Lovely Thor pencils


Some wonderfully clear stat camera photographs of Kirby’s pencils recently appeared on Tom Kraft’s What If Kirby site. They were all Thor pages from the mid 1960’s. The first displayed here is from the Tales of Asgard feature in Journey Into Mystery #112, the third page of The Coming of Loki. I am often a defender of Vince Colletta’s style on Thor, because of his archaic feathering look, but one look at these pencils shows me just how little of Kirby’s nuanced line Colletta actually reproduces here with any accuracy.

Thor 112 Asgard 1


Compare in particular, the difference in the subtleties of the pencil-sculpted shapes in the legs, both in fabric and sinew to the inked version. Colletta doesn’t even begin to ink the actual pencil line, but blunts and deadens the fluidity of its intent.

The figures in the background suffer most grievously. Given, this is a complex work of art containing multiple figures, but this important feature certainly should have been given the attention that it deserved.

Thor JIM 112 color

The following page below is a wonderful melee of fairly close figures coming together from two directions. The circular composition brings the eye around and around in a spiral as we first see the action on the boundaries and gradually work our way to the center and the leftward thrusting shield.

Thor 112 Asgard

The inked version of the large panel is OK for the most part, although it isn’t as sharp as it could be. However, the second and third panels are an abomination. Look at the subtle shaping and shading of the shadowed figures in panel two, and see how Colletta has totally blacked them out and obscured any of their subtleties. And what the hell has he done to the space above the figures that Kirby has modeled with cloud formations? How can you justify this mass of grotesque crosshatching and solid black that the inker has imposed over a powerful composition.
Colletta’s inked third panel is nearly as bad. In the penciled version. Odin’s figure and the space that he inhabits is a wondrous tableaux in miniature, and could stand on its own as a splash panel for its complex composition of figures in battle. From the archer at its base, to the shaded horseman and dramatic sky it seethes with power.

Thor 112 Loki color

Colletta reduces all of this splendor to dross. Odin’s face, torso and limbs are treated with the contempt of the inker barely following the intent of the line work. The horse is of course almost completely blacked over. The majesty of the sky is scribbled as an incompetent child might do.

What one sees most clearly in these pencils is how the slightest deviation from the precision of Kirby’s line can substantially nullify its force. One sees this even in the case of a fairly faithful inker like Chic Stone or Joe Sinnott. Certainly, there have been instances when Colletta’s pen or brush did justice to Kirby’s pencils. One need only look at the beauty of his brushwork on this Thor #142 page below to see that the man had serious chops. Why is his work then so inconsistent.

1- Thor 142

Perhaps Colletta was giving some of his work to assistants to complete, due to the pressure of deadlines. Still, this is no excuse to have so severely compromised some of the most compelling comics ever produced.

One can only be grateful for pencil copies such as these that Tom has compiled, to know what might have been. Pity there isn’t more out there.

Image 1and 3- pencils from Journey Into Mystery #112  Jack Kirby, Stan Lee

Image 2 and 4- Masterworks reprint from Journey Into Mystery#112, Jack Kirby, Stan Lee, Vince Colletta

Image 5- Thor #142, Jack Kirby, Stan Lee, Vince Colletta

Thanks again to Tom Kraft


6 thoughts on “Lovely Thor pencils

    1. Norris Post author

      Sorry, I’m having difficulties with sizing my images. I will take down this unfinished post until I get it together. Then I will compare published pages and lambaste Colletta for shoddy inking

  1. Ian Miller

    Thanks for posting the pencils and finished pages. When Colletta was good, he was GOOD. But he also produced a lot of subpar-looking stuff. I wouldn’t completely fault him because it’s not that he was a bad inker, it’s that he was a FAST inker. He was a guy they could count on in a crunch to delivered inked pages. I’ve heard stories of him inking entire books in a weekend. These Thor pages look really rushed, but at the same time I’ve seen Journey Into Mystery pages inked by him where the rendering would give Wally Wood a run for his money. So while the quality severely decreased the quicker he had to work, he was also the one whose task it was to get the books up to date and out on time to save the company money. And in an industry based on periodic media, meeting a deadline was more important than delivering high art.

  2. Mike Hill

    Nice column, Norris. I was half expecting you to reverse your statement of defense by the end of it. I am unable to look at the finished product myself, and have a hard enough time with the pencils. Needless to say my favourite issue is 144, the one that’s fully available in pencil pages (plus a rejected cover with and without excellent Mike Royer inks). That too has its problems for me, however, because even before Vinnie sucked the life out of the pencils, Stan always did likewise for Kirby’s writing.

    Ian Miller, your examples of Colletta’s deadline-meeting prowess sound suspiciously like they were borrowed from the biography of Jack, the master of turning work in on time. It’s heartbreaking to hear the suggestion that Vinnie’s speed was ever needed on Kirby’s books to meet a deadline. Fifty years on, I have the luxury of determining for myself the difference between high art and hackwork, and choosing not to surround myself with the latter. To paraphrase Metron, in that truth, you met a deadline, and forever lost a reader.

  3. Aaron Noble

    There’s a theory that particularly bad Colletta might be the work of assistants, but isn’t it equally plausible that the rare instances of passable Colletta would be the work of assistants?

  4. Ionne-Christopher

    Your instructive site has hit a great spot in me as a young tween these issues just seemed to be a strange amalgam of fine and a special comic and story art all its own. I find the inker’s simplification to be rather like a drummer’s or bassist’s job to support and suit the story or melody. Kirby’s art is amazing (did you notice batman in the top page crowd panel?) Look at the verbiage and the height and kind of action and I suspect it’s less a matter of speed – I see no errors at all – than of a conductor’s expression. It’s quite an opportunity to see the pencils after all these years…!


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