The Thin Black Line: Perspectives on Vince Colletta, Comics’ Most Controversial Inker

Review by KC Carlson

Picking up on the longstanding fandom debate, exacerbated in recent years around the internet (never a good thing), of the relative merits and professionalism of artist Vince Colletta in regards to his inking skills — most notably on his work with Jack Kirby — Robert L. Bryant’s The Thin Black Line asks more questions than it definitively answers. Which is not necessarily a bad thing.

It’s a slim volume (128 pages) and a quick read, although there is an incredible amount of artwork, the key selling point of the book. Some of it is presented as compare-and-contrast between pencilled art (much of it Kirby’s) and Colletta’s finished inks, to help you decide for yourself how horrible Colletta’s “sins” were.

Several people tell entertaining tales about Colletta and his larger-than-life reputation, including the rumors of his mob connections and his model photography. Bryant’s not attempting a full-blown biography of Colletta’s life and career here, although there is a fairly good overview. To be blunt about it, Colletta’s career probably doesn’t merit the full-blown bio treatment (although the case could be made for an in-depth look at his 1950s and 60s romance work, where he excelled and is rightly considered amongst the top in that genre).

Later in Colletta’s career (after the romance work dried up when the genre died in the early 1970s), he primarily became an inker, eventually gaining a reputation as the most prolific inker in the field. He seldom ever turned down an assignment, becoming known as a guy who could turn around a late job and “save” it so it would not ship late. To this end, he would pull all-nighters, catnap overnight in publisher’s offices, and allegedly employ many assistants (“ghosts”) to help him get jobs done fast. He also cut corners — simplifying artwork, using artistic shortcuts, or simply not inking everything on the board, ultimately erasing figures or complicated backgrounds.

All of which put Colletta in the odd position of being every editor’s dream — “saving” every nightmarishly late book he was handed — while at the same time becoming the guy many artists hoped wouldn’t get his hands on their pages, lest he “ruin” them with his haste and shortcutting. He made a career out of speed, pleasing the guys who cut his paychecks instead of his fellow artists.

Bryant does a fair job presenting high points of Colletta’s work mixed with quotes from other professionals, including Erik Larsen, Tony Isabella, Mark Evanier, Joe Kubert, Roy Thomas, Stan Lee, and many others. (The back of the book lists the many conversations and interviews he conducted, including talking with Vinnie’s son Franklin.) Overall, there’s an essential conflict driving the comics industry: Is it art or is it a business? Make it good or make the release date? Those are questions we still argue over today, and Vince Colletta’s story sums it all up.

The publisher has posted a chapter preview and provided this review copy.

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2 Responses to “The Thin Black Line: Perspectives on Vince Colletta, Comics’ Most Controversial Inker”

  1. Mia Says:

    I loved this book. What a life this guy had!

  2. Samuel Says:

    I dont know if I’d want to trade lives with Vince Colletta, I mean, the guy worked non-stop for 40 years. How he found time for all that other entertaining stuff is really beyond me.

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