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.
I think that Vince Colletta did a great job on George Tuska's artwork, too, if I remember Black Goliath correctly.
Jack Abel was an inker that I wasn't too fond of. His lines were too thin and he made every artist look the same, IMHO.
Sorry for starting the . But Randy backs up my thoughts, that Vince may not have been good everywhere, but on Thor, over Kirby, it was a good pairing. And I say that as a reader, not as someone who knew the story behind the story.
The reason it worked may have been because it was Colletta, the universally derided "hack," that you could really see what Kirby was doing -- the structure of the scene and the look of the characters. By contrast, on Fantastic Four with Joe Sinnott inking, it's like Kirby was setting the scene and the action, but Sinnott gave the characters their consistent look. That's why, if you follow the book through the '70s, no matter who was penciling, whether John Buscema or Rich Buckler, it still looked like the Fantastic Four. That was because of Joe and his steady hand. But Thor, that felt as close to all Kirby as we may ever get, and it was a great ride.
I will now say that I shall never attempt to defend Vinnie ever 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.
But does the audience want an alleged monthly book that lets an entire year pass from one issue to the next?
I guess I don't buy into the notion that a superstar writer or superstar artist is the make-or-break factor as to whether I will enjoy the story before me, especially for a title that isn't the writer/artist's personal vision.
By that, I mean, say, nobody but Mike Grell does Jon Sable or Kurt Busiek does Astro City, so if he can't do it, well, then I can understand that it won't happen.
But All-Star Batman and Robin? Am I really supposed to believe nobody but Frank Miller and Jim Lee do Batman stories? Spider-Man and the Black Cat? Kevin Smith is the only one who could write that story? C'mon. Yes, what they bring to this project is special ... but it isn't unique.
It is significant that most of the examples I mentioned are for miniseries or other kinds of alleged prestige titles, so I can guess that publisher can afford to let those slide, because it doesn't really affect the company's main output if those are late.
Which doesn't explain or excuse what happened to Superman and Wonder Woman -- and in Wonder Woman's case, not just this year, but in the period before Gail Simone took it on, when it fell far, far behind under not one but two celebrity writers who had never done comics before.
There's a much. much more important reason why things are so different today regarding lateness.
Back in the day, at least as recently as the late 1980s, but probably into the early 90s, comic books from Marvel/ DC had a four-month production time.* That was because once the writer was done with a plot/script (depending on the company style) it had to be delivered, via messenger or mail (or by hand in the bullpen) to the editor, who would make corrections, and send it back. Next it had to go to the penciller. Who had to send it to the editor. Who sent it back to the penciller with notes or to the Inker. which then went back to the editor, who sent the pages to the letterer, who sent it back to the editor, who sent it to the colorist. Only after it was totally finished, was it sent to the printer, and usually, there was a buffer time between the "FInish" date and the printing date, to allow for "bumps." All of that took a bunch of time, and at any single point, there were 3-4 issues of a comic in various points of production. If one part of the process hit a bump ("I broke my drawing hand in a ping-pong tournement!"), it was relatively easy for an editor to find someone else to do that step of the process. If there was a major breakdown, well then there was a lot of "inventory" stories around from cancelled series, try-outs from newbies, and whatnot. I'm not sure at what point it happened, but somewhere along the line before then, the big publishers made conscious decisions to not print reprints in places where people expected new content. Major crossovers were mostly completed, or in the process of being completed, by the time the first part came out.
Fast forward to today, and the process is very different. Everything is sent electronically. Some artists are not even drawing on paper anymore, but use a stylus and an electronic board. The quality is so high, that no one can tell the difference.** E-mailing scripts/plots and images cuts down on all of the messenger/mailing time. The final products are even sent electronically to the printers. What has ended up happening is that the final deadlines for producing a comic book are now left without any wiggle room. The final versions of the finished pages get e-mailed to the printers the day after retailers' final orders are due. Printing then starts right away, and it then takes 3-4 weeks for the issue to get onto the retailers' shelves. If the writer is 3 days late with a script, the comic is then 1 week late. If the penciller is then 4 days late with the pencils, that's another week. The inker has a cold? Another week. While theoretically, an editor could still e-mail those pencilled pages to a different inker, well, there are fewer inkers around who can drop what they're doing without making another book a week late. Where the old system was set up so that the cogs in the Great Comic Book Producing Machine could be switched out more easily, the current system just doesn't have enough spare cogs to do that anymore.
And that's the reason so many books become late. Not all of them, but a lot of them.
I have some stuff to do, but next, I'll post about the REAL reason why Kevin Smith and Joss Whedon's comics come out late!
*I remember reading about this in the late 1980s, either in CBG, Amazing Heroes, Marvel Age, and/or a letters column, and it was reinforced by at least one other source.
** Think you can? The Godzilla custom cover that I posted the image of was drawn at least partly electronically.
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Thanks, Dagwan. That's the kind of information I was looking for.
Waiting with bated breath for the rest of it!
"By contrast, on Fantastic Four with Joe Sinnott inking, it's like Kirby was setting the scene and the action, but Sinnott gave the characters their consistent look. That's why, if you follow the book through the '70s, no matter who was penciling, whether John Buscema or Rich Buckler, it still looked like the Fantastic Four."
Klaus Janson inked Daredevil for many years -- before, during and after the famous Frank Miller run -- which gave that book a consistent look.
One of the reasons the books had to come out on time back in the day was, if the comics didn't get to the printers on time the companies had to pay printers' late fees. I don't know what the arrangements are today.
I'm not in command of the detail here, but I don't think the solicitation system worked the same way then. Whoever was placing the orders probably ordered the next issue of Fantastic Four or Superman or whatever. Today, aren't the credits part of the solicitations?
The age of emergency reprint came to an end at Marvel partly because the company took a decision to prepare fill-in stories as a hedge against emergencies. Under Shooter Marvel also put a more elaborate editorial structure in place.
Luke Blanchard said: "One of the reasons the books had to come out on time back in the day was, if the comics didn't get to the printers on time the companies had to pay printers' late fees."
Yes, this is why Neal Adams didn't pencil the final chapter of the Kree-Skrull War saga in "Avengers." When it became clear Adams wasn't going to make deadline, Roy Thomas brought in John Buscema to pencil the issue in a couple of days. It's not Buscema's best work, but it's not that shabby, either. The alternatives were paying a late fee (which would make Roy's bosses mad) or running a reprint (which always made fans feel cheated).