Apologies To Tom Palmer…

…And, now that I think about it, to Mike Royer, Klaus Janson, Frank Springer, Sam Grainger, Bob Layton, and Dan Adkins. Dick Ayers, too. Heck, so many, and I’ve only got so many fingers to type with…

[EDIT: I mean what about Bob McLeod, for God’s sake?]

Though it says “Memework” in the Categories section up top, this is not a meme: this is the establishment of an award long past due. THE INKWELL AWARDS.

Please take a few minutes to participate, and cast your vote. For a helpful primer, visit here.

Go and vote, NOW. And then come back and scroll down, and I’ll tell you who I voted for, who I wanted to vote for but didn’t, and why.

Okay?

Okay.

The jump starts here.

All finished? Okay, here’s what I put down, newly-edited from last night for a bit of clarity:

Favourite Inker (Retro)Dick Giordano

This is where my mild dishonesty begins. Because part of me wanted to say Mike Royer, due to the fact that Kirby under Royer’s inks is just so fantastically muscular, and at the same time so weirdly liquid, that it amazes me. Of course, perhaps paradoxically, part of me also wanted to vote my childhood sentimental favourite, Vince Colletta. Yes, you read that correctly: Vince Colletta. I’m aware (though only recently aware) that there’s a lot of bad feeling for Colletta out there, and moreover I understand what it’s based on, but that awareness and understanding doesn’t change the fact that, at a time when I knew nothing of the erasing of backgrounds or the resentments of professionals or the appearance of un-inked pencils, Colletta’s weird scratchy style captivated me visually…and to be perfectly truthful, it still does. Controversies notwithstanding, Colletta’s inks became part of my comic-art aesthetic, and compelled my interest, compelled my absorption into comics’ special world of imaginary detail, and I can’t apologize for that…or excuse it either, I suppose…because the fact is that I like Colletta’s inking style. His style, you understand. As an artist.

I think I’m on decently firm ground, here: my understanding of the knock on Colletta is that he took shortcuts that frustrated his pencillers’ intentions, that pissed them off…that took something they were justly proud of, and diminished its quality for reasons they thought selfish. I believe I mentioned in my last post that I’ve been reading Essential Thor Vol. 3…and reading it all again, I’m reinforced in my belief that Thor #153-#157 is one of the best-pencilled comic-book arcs (as we call them now) that I think I’ve ever seen…but, reading it without the benefit of colouring, yes, well…it’s clear that it could have been even better than it was, if Colletta hadn’t taken shortcuts on it. I say this as a Colletta fan, mind you: as someone who appreciates his contribution to those issues in terms of mood. But without the colour, there’s no arguing, the forms are rather too shabbily indistinct, compared to what you just know is in the pencils. It’s a bit slapdash, honestly. I never noticed before, but it is. The colourist definitely picks up the inker’s slack, here. And it was a disappointment to have to recognize that.

(Actually, it may not be that arc where the indistinctness shows up most plainly — but I’ll let it stand anyway. Can’t edit everything the day after!)

[EDIT:  Dan McFan, the one-man Vince Colletta booster squad, has informed me about Marvel’s reprint technology making progressively shittier and shittier copies of, in particular, Mr. Colletta’s feathery inks.  I am very glad to hear this news, weirdly enough:  it means that though Vinnie may have cruelly cut stuff out, he never simply screwed the pooch.  Although one must imagine now that Thor Essentials ought to be better named “Thor Travesties”…because we are getting neither Kirby’s pure penicls nor Colletta’s original inks.]

However, that is not Colletta’s style I’m talking about there, I think. That is his…as (again) a fan of his, I’m going to be delicate here…that is not his style, that is his approach to work. And it’s really not hard to understand how Kirby, the manufacturer of extraordinarily detailed pencils, might have chafed — you see I am being delicate again — at this approach.

But, did he actually chafe at Colletta’s style?

That would be an interesting thing to know, if he did. Or, if he didn’t. I’m sure you see what I mean. Personally, I liked Colletta’s style on top of Kirby’s…but that’s just my own subjective aesthetic appreciation, right? That is not about whether he habitually did something unsavoury to the pooch, that is about whether or not I like all those little scratchy lines of his. I’m sure RAB will step in here to correct me, if I get anything substantially wrong, in fact as the action-heroes say I’m counting on it…but if Colletta had worked as diligently as Kirby did (which of course is setting the bar quite high, but never mind that now), if Colletta had been less pragmatic and more excited, would his work still have earned him such a bad name? Is there no one but me and Ed and Eddie Campbell who finds merit in Vince Colletta’s actual artistic way of seeing?

If there is no one, then I suppose he must’ve just been universally bad.

