Saturday, January 11, 2014

Readers' Write (6): Spotlight On... Frank Robbins


While Karen and Doug are on vacation in January, our readers have been entrusted with carrying on the daily conversations.  Today's "Spotlight On..." is a do-it-yourselfer.  As we've done in the past, the first commenter gets to pick today's topic of conversation.

Generally speaking, "Spotlight On..." is for single creators.  For example, in the past we've started conversations on Rich Buckler, John Romita, and Joe Sinnott.  We'd appreciate conversations that lean toward the positive side of things; rip jobs should be avoided.  This is not to say that we don't tolerate honesty, but let's try to keep the focus on the meritorious aspect of a life spent in comics.

Thanks for holding it down for us!

Matt Celis boldly asks for your comments on Frank Robbins.

29 comments:

Matt Celis said...

Frank Robbins!

david_b said...

Here's one for a late start today..:

Vince Colletta as inker extraordinaire.

Like him or hate him, his lines are certainly distinctive.

Issues of note are, starting with favorites..:

- Shanna the She-Devil #1-5: Ross Andru can be hit/miss for me (his late Silver DC work on Worlds Finest was good, but I got tired of his ASM work after a while..), but Vince REALLY knew how to soften up the look of females. Beautiful pencil work.

- Silver Age Thor under Kirby. Dittos on his Thor run, it softened up Kirby quite a bit and to me always held a nice balance.

- CA&F 188: AH, THE RETURN OF SAL (at least for one issue after the half-dozen of Frank Robbins). Nice work by Vince again.

Not so good work..: Avengers under Tuska and Perez. I don't think Tuska did group books well, but Vince made up for some lost potential, but under Perez..? I ended up not liking the combo very much, at times blaming Perez, but while I wasn't a big fan of Perez on his early Avengers work, it improved under different inkers.

Anyone..?

david_b said...

Wow..., a double-posting at the same time.

A two-fer today, all.

Matt Celis said...

I love his writing on Batman...I also enjoy his art unlike many BAB visitors!

In my opinion, his Batman stories are much, much better than those of Denny O'Neil, yet somehow he is always overlooked. Same with the art of Irv Novick goin unappreciated while fans wet their pants for Neal Adams, who I have never been impressed by as a storyteller. anybody else have love for the Robbins-Novick Bat-stories?

Matt Celis said...

Tired of Andru on Spidey?! I love Andru on Spidey...sometimes I think I like it better than Romita, maybe because I had more exposure to Andru-Spidey early on than Romita-Spidey. Ditko-Spidey, of course, is tops, but honestly if I were to grab an Essential volume to read, it'd more likely be funky '70s Andru era!

david_b said...

Andru did fine renderings and action work in ASM, but among other things, I got tired with all the three-quarter angled headshots with those long chins, a common Andru signature.

To be honest, writing was also partially to blame ~ We were getting a lot of lame animal-villains and I was disappointed with both Gwen resurrected and the true identity of the Jackel. Add that to the price-hike and bad distribution (I missed every couple of issues in a row..), I passed on ASM after a while.

Plus I came in under the final Romita issues, so I missed his warmth.

Matt Celis said...

I like Colletta just fine...all the detractors I have read refer to his not drawing everything the penciller put down, but here's my test: if you hadn't obtained that insider information, would you still be upset by the quality of his inking? We also tend to forget that he was a go-to guy picking up slack and did what he could to meet deadlines often as a result of other artists being late. If he really was so bad, would he have been in such demand for such a long time? I think many comics fans make assertions based on knowing both too much (he erased Kirby!) and too little (he had 5 minutes to get he job done!) at the same time.

Hoosier X said...

Frank Robbins is awesome!

I love those incredible done-in-one stories he wrote for Detective Comics in the early 1970s.

As an artist, he's not my favorite, but he's one of those guys from the 1970s (like Heck and Novick) whose art I love to see when I flip through old comic books.

Hoosier X said...

There is a lot of great Colletta artwork. Thor is amazing. And, yes, those Shanna comics are incredible. I remember that splash page where she's fighting a crocodile that I thought was so great, and I was surprised to see it was inked by Colletta.

But let's be fair to his detractors. Some of his later work is truly bad. I know that he's known for working really fast to keep books on deadline, but some of those books (I'm thinking specifically of several issues of Dazzler) were inexcusable.

Edo Bosnar said...

Man, you guys have thrown out Robbins, Colletta, Novick, Andru and a few others. Just who are we supposed to be talking about here?! Kidding...

