The Thin Black Line: Perspectives on Vince Colletta, Comics Most Controversial Inker
Written by Robert L. Bryant, Jr.
Published by TwoMorrows
Probably the most surprising aspect of Robert L. Bryant, Jr.’s, portrait of comic book illustrator Vince Colletta is how fair it actually feels. Stories – often legends – of Colletta’s inking shortcuts are not hard to come by, so Bryant tracks down and interviews creators who worked directly with Colletta or who knew the man personally. Among the industry luminaries to speak are, among others, Joe Kubert, Joe Sinnot, Dick Ayers, Mark Evanier, and Erik Larsen (whose first job at Marvel Comics was inked by Colletta) in addition to Vinnie’s son Franklin.
Vince Colletta, if you’re not into the history of the industry and the men who shaped it, began working in romance comics in the 1950s and remained an in-demand inker through the latter part of the 1980s. During his forty-odd year association with the comics industry, and ironically even more so in recent years, Colletta’s work inspired deeply divided debates. Hired to finish pages over a penciller’s layouts and detailed renderings, Colletta’s reputation hinged on two things: his ability to bail editors out of any deadline crunch, and his willingness to “cut corners” while doing so, leading to final pages that sometimes compromised the intentions of the penciller Colletta should’ve been abetting.
In The Thin Black Line, collaborators and editors remember Colletta’s work ethic and work outlook, as well as his social persona, while Franklin Colletta provides insights into Vince’s role as the family provider. A portrait of a gregarious man driven to support a lifestyle (both for family and personal reasons) quickly takes shape, as Bryant’s interviews dive into Colletta’s views on the craft of inking and the disposability of comics.
Other artists, such as Rich Buckler, offered a window into the professional advice Colletta shared during their early days in the business. As Buckler says, “Not everybody liked [Colletta]… They respected him, though.” Fred Hembeck recalls sage advice on page composition and storytelling given by Colletta, and Tony Isabella points out that while most people only remember some bad inking jobs, nobody wants to give credit to Colletta for saving more than a few missed deadlines. Erik Larsen probably gives the best summary of Colletta’s work, but I’ll leave that for readers of the book to discover.
Bryant supports the arguments with many examples of Colletta pages, including placing penciled Jack Kirby pages alongside the finished Colletta version so readers can observe the discrepancies. The Thin Black Line also exhibits many beautiful examples of Colletta’s romance work from the 50s and early 60s, a valuable lesson to anyone who dismisses Colletta’s talent out of hand. The ability clearly existed.
Whether you come down for or against Vince Colletta’s inking, or even if you don’t particularly care one way or another, The Thin Black Line: Perspectives on Vince Colletta, Comics’ Most Controversial Inker is a valuable insight into not only Colletta’s work and life, but the business methods of the comics industry as a whole during one of its most creatively fertile periods.