But if there isn’t…if you see what I mean…

Then the whole “inking partner who screws his penciller” thing must have admitted of different…um, amplitudes in different cases, don’t you think? Sometimes, possibly, we can even imagine that the amplitude was zero: that cranky idiosyncratic inker and dissatisfied penciller who does something else better somehow might have met in perfect harmony. Maybe neither one of them cared, about what many other artists cared about. Maybe it all worked out fine, without hostility. I choose to believe this, actually, as silly as it may sound: because as I’ve said before, Don Heck’s work on Giant-Size Defenders #4 appeals to me as few books have before or since, and in many ways I consider it his masterpiece — at least, his superhero masterpiece — hey, I think of it as his Abbey Road drum solo, you know? — and Colletta’s inks were so inextricably part of that appreciation for me that I can’t bring myself to believe it was a mismatch. Now, I’ve never seen Heck’s un-inked pages for GSD #4; I don’t know what, if anything, was passed-over, mixed-up, or whited-out. I don’t know if Don was pissed-off, or not. But it’s hard for me to discount the powerful moodiness I see being lent to his pencils by Vince’s screwy scratchiness (and again I forget who coloured it, but wow — talk about kismet), and furthermore try as I might I can’t help but think that Vince Colletta might have been a better artistic partner for some, than he was for others. And, possibly, that in some partnerships his shortcuts were less of an aggravation than in others? Gee, I don’t know, am I trying too hard? All I’m really trying to do is justify the fact that I still like the look of his inks, after all, you know…and I confess that for a fleeting moment a small and extremely wicked part of me wanted to vote for Colletta as “Favourite Embellisher/Finisher” in the Inkwell Awards, on the grounds that, hey, I was a kid, and I didn’t know, and I loved those comics — but like I say, I’ve seen those uncoloured Thor pencils now, and they’re not really good news. So although I subjectively approve Colletta’s style, and his artistic ability and vision — hell, I can’t draw at all — to subjectively approve his choices would be a misuse, of the excuse, of subjectivity. Christ, I sound like Jesse Jackson. I’m trying to heal the nation way too much here, I think. And I don’t even know why I should explain half as much as I have! But can’t we all get along, to the extent that we can say Vince Colletta wasn’t an untalented artist? Because I don’t think of him as an untalented artist; and my inner comics child is even now enjoying his inks over George Tuska’s pencils. So I won’t apologize for what I’m not responsible for, and neither should you. But it is weirdly ironic that I should have wanted to vote both for Mike Royer, and Vince Colletta, and that’s something I should pass over…however now having said all that I sort of will, actually, because there’s a bigger picture here.

Which is, that I didn’t end up voting for either of them.

My dishonesty continues: I thought of Royer, and I thought of Colletta, but a much larger part of me really wanted to put Terry Austin’s name here, on grounds both sentimental and technical. Now Terry has had a truly amazing career: he’s propelled so many books into the stratosphere that you can’t even list them. While he’s as distinctive as anyone, he’s a bit of a chameleon too…and I like him as much as I like anybody, and maybe even more. So why didn’t I mark his name down, if he made some of my favourite books of all time? NO! If he made a huge percentage of my favourite books of all time…!!!

The answer is: well, because you might as well ask why I didn’t mark Joe Sinnott’s name down, then. Joe Sinnott, for God’s sake! There’s an inker whose style has perfected itself over time, and another inker who’s not only formed my aesthetic, but catapulted books into a popularity they wouldn’t’ve enjoyed without him. Talk about smooth lines! Talk about detail! Talk about personality! Why the man is practically a human Porsche — he makes everything high-performance.

So…if I was going to be honest, and say Austin…
Then screw it, I should just say Sinnott!

But then there’s that Joe Sinnott Award…seems only right that Joe should get it…

And that right there’s the mild dishonesty. Because I wasn’t answering the questions, I was balancing them, by this point.

And so: Dick Giordano.

Balance definitely is what it’s all about, in his case. You want crisp, clear, expressive lines? Dick Giordano. You want readability? It’s Dick Giordano. You want a sense of archetypally clean art, that comes in at you through the pores?

Who else but Dick Giordano?

But I wasn’t going to vote for him. This was the dishonesty. Can I grade Dick higher than Joe Sinnott? Joe is much more stylized than Dick, I think, and therefore less versatile…not that this category’s about versatility, there’s another category for that…but then again maybe Dick isn’t all that versatile, maybe it’s just that he’s been so good for so long that he’s seeped into the groundwater, and become a precursor to how we judge “good” in the first place…but then again maybe…

And then it all sorted itself out, because I remembered that Dick was a major author of Superman vs. Spider-Man, which I always think of as the superhero version of the King James Bible: a work of many hands, sometimes even anonymous hands, and yet somehow even though it’s a book-by-committee it stands alone as a marvellous achievement, a perfect exemplar of what a certain kind of thing ought to look like.