Robbins: I've read some of the Batman stories he wrote, which I think are pretty good. It helped that he didn't draw them, and I do like Novick's art, although less on Batman and more on Flash. Generally I don't like Robbins as an artist, though. I got kind of used to seeing his work in Invaders, but elsewhere I just don't really like it. Otherwise, though, I know he had a long career in comics, and a few years ago I saw some of his Johnny Hazard newspaper strips, which actually look really nice.

Colletta: I'm not an across-the-board detractor, and I've actually defended him a few times on this blog. I think it really depends on the artist whose pencils he inked. Agree with David that his inks didn't look too great over Tuska or Perez. He worked really well with Mike Vosburg, in particular on that obscure 1970s DC series Starfire. And although there's only one instance of this that I know of, a single issue of Spectacular Spider-man (#58), his inks actually look pretty good on John Byrne's pencils.

And since you both mentioned him as well, I have to say I rather like Andru, and in a way he's "my" Spidey artist, since he was the main artist on ASM when I started reading comics.

Humanbelly said...

Unfortunately, my first knowledgable (and lengthy) exposure was to Vince Colletta was as the inker over Don Perlin's pencils through most of the post-Ploog run of Werewolf by Night. . . and it was sort of a challenge to see which of them was doing the worst job. Really, it may (IMO) rank as one of the worst extended runs for an art team ever. Then, yes, as HoosierX points out, Vinnie's DAZZLER work was pretty tough to defend as well. But boy-oh-boy, in the Silver Age, when he was on his game under Kirby, doing THOR? Sometimes you look at some of those intricate panels and marvel at the care and effort he clearly poured into them (erasures or no erasures). I wonder if his style maybe isn't suited particularly well towards straight-up super-hero fare? There's a fussy, texture-laden quality to his work that sort of works against the "clean" feel one might associate w/ superheroes in general. I recall at least a couple of issues of the CHAMPIONS that he did, and thought that the inks rather darkened and muddied the visual tone of a book that really needed to look bright and polished to survive (Byrne simply came on-board too late).
You know-- I wonder how would have fared as a CONAN (or KULL or THONGOR, etc) inker? Does anyone know of any instance where Vinnie inked over John Buscema, f'rinstance?

Frank Robbins, sadly, never grabbed me at all. The very few books I have w/ his pencils look terribly rushed and faaaaaar too cartoony.

LOVE Ross Andru. Like Edo, he's kind of "my" Spidey artist, and to my then-unschooled eye, he was a perfectly enjoyable and deserving successor to Ditko, Romita, and Kane before him. In fact, my buddy & I rather gave him the edge over Gil Kane.

HB

Matt Celis said...

What about Robbins the writer?

Doug said...

That Vinnie erased the King' s pencils, whether public knowledge or not, is sinful. And he didn't do it only when under the duress of a deadline. As mentioned, he was a go-to guy, especially in a pinch. But there was a reason for that.

Love, however, his work on Thor over Kirby. Some of his DC work is outstanding. Karen and I are going to review Secret Empire when we start back up. I imagine we'll revisit Vinnie again since he is the inker over Sal for most of that story.

My opinions on Robbins' art should be common knowledge. I have, however, always heard that he's a great Batman writer. I plead ignorance for the time being, but will see if I have anything for a potential review in the future.

And to all of our readers and commenters - you are doing a great job this month. Scroll back through and check out the comment totals. Awesome!

Doug

Graham said...

I enjoyed Frank Robbins, the writer. His Batman stories were always interesting. As an artist...when I was growing up, I didn't like him at all and almost quit reading The Shadow (one of my favorites at the time) because I picked up an issue he was drawing. I came around when he started doing The Invaders. At the time, I hated his stint with Cap's own magazine, but for loved The Invaders.....go figure.

I liked Vince Colletta when I was growing up. I could always tell when he inked an artist, especially the females. They had a distinctive look. He was apparently very busy in the late 70's, because I can remember him inking entire issues of some of the Dollar Comics that I bought.

Edo Bosnar said...

Er, Doug, Matt Celia?

Anonymous said...

IMHO, Frank Robbins was a better writer than artist. I liked his done-in-one Batman stories. His drawing was reminiscent of the Golden Age, and I thought it was appropriate for Invaders (with its WWII setting) and for Batman and the Shadow (with their 1930's pulp magazine feel). His style was not as well suited to more modern settings.

david_b said...

I had a couple of Batman stories written (and drawn) by Robbins. From what I recall, I did like the pulp feel of the writing, but often found the art too much a chore to really enjoy.

