The other day, I was at my friendly neighborhood comics shop, shooting the breeze with another customer and the store clerk. The conversation turned to the best inkers, and the other customer named his top three: Josef Rubenstein, Dick Giordano, and Tom Palmer.

 

Somehow, Vince Colletta's name came up.

 

I think it's safe to say that nobody would put Vince Colletta on any list of the "best" inkers, by whatever standard one wants to use. Mark Evanier, who rarely has a negative word to say about anybody, is an unabashed critic. (See here and here.) He cites several examples of top artists -- Neal Adams, Jack Kirby, and Alex Toth -- demanding that his brush never muddy their pages.

 

 

While two of us reacted with a groan, the store clerk pointed out that Vince's saving grace and main value to publishers was that he was fast and reliable. If you positively, absolutely had to get it done overnight in the worst way, give the job to Vince -- he'd get it done, in the worst way. And if you were an artist who didn't want him to ink your work, there was an easy way to prevent it: Turn the job in on time!

 

Which led us to wonder: Why isn't that the case any more? 

 

Used to be, publishers would got through Herculean efforts to ensure that something got to the printer on time. Bob Kanigher came up with the Metal Men in a weekend because DC was without a story for Showcase #37. Dozens of Marvel comics in the '70s were inked by "the Crusty Bunkers" -- buddies of Neal Adams and Dick Giordano who worked for and hung out at their Continuity Associates studios and would finish a job by basically giving each penciled page to a different guy in the room. Half of Avengers #150 is a reprint of Avengers #16 because Steve Englehart had a falling out with Marvel and didn't turn in his script, so Jim Shooter and Gerry Conway ginned up a half-dozen or so pages with George Pérez to frame the story.

 

Really desperate editors would stick in a reprint; more prepared editors had inventory stories ready to go -- out-of-continuity, done-in-one tales that could be plugged in at any time. And who can forget Steve Gerber's (in)famous Howard the Duck #16, chock-full of two-page spreads covered with rambling essays about why he didn't actually write a story that month?

 

But now, if a book's late, it's just late. Six months passed between The Dark Knight Strikes Again #2 and #3. All-Star Batman and Robin the Boy Wonder was even more sporadic. As noted in Wikipedia: "The once-monthly series became increasingly delayed over time, to the point where only one issue was published in 2006. When issue #5 was released, the series was placed on a regular bi-monthly schedule, with the exception of Issue #10, which was postponed from April 9, 2008 release to August 27 release, and then to a September 10 release, which it successfully met, only for the book to be recalled due to a printing error that left numerous profanities insufficiently censored."

 

Kevin Smith wrote three issues of Spider-Man/Black Cat: The Evil That Men Do limited series in 2002, and we got the rest THREE YEARS later. Daredevil: Father #1 was published June 2004; #2, October 2005; #3, November 2005; #4, December 2005, #5, January 2007! and #6, February 2007.

 

This even happened with Civil War, the maxiseries that was the spine of the whole Marvel line. Citing the artist's need for more time, it fell a month behind, then two months behind, and other parts were also behind, and then Marvel held up the tie-in and spinoff issues so events wouldn't be spoiled. Not to mention the delays on Superman and Wonder Woman this past year.

 

Now, this would have never happened in Mort Weisinger's day. If the artist was late, get another artist! If the writer was late, get another writer!

 

So the question we had -- and I throw this out to you -- why is this allowed to happen today? What, exactly, is different? The three of us shooting the breeze couldn't quite figure it out. 

 

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That's easy.

 

The audience are paying for a book by Grant Morrison (ASSupes), Frank Miller (ASBats &R) or Kevin Smith (whatever).

 

A bunch of knocked off fill-ins by one of the tie-in men wouldn't cut the mustard.

 

It would seem the printers don't have the whip hand anymore, and whatever way the contracts work, neither do the comics companies.

 

In some cases eg 'All-Star Superman', the consensus is generally that the level of work put into them is so high that it was worth the wait.

 

In other cases eg Kevin Smith, perhaps the lukewarm response to the early issues dampen the creators enthusiasm to finish the thing.

 

It's just the way things have turned out.  Frank, Kevin or Grant would each probably get more for taking part in a lunch meeting with some Hollywood dude than producing a 22 page comic...

 

Comics is the neglected step-child of the entertainment industry.

 

Now, this would have never happened in Mort Weisinger's day.

 

And a lot of more odious practices in comics don't happen as they did in Mort's day either.  Thank God.

Artists and writers are no longer confined to the monthly grind of comic book schedules. They are allowed to take the time to do the work as they want it to appear. The policies of printing say, The Avengers, the same time every month are not in effect.

That being said, there is something to say about commitment and professionalism. If a title is monthly, it should be produced monthly. If an artist needs more time to finish an issue, he should have been given more lead time or have another artist on hand to assist, if that means drawing part of it or an entire issue. As I was filing my books away, I noticed that

  • IDW's new Doctor Who series had three different artists in its first three issues.
  • Flash has suffered delay after delay.
  • The same goes for Batman: The Dark Knight.
  • Batwoman never appeared.
  • I ordered Image's Turf (a 5-issue mini series) last year because it had an interesting premise and it hasn't finished yet.
  • Astonishing X-Men, Thor, Iron Man: Legacy, all skipped a month or months.

