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Tue, August 31st, 2010 at 2:28pm PDT | Updated: September 1st, 2010 at 7:42am

Comic Books
Augie De Blieck Jr., Columnist

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RANDOM THOUGHTS

These may or may not have been spurred on by events that flashed in the comic world's pan this weekend:

  • Kurt Busiek for Editor-in-Chief of all comics? Can I get a second? Note that if nominated he will not run, and if elected, he will not serve.Some might argue that comics has a rich tradition of editors who did not serve, though...

  • If you have to have summits to coordinate your editorial schedule around a single character's half-dozen books for the next year, is it time to consider that maybe your editorial direction is a bit too complicated for readers to track? If multiple books aren't unique and are expected to coordinate so heavily for a year at a time, why have them?

  • I'm not saying comics are getting old, but the two creators involved in the clash of generations in the copyright dust-up this weekend at The Harvey Awards are in their 70s and 40s. The 20-somethings were all busy Saturday night working on their webcomics and reading manga scanlations.And Joe Kubert snorted something about "kids these days" to all of them, before picking his pen back up and drawing another graphic novel during “Matlock” commercials.

  • Mark Waid is this year's Robert Kirkman of comic manifestos, minus the banjo music.

  • Frank Miller, meanwhile, is still working on a way to rip up a Wizard convention.

  • Scott Kurtz sums it up the best.

  • Congratulations to Joe Quesada for his decade in the Editor-in-Chief's chair. Marvel is a much different place today, editorially, than it was when he started. And even when I don't agree with all of those choices, I think it is a far, far better place than when he took the keys to the company car. In fact, it's probably the strongest the company has been, editorially, in the 22 years I've been reading comics.


VINCE COLLETTA: THREAT OR MENACE?

This is an early review in that I haven't finished reading the book yet. I'm still in the middle of it. However, even if the book completely crashes and burns in the back half, I've still learned enough from the front half to enjoy it and recommend it to others.

That book is the improbable "The Thin Black Line: Perspective on Vince Colletta" from TwoMorrows. It's a relatively short book (128 pages) that discusses the controversial inker. He's best known on the Internet these days for erasing details from Jack Kirby's pencils to help speed along the inking process.That's a pretty cut-and-dried reason to loathe the man, detest his work habits, and paint him as a villain, right?

Not exactly.

While not letting him off the hook by a long shot, this book explains both sides of the matter in very compelling fashion. Colletta was a gifted inker. When paired up with the right artist and given enough time, he could do beautiful work. The problem is that he became better known for being able to turn jobs around overnight. Colletta adopted a number of techniques to get the job done on time, quickly.He saved editors with late books, but at the cost of some artistic quality. He became a one-man factory, though he employed others to help him out.

This might just be my guess here, but once you go down that road of being able to do work quickly and cash the frequent paychecks, it becomes very hard to worry about doing "artistic" things and "quality" things. Colletta got trapped in a system he created, to the point where he'd get things done quickly and cut corners even when he didn't need to. By all accounts, he enjoyed the money, too. Not that there's much of it in comics even back then, but he did have a rather nice house. That house is about a ten-minute drive from me. I nearly drove past it last week just to snap a picture to show you. The problem is, the house sits back, the grounds are surrounded by trees, and I wouldn't have gotten a very nice pic. Let's put it this way, though: The house currently has both a pool and a baseball field in the backyard.Yes, a baseball field. Given the area, it wouldn't surprise me to find out there's a Yankee or a Met living there.

Basically, Colletta took on too much work, met his deadlines, cut corners to keep the production rate up and the money coming in, and saved more than one editor's bacon. He also arguably improved the composition of some pages, by eliminated distracting details that didn't move the story forward. Or, he erased lines drawn by Jack Kirby and, no matter what, should be publicly flogged for some heresy.

Colletta is an interesting figure in the history of comics, mostly for the arguments he inspires. The truth of the matter is, while he isn't perfect, much of his problems come from the assembly line production of comics, not any sort of issue of artistry. Colletta was an accomplished photographer and oil painter. He drew beautiful romance stories. But when it came to superhero comics, his style didn't always fit in. And his chosen business model for his art further complicated that.

"The Thin Black Line: Perspective on Vince Colletta" isn't perfect. Even only halfway through it, I can see some structural issues. It begins with an overview of the problems many have with Colletta's style alongside a slight biography of the man. It reads, honestly, like a separate article and not the first chapter of the book. That's why I wasn't surprised to find out that the book sprung from an essay in "The Jack Kirby Collector." As an overview and a self-contained article, that first chapter is effective. But as a lead-in to a career retrospective, it's a bit less focused.