AGREED on Edo on Novick's art. It was dull on Bats, but preferred it far more on the Flash.

Matt Celis said...

Doug, you can get a ton of Robbins stories from '68-'74 Batman and Detective via DC's Showcase Presents books. Cheap, too, on Amazon.

Matt Celis said...

At least it's close...you should see the various spellings on the mail I get at work.

Doug said...

Edo, good catch, and Matt - many apologies! We're away for the weekend visiting our son who could never get home. I'm on my Kindle, and all I can say is "Damn you, autocomplete!"

Doug

PS: Matt, I'll check my Greatest Batman Stories Ever Told and see if there's a Robbins story in it.

redartz said...

Have to agree with the consensus today. Colletta was a good fit for Kirby visually, the feathery inks softening the King's dynamic style and adding some detail to shading.
On the other hand, I just leafed through Avengers 137 by Tuska and Colletta. I was reminded how jolting it was to see this after the Sal Buscema / Joe Staton run...

J.A. Morris said...

I didn't care for Robbins' art, but it sort of worked for The Invaders, since it took place in the past. It's such a jolt to read those 70s Cap issues, the switch from Sal to Robbins is a big comedown.

Colletta's okay on some Kirby pencils, but I think he's generally poor in the Bronze Age. Check out his smudging of Perez on the FF, there's more Colletta than Perez there, and that's not a good thing.

Anonymous said...

I've seen some of the stuff Frank Robbins drew outside of comics, and he was a good professional illustrator. He was a good draftsman.
I don't think drawing comics, or superhero comics, was his bag, at least not the way post-Kirby comic books were being drawn. He was from the old Milt Caniff school, I think. Joe Kubert and Alex Toth aren't particularly known for drawing superheroes. (not that they couldn't.)But hey, you can't blame the guy for working. Everybody's gotta pay rent.
But I definitely agree with some here that he was a very capable comic book writer, he wrote some tight, sharp crime-noir Batman stories in an era where a lot of Batman stories were, frankly, pretty goofy.

Rip Jagger said...

Let me heap more praise on Frank Robbins. Robbins, clearly of the Milt Caniff school of art, rendered a page full of textures and movement and his characters whether somewhat wonky anatamically from time to time or not had character. Compared to the listless and lifeless artwork of the modern comic, Robbins was a godsend. Vigor and energy spilling out of the comic all over the place. I'd pay double for some of that today.

Rip Off

Rip Jagger said...

On the subject of Vince "Vinnie" Colletta, I have to say I'm a fan of most of his work. Mike Vosburg tells a great anecdote about his interactions with Colletta in http://vozwords.blogspot.com/2014/01/the-inker-did-it.html">this blog post and echoes my sentiments. Vinnie Colletta is most likely the first person you need to hire if you are a start up comics company because he's fast and pretty darn good overall.

The Kirby faithful give Colletta a lot of hell for his transgressions against the King and I to some extent understand them. But when it comes to erasing lines, I ask them to look at some of those original pages. Not always, but sometimes, I think Colletta improves the look of the page and composition by eliminating distractions.

Speed was what made him key to the comics industry for decades, but he had real skills too, he was an artist in his own right.

Rip Off

Rip Jagger said...

Let me try that link again:

http://vozwords.blogspot.com/2014/01/the-inker-did-it.html

Rip Off

Edo Bosnar said...

Rip, thanks for the link to the Vosburg blog. Interesting stuff, although I'm kind of disappointed that he didn't talk a little more about Starfire, which - as I said above - is an example of Colletta's inks jibing really well with the penciler.
Also interesting that he mentioned Team America. In my opinion, that whole series was a misfire, and part of the problem was the rather bland art by several different pencilers, all given a rather unremarkable uniformity by Colletta's inking.

William Preston said...

Robbins's art never failed to make me feel depressed. Everyone has the face of a rat, angular in non-human ways. I could never figure it out. It was like they all lived in the uncanny valley. And when they were sweating, it looked like the faces were melting.

Andru was on board when I started purchasing Spidey on a regular basis. I loved his style, but once I discovered (and purchased a huge run of) the Romita work, I saw that the comic had become more . . . comic in appearance under Andru. (It helped Andru's tenure that Romita drew a fair number of the covers.) After a while, the always-looks-off-balance positioning of the characters grated on me. I much preferred Sal's work on Spectacular and Team-Up.

Bruce said...

Robbins was a good writer but I never liked his artwork when he worked at Marvel. Pretty much killed my enjoyment of Captain America and the Invaders -- he was just too `cartoony' for me.

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