, is a collection of information that can be found quite readily on several forums, web-sites and blogs over the internet, including mine. Having said that, at no time did the writer of this book, nor the editors, nor the publisher, make any effort to contact me to ask if I minded my views being presented in this book, let alone quotes, views and scans, all of which appear. That’s right, my own thoughts are here, my research and my work are here, quotes from interviews that I’ve done, quotes left at other blogs (primarily Eddie Campbells blog – I wonder if they asked Eddie?) – it’s all here. The first I heard about it was when I bought a copy of the book.

Another issue I have with this book is the inclusion of a person named ‘Dan McFan’. For a while ‘McFan’ has run a blog named ‘Is Mark Evanier Mentally Ill?’, and I know that title has upset quite a few people. Bryant mentions the blog, but never the title, and skips over all of the accusations and attacks upon Evanier. But then Bryant both interviewed Evanier and lifted material from Evanier’s site. I can’t help but wonder if Mark would have given his permission if he’d known beforehand that ‘McFan’ would be described as a person who was ‘spurred to create his blog (name never mentioned) after he was “dumped” from an on-line discussion board for questioning Mark Evanier’s sanity’. That’s a bit deceptive, ‘McFan’, as evident from both the title of his blog, and the personal attacks upon Evanier, went well past merely questioning Evanier’s sanity. To strongly suggest that someone is mentally ill is a bit different than calling them crazy for having a view.
You can judge the author of the book on those merits if you want.

As a writer I know I’m not squeaky clean – hell ask a certain writer for the publisher in question and he’ll happily talk your ears off and tell you what a bastard I am. Even better, don’t ask him, he’ll tell you anyway, but he won’t tell you the underhanded tricks that he does, his demands on other writers and artists, and how he sees his work in anything ever written about comic books or comic book history. But that’s fine. It’s on public record that John Morrow does not like me. I have no feeling towards him at all, that’s his problem, not mine. His is not the only publishing company in existence, nor is his the most scrupulous, nor is his the finest (as shown by some of skimpy interviews that are offered as books, most interviews being shorter in both length and content than most that others offer for free on the internet), as shown by repeated examples of art that I own, comments and quotes, appearing in his publications, both books and magazines, all sans attribution. But, again, that’s their problem, me, I could care less. At least I attempt to contact my sources, unlike Robert L Bryant, Jr and others connected to the publisher in question.

What would have been nice would have been if the author had contacted me to ask me if I minded my work appearing in his book. I might have said yes, I might not have, but at least I’d have had the choice. In this case I had no choice.

And no, I didn’t receive a comp copy of the book – I had to buy mine, same as everyone else. And yes, I did contact the author and publisher. The publisher never replied, the author basically said, “Whoops, sorry guy, but hey, whatcha gonna do?”  I asked for my material to be removed and was told, no, that's never going to happen. At least he’ll get paid for his compilation, I won't be paid for any work of mine that appears in his book.

In the back of the book is a page consisting of names of people that the author interviewed. At the bottom of the page is the legend, “Unless otherwise noted, all quotations in this book are from interviews with the author”. Sorry guy, my own comments aren't from any interview with you. Merely asking would have been nice.  Oh, and as I pointed out in an email to you, you got my blog address wrong, not that I expect that to be fixed in any great hurry.


George said…

First of all, let me say that the folks that quoted your work without citing you are talentless. If they had any talent, they'd come up with their own opinions. I know you've had trouble with these people before and I am sorry it's happened to you again.

That being said, I do disagree with you slightly about Colletta. I've never been a fan of his, although that's not to say I dislike him either. When I think of classic inkers I think of guys like Al Williamson, Don Heck, and Joe Sinnott. Colletta was just an inker, and nothing special to me.

You said "– more often than not he didn’t bother being as good as he could be."

To me, he was only as good as he tried to be. We all are. If you can potentially get a 100% on a test, but only study enough to get a 70%, well, your grade is a 70%. There's no, "well, he's smart enough to get a 100% so I'm giving him one". Colletta wanted to churn out pages quickly to meet deadlines and get paid. Fine by me. A lot of us just want the paycheck. Heck, it's why I work. But let's not say he could have been better if he chose to be.

I reserve the high praise of inking stardom to those artists that truly excelled, by dedicating the time needed to make the work shine. Colletta's list of work is staggering, but his work itself is fair.

Just my opinion though. I know nothing of the man himself, and it sounds like the book wouldn't tell me any either. Too bad.

Kid said…
I liked Colletta's inking on Kirby's THOR and Colan's SUB-MARINER - hell, I even liked his short stint on FANTASTIC FOUR.

The problem is that JACK (who I am a huge fan of) has been deified to such an extent that the more rabid fans object to any changes at all to his work - and even believe that it should have been printed from his pencils - had technology so allowed at the time.

However, for all his many strengths, Jack also had quite a few weaknesses. Colletta diluted the abstractness of Kirby's musculature, making it more realistic in the process. Sure, he could (and probably should) have spent more time on his "chequerboard" buildings, but this was supposed to be New York in the 196os - not the Bowery in the 193os, which Jack had a tendency to recreate in all his cityscapes.

Despite any changes or omissions, I believe that Colletta gave far more to Kirby's artwork than he ever took away. It seems that readers of THOR also thought so at the time - apparently the title didn't sell as well when BILL EVERETT, who was much more faithful to Jack's pencils (and therefore his artistic idiosyncracies)inked the book.

* * *

Yeah, it would've been nice if you'd at least received a credit.
Andrew Wahl said…
While I sometimes find a Colletta inking job that's not as bad as I remember, I can't get on board with this effort to reevaluate his work. While Colletta's speed was surely an asset to the publishers that hired him, he was usually no friend to the lover of comic-book art. He was one of the first creators I actually noticed when I was a kid, because of the negative impact of his work over pencilers I liked. Still, I'm looking forward to checking out this book (though I'm sorry you feel burned by the author and publisher).


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