The problem is that things get repetitive quickly. The focus gets lost over the course of a chapter and we wind up with various and almost random quotes inserted into the text to support the same arguments for and against Colletta's choice in previous chapters. I'm hoping this gets better in the second half of the book, which has topics including the Internet's reaction to Colletta, his use as a savior of late books by editors, and his role as a cog in comics' assembly line. Those seem better focused, but we'll see in the days ahead.

Even still, for $15, this is a nice chunk of comics history in book form. Lots of interviews went into it, lots of great stories are told, and the art samples are representative of the text that surrounds them. It's an easy read, an enjoyable read, and a great historical piece for those of us not as well acquainted with Kirby's ‘60s work. The book is worth reading to get the other side of the argument that doesn't always get a light put on it in Internet message boards and other places.

AUTOBIOGRAPHY AND TRAVELOGUE

"The Venice Chronicles" is not a book to be judged by its cover, though it would easily be enjoyed that way, too. PIXAR animator Enrico Casarosa took a trip to Venice, Italy a couple of years ago. He was there to visit his parents, to vacation with his girlfriend, and to meet her parents along the way. Casarosa tells the story through watercolored cartoons, using a loose and expressive style.

Casarosa might be best known for his SketchCrawls (That link is out of date; It is the original blog.), in which groups of artists go for a walk together and stop to make drawings, take pictures, and create from what they've seen. He's the perfect candidate to do a travelogue with autobiographical moments in it. You get lots of them in this book, from the prerequisite views of the canals to wonderful impressions of the local buildings, the mountains, and even the apartment he was staying at.

But Casarosa is a deeper thinker than that, questioning the meaning and purpose of his own book. Roughly every other chapter is filled with Casarosa's misgivings in doing a book like this. It's the kind of thing I'm glad to read an autobiographical cartoonist struggle with. It's questions like "Isn't this too boring? Can I create drama out of this somewhere? Where's the line that I draw for what I'll draw, what I'll reference, and what I'll keep to myself?" It's self-deprecating, yes, but the answers to such questions will explain where so many other cartoonists have gone wrong.

Casarosa also gets into the mechanics of it, creating a very transparent experience for the reader, purposefully pointing out which drawings were done at the time, and which were recreated later from memory. It's not like the book is a journalistic effort that demands one hundred percent truth and reality, but such transparency does help to mitigate any momentary doubts you might have as to the story. It's like when two people "accidentally" bump into each other at a party on some bad reality television show. You know the producers pushed one of them out the door to create that drama, but they'd never admit it. So you break your suspension of disbelief and the show is destroyed. Casarosa goes to great pains to keep that from happening.

It's also interesting to see what he's capable of when he shows off selections from his sketchbook from a dance recital (some examples from a different recital can be seen on his current blog). The loose gestural drawings are amazing. You know the dancer took ten seconds to perform that move, but Casarosa is able to capture its fluidity and the grace in a series of twenty drawings that surely took longer.

The book, distributed through AdHouse for $19.95, is beautifully packaged. It's the kind of thing you'd expect an artist to put together instead of a bean-counting publisher. It's a slightly smaller than comic-sized volume with a solid hardcover and heavy white paper that holds the art wonderfully, without letting any of it bleed through the page. The paper feels like the same material Casarosa likely drew upon, which is very nice to have. The book feels heavier than it looks, but is still perfectly comfortable to read.

"The Venice Chronicles" came out in 2008, so you might have to special order it through your local retailer or find it elsewhere, but it's a delightful hidden treasure that never got the attention I think it deserves, either as a travelogue or as a meta-commentary on autobiographical comics. Casarosa has a day job that keeps him busy, but any time he dips his toes into the water, it's cause for a pool party.


Special congratulations to CBR Editor Steve Gerding and his wife on the birth of their second child this week.

Lots of photography talk is happening over at the renewed Various and Sundry, from the last of the Wiggles concert updates to the sad tale of my broken 50mm lens.

How to get in touch: Twitter @augiedb || E-mail || Pipeline Message Board

Where else I hang out: AugieShoots.com || iPhone Photo Blog || VariousandSundry.com

TAGS:  pipeline, vince coletta, enrico casarosa

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