And that was Ross Andru, inked by Dick Giordano.

I tried to think if Terry Austin — or even Joe Sinnott! — would have done a better job on it.

Nope.

Nope.

NOPE.

Because what do comic-book characters even look like? They look like the way Dick Giordano draws them, and that’s that. Dick: he’s practically a colour.

So, ahhhh! Finally some balance in this game of picking favourites, thank GOD!

Favourite Inker (Modern)Gerhard

I’m not even going to bother explaining this. If you don’t know, you just need to look. I don’t really understand how Gerhard does what he does, but I hope we see some new work from him. If you are not hip to this guy, you are MISSING VITAL INFORMATION.

Favourite Finisher/Embellisher (Retro)Terry Austin

To go on in a certain vein from up above: only a dick would’ve selected Vince Colletta for this, right? And yet I almost put down the name of the guy who’s apparently second only to Vince for his well-known re-drawing. He’s brilliant at it, too; absolutely BRILLIANT. This is a guy with such absurd artistic chops that he can basically do anything. He’s like Orson Welles. He’s like Isaac Newton: when he can’t find the tools he needs, he invents them out of stuff he finds in the wastepaper basket. He’s a goddamn artistic genius. He’s like MacGyver with a brush. He’s so good that you almost feel guilty saying that he does it TOO MUCH…!

It’s Neal Adams.

He’s a comics version of Gene Roddenberry, for God’s sake. He can fix ANYTHING, if you just give him enough cups of coffee. It’s almost stupid.

But, I didn’t pick him. Because…well, maybe because it’s too much, to say so? As I’ve sort of gradually been overhearing online for the last little while, Neal’s interfered in a lot of other people’s work, a lot like Vince Colletta in a way, though I guess the major difference most would cite would be respect…however for all I know there’s a certain level of resentment toward Neal as well, out there. But anyway, these jokes are fine, right, but they’re just jokes…Neal may have been the world’s most excellent anonymous finisher, and he may even be appreciated for it (again, for all I know), but that’s not really what this award’s about, is it?

So I picked Terry Austin, instead.

I seem to recall he was actually listed in the credits of Claremont/Byrne X-Men for months and months as “Embellisher” instead of “Inker”…which I attribute, not to him simply finishing Byrne’s breakdowns or anything like that, but to the fact that even when Terry’s just plain inking, he’s “finishing”. Because he’s the king of Detail, really — he adds it compulsively to every picture he’s given, and so he perhaps straddles the line between inker and finisher in every one of his jobs. At any rate in a fair assessment of the Claremont/Byrne/Austin collaboration of the Eighties, Terry Austin no doubt would end up with fifty percent of the responsibility for the “look” of those books…much of what was visually stunning on their pages, much of the “wow” factor, was down to him, his own invention, his own improvisation on what he was given.

And also: he did backgrounds for Superman vs. Spider-Man. Well, as I recently discovered, Neal Adams was in there too…but Neal doesn’t get it, Terry gets it. Enough with the jokes already, black brown or blue! This Embellishment thing is so clearly Terry Austin’s game, I don’t know why I’m messing around with any sort of transgressive humour — when Terry wins the prize, and that’s that.

Favourite Finisher/Embellisher (Modern)Steve Leialoha

I may have to defend an imperfect memory, here, which is never a fun thing to do: but it seems to me that Steve Leialoha never got full recognition for his pencilling chops until after Coyote (where of course he knocked all the stuffing out of that job, WOW!), and that therefore it was only after Coyote that he got work finishing other people’s pencils.

But I need to stick Steve Leialoha in here somewhere, don’t you see? I just need to.

A balancing act again, I suppose. And yet I’m almost sure he did a few finishes sometime in the Nineties…

Most Adaptable InkerBob Wiacek

I wrestled with this one, because I think Al Milgrom improves just about anything…but I guess when I think “adaptable” I also think “invisible”…and so though it might sound like a backhanded compliment, for me it has to be Bob Wiacek.

But then I think invisibility is a bit of a trick, you see, having had to practise it myself a few times. I’ve seen comics where I thought “Ah! This was better than the last one, lots clearer, but everything still looks the same, kinda…what happened?” Over time I discovered that very often what happened was that Bob Wiacek came on the book. But the thing is, he came on bad books as well as good ones, and there’s a challenge for adaptability, damn it! Because what do you do when the book kind of sucks? Sometimes, I think, you play it as it lies: you don’t do a half-assed job on it, but you do allow it to be what it is…which is hard for a high-style non-invisible type of artist to do, I think. But apparently Bob Wiacek could ink anything and make it look like itself, whatever that happened to be…and so he gets my vote, because he’s in a lot of old comics that I really like, and yet people never seem to notice him, and that must be adaptability, mustn’t it?