Now I seen examples of this before like Camelot 3000 #12 and Ultimate Hulk Vs Wolverine not to mention The Twelve so it's a slippery slope between artistic merit/vision and the obligation to produce the books in a timely manner.

 

Just to chime in here, when Kevin Smith was tagged to reboot Green Arrow, DC KNEW his talent for not doing the work in a timely manner so they didn't publish anything until I believe they had either 6 or twelve issues completed before they printed the first one. Maybe that is what it takes. I was thinking about something along the same lines for Titans:Games. How many times has THAT been solicited? Let Marv and George finish the damn thing THEN solicit it in Previews. It is kind of ironic also when you think about the fact that Marvel is now promoting the fill in, done in one stories as stories from their vaults. I can just imagine if they had held back The Avengers # 146 & 147 (I seem to recall) and presented it today as a never before published classic from yesteryear. ;)

Two comments:

-- I really loved Colletta's work inking Kirby on the '60s JIMs/Mighty Thors. It was a very clean look compared with Joe Sinnott's thicker line over Kirby on Fantastic Four.

-- As Figs alluded to, I think publishers are now looking more at trades than they are monthly titles. You can probably blame the success of Sandman, even though it never missed a month that I recall.

But I'm a trade reader now, partly because I probably couldn't stand waiting months between titles. I kinda prefer DVDs to live runs of TV shows, too, for the same reason.

Guess that's three comments.

Yeah I think the tact now should be if the person is known for his tardiness get the completed, or nearly-completed story finished before it is solicited. Hell, I would do that for any Mark Millar mini-series.

 

I've gotten to the point that I have no problem bailing on a series if it is constantly late. Even if its a mini-series. Like the series Turf that Philip mentioned above. By the time the last issue came out (3? 4?) I had lost interest, and just dropped the series.I just don't care how it ends any more.

the_original_b_dog said:

Two comments:

-- I really loved Colletta's work inking Kirby on the '60s JIMs/Mighty Thors. It was a very clean look compared with Joe Sinnott's thicker line over Kirby on Fantastic Four.


Well, well, well ...

It just goes to show that that's what makes horse races, or something.

For my money, there are great inkers who can make any artist, no matter how poor, look good, but Colletta was the exact opposite -- a poor inker who could make any artist, no matter how great, look bad.

No, scratch that -- he made every artist he handled look like every other artist. Even a unique talent like Marshall Rodgers! I once saw Colletta's inks over a Rodgers Mr. Miracle story, and I couldn't believe that was allowed to happen! And Colletta made every female character look exactly alike.

But, as noted above, he was fast and reliable.
Maybe I need to go back and look at those Thors again!
Another potential factor is that the audience is now more likely to drop a book due to sub-standard fill-in issues than due to tardiness.  A lot of the examples that CK mentioned are examples of not only fill-in issues, but of bad comics.  The publisher doesn't want to be stuck with that sub-standard story or art for the eventual trade.  And the audience doesn't really want it either.

Actually, I agree with tobd about Vince Colletta with Kirby on Thor.  In all honesty, when I think 'Classic Kirby', that's what comes to mind.  Not his FF work, not any of his varied and sundry work on other titles, but Kirby and Colletta on Thor.\

 

That doesn't mean that Colletta was a good inker, just that he seemed to be a good match for Kirby.

The reason Colletta gets such a bad rap is the reason he was so fast: in a crunch, he'd erase details supplied by the pencil artist leaving blank backgrounds.

I thought the reason Colletta gets such a bad rap, as elucidated by Mark Evanier, was that he was lazy and routinely put in a poor effort, which included erasing details and leaving blank backgrounds.

 

Not that this is meant to be a Vince Colletta-bashing thread. I'll accept that his style, such as it is, might have been well suited to some artists such as Jack Kirby's Thor. 



Chris Fluit said:

Another potential factor is that the audience is now more likely to drop a book due to sub-standard fill-in issues than due to tardiness.  A lot of the examples that CK mentioned are examples of not only fill-in issues, but of bad comics.  The publisher doesn't want to be stuck with that sub-standard story or art for the eventual trade.  And the audience doesn't really want it either.

 

Maybe so ... but the fill-in story doesn't have to be included in the eventual trade paperback, does it? 

 

And that's more at what I'm getting at, anyway. Since "the eventual trade" is a consideration today when it wasn't three or more decades ago, does that make a publisher willing to accept whatever penalties there are for not getting the book on time this month, because he'll make the money back later when the whole story is collected?  

Jeff of Earth-J said: "The reason Colletta gets such a bad rap is the reason he was so fast: in a crunch, he'd erase details supplied by the pencil artist leaving blank backgrounds."

 

Yes, and Marv Wolfman got Colletta bounced from "Tomb of Dracula" after comparing Gene Colan's original art with the inked pages Colletta turned in. Most of the background detail had been eliminated. Fortunately, Tom Palmer was waiting in the wings.

 

But I agree with Randy Jackson that Colletta was fine for Kirby's pencils on "Thor." He somehow made everything (and everyone) look made of wood or stone -- perfect for a mythological series. I also thought Colletta did a good job on the early issues of "Forever People" and "New Gods" ... though Kirby apparently didn't agree.

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