Anyway, I like it.

Most Prolific InkerFrank Giacoia

I don’t know if this is fully supported by the facts — again, I’m fighting an unreliable memory, here — but there was a time in my life when every other comic book I picked up seemed to be inked by Frank Giacoia, and I’ve never forgotten it. He inked a much better Captain America than Joe Sinnott did, by the way. But who was this “Frank”? It was ridiculous: I believe his name was on ten issues a month. Madness. Great stuff. I believe Christopher Nolan is at work on a Frank Giacoia bio-pic, at the moment. All the scenes will be filmed sideways.

And again, I have a lot of old comics with him in them, that I love…and I couldn’t just let him pass. So it’s Frank.

Props AwardSteve Leialoha

Obviously I’m plumping a bit for Leialoha here…but come on, you’ve read those Gene Colan issues of Howard The Duck, haven’t you? Leialoha, man. He should be remembered more often.

Call Of Duty AwardNeal Adams

He’s got official “inker” credits — and therefore “duh”.

MVP AwardJim Mooney

I refer you to the testimonials flying about the web now, in the wake of this great craftsman’s death — always on time, always skilled, always inspired, and always a fantastic storyteller, in our sense of the word. And, they tell me, a great gentleman: read about him here. Like, right now. Because I miss that guy.

Joe Sinnott AwardJoe Sinnott

Crap, it’s Joe Sinnott — who’m I s’posed to vote for? Apologies to Al Williamson and Wally Wood, but those issues of FF were really kind of mindblowing.

And, of course, apologies to Tom Palmer. Who is a giant; but that’s the problem, it’s a small room. Only so many giants can fit in here.

You’re tops in my book though, Tom.

Go vote, Internet. Then, come back and tell me why you voted as you did.

I can’t wait ’til next year. I’m totally going Klaus Janson.

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4 responses to “Apologies To Tom Palmer…

  1. Wow. Thank you so much for all the time, effort and thought you put into this. You have obviously taken this endeavor all quite seriously, showing sincere respect and appreciation to the many ink artists under consideration, something we all want. Thank you for sharing and making my day after all of our hard work getting this launched. The support is truly appreciated.

    Bob Almond (The Inkwell Awards Committee)

  2. It’s my pleasure, Bob! I only wish I was better-informed — I’m afraid much of what I have to say up there must ring false and silly to someone with more than a passing acquaintance with the craft and history of inking…but then I figured I should just try my best anyway. I did rewrite the thing a bit today, for clarity and also to sound a bit less like a blowhard, but I don’t know how successful I was at that…!

    Hope this gets all the recognition it deserves, and thanks for doing it!

  3. I must admit I’m a bit too ignorant of the ins and outs of inking to fill every topic.

    But, here’s what I did manage:

    favorite retro inker – Murphy Anderson. His work with Curt Swan on Superman ranks among some of the most beautiful things I’ve seen in a comic.

    favorite modern inker – Steve Leialoha. I share your enthusiasm for this guy. Hey, he was a great Spider-Woman artist, and you know how I like Bronze Age Spider-Woman. I put him as favorite modern inker due to his excellent work with Mark Buckingham on Fables!

    favorite finisher, retro – Klaus Janson, for his work with Frank Miller on DD if nothing else. Then again, I like Klaus Janson’s work whenever I see it. He probably could have been rated my favorite modern finisher as well!

    Most prolific – Dick Ayers. Just how many Kirby stories did that guy ink?

    MVP – Tom Palmer. He’s a hall-of-famer for sure, but I remember just how good he made the modern John Byrne look a few years back on X-Men: The Hidden Years. If he could manage that trick, he can do anything.

    Joe Sinnott Award – It’s really hard not to give it to Joe Sinnot.

    For Call of Duty, I gave it to Dick Giordano because he brought so many great talents into comics via Charlton and DC.

    And that’s about all I could manage, although Terry Austin, Mark Farmer, Mike Royer and Rudy Nebres (who was great with John Buscema on Conan stuff) certainly belong there somewhere.

  4. Christ, Murphy Anderson and Rudy Nebres.

    I’m an idiot.

    Also, good call on Dick for the Call Of Duty thing! And thanks for voting, Keeper! Though I knew you would.

    And I confess I forgot about Leialoha on Fables!

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