Tuesday, February 15, 2011


Doug: What is your definition of "a hack"? We've heard the term used often, applied to both writers and artists -- and if you ran out and got yourself a copy of "The Thin Black Line" like I told you to, you'd know that inkers like Vinnie Colletta were thrown into the mix as well.

What makes a guy a hack, and would you say that once a hack, always a hack? Does it have to do with ability, prolificacy, the lack of attention to details, or what? Is it possible that a given story might be considered "mailing it in" by one reader, but the greatest thing ever written by a different reader? Who was (or is) a hack, in your opinion?


HannibalCat said...

If you define a hack as anyone who just works for the money rather than a stake in the character or story, it could apply to virtually every inker working during the 60's and 70's - money was all they had, regardless of enjoyment gained from inking any particular artist. But if you take it to mean someone who disregards the original art and simply does the same work over and over, not interpreting but obliterating...harder to say. I'm sure many will point to Vinnie Coletta, especially his inks over Kirby, but I like some of his work; with George Tuska on Powerman for instance. To be honest, I can't point to any inker from the Bronze age and say "He was a hack", only that I liked some more than others and some were partnered with more suitable pencillers than others. Just look at Tom Palmer inking Gene Colan or Terry Austin on John Byrne. Heavenly.

Anonymous said...

Depends which derivation you're using. It can mean someone who works hard at a laborious task, in which case I’d say Vince Colletta fits as he has rescued the quality of many a dodgy piece of artwork (not least Kirby).

I think a hack is someone who manifestly writes or draws for the paycheck only really delivering the minimum acceptable standard.

I think there are some artists who can ‘phone it in’ because they’re just so damned good they can get away with it. There is really amazingly little detail in a lot of Gil Kane’s stuff, but it’s always good.

As we discussed before, I loved Gene Colan in the 60’s and 70’s, but in the 80’s there’s some really lazy stuff.

If you go back far enough, you could accuse all the ‘founding fathers’ of being hacks. Each time you launch a new comic, you have to register the publication which costs money. That’s why in our lifetime, comics have changed their contents to avoid paying this (Tales of Suspense, Journey Into Mystery, Tales to Astonish, Strange Tales, Amazing Advs, Ast Tales, etc) but back in the day, they just used to flip genre WITH THE SAME CHARACTERS. Imagine if the Fantastic Four became a vaudeville act or the Avengers started driving around in a VW bus solving mysteries!

Miss America went from a super heroine to a general interest girl’s magazine with photo stories, Patsy Walker went the other way – she had a long & chequered history before Englehart turned her INTO a super hero, however...

My personal favourite is Venus, who shows up among other places in Silver Age Subby and that 80’s Avenger’s run where Zeus kicks the crap out of them for getting Hercules injured. She had her own comic strip in the 1940’s where she went from being a goddess to super hero to fashion designer to magazine writer, and the genre changed from romance to super hero to mystery to horror to whatever was in that week. She originally comes from the planet Venus, that’s changed to Olympus later. At one point, she hooks up with Thor and Loki (yes, in 1948) for a showdown at the Mardi Gras.

The phrase you’re looking for is...WTF?

And all that was in the space of 19 issues. Try retconning your way out of that one ! I don’t know who wrote all that, but Stan was the head honcho. Frontier times !


J.A. Morris said...

Repetition=hackery. If most of your characters look alike, you're a hack. Writers who tell the same story 3 times or more are engaging in hackery(even once great storytellers are guilty of this).
If every comic drawn by an artist looks rushed,the artist is a hack. If you're Steve Leialoha penciling a book, you're a hack. He's a decent inker though,especially in recent Vertigo books.

Doug said...

*I think a hack is someone who manifestly writes or draws for the paycheck only really delivering the minimum acceptable standard.*

I'd agree with this, Richard, and would offer that even writers and artists who are in the midst of a good run of stories do this.


Doug said...

Bendis is a hack.


Edo Bosnar said...

I'm going to sound like one of those old grumbling curmudgeons with this, but I would refer to as hacks all of those artists who showed up around the late 80s and pretty much reigned supreme during the 90s (Liefeld being perhaps the most notorious) who seemed to be trying to copy - and doing a lousy job of it - Arthur Adams or Marc Silvestri.

Anonymous said...

Interesting point, Edo. I don’t know these guys as it was after my time, but from what I’ve seen of Arthur Adams he seems the very opposite of a hack – lashings of detail, far beyond the minimum (or even maximum, you might argue) necessary. At first glance he looks like the bastard lovechild of Barry Smith and Mike Golden, but I think he’s really got his own thing going on. I’d hate to be his editor though. How long must it take to draw like that?


Doug said...

Is not drawing backgrounds a sign of a hack?

Back in the late 60's/early 70's, secondary artists were hired just to draw or ink the backgrounds -- it's how Cockrum got his start at DC.

Echo the sentiments on the "Image" artists.

Echo the love of detail in Athur Adams' work.


Edo Bosnar said...

Richard (& probably Doug) - you misunderstood my point, or I wasn't very clear: I meant the hacks were the many artists who were trying to ape (quite poorly) the style of Art Adams or Silvestri, two artists whose work I actually like (well, Silvestri not so much, but Adams definitely).
The '90s, by the way, were after my time as well, but I've sampled enough of the eye-gougingly atrocious art from that period to make an assessment.

Doug said...

Edo --

I don't think I misunderstood your earlier comments; I think I didn't note that my question about backgrounds was separate and not a reference to the Image artists. Although to be honest, if I recall, not many of them drew backgrounds :).


Inkstained Wretch said...

My definition of hackery has always been somebody who doesn't care to do better, who is content to do "good enough." For some artists that is just the best they can do and so they'll take the jobs they can. Others have the skills but become lazy/rushed by schedules/or simply unspired to do better.

Vince Colletta is often cited because, well, he IS a good example of this. He was capable of impressive work as an inker -- his defenders can point to enough examples of that. But he was often content to turn in less-than-stellar work by erasing characters, creating shadows to hide things, and other gimmicks that robbed the pencils of much of their detail.

His defense was that he was under tight deadlines to get the work in on time. That was probably true most of the time. Still, his willingness to be the "go to" guy in those situations ensured that his work product would always be rushed and mediocre.

And he was apparently ok with that. I mean, did Colletta ever say to himself, "Maybe I should take more time inking pages or lessen my workload so I can put more effort in?" Not as far as anyone knows.

In terms of writing, the most obviouis hacks were, for me, those that kept on creating new cipher characters. You know, the types with no personality or background, popping up one issue and being completely forgotten the next.

I stopped reading Batman and the Outsiders because I couldn't stand the generic villians of the month Mike W. Barr populated the series with. Ditto for Gerry Conway on Fury of Firestorm.

Fred W. Hill said...

Y'know, Inkstained, regarding your comments on "generic characters", the continued storylines that Stan & company started producing by 1965 in many of their titles helped do away with the need to keep coming up with a new villain of the month or constantly reusing the same villains in new stories month after month. Dr. Doom was very much overused in early FF mags, but the stories got much better when they were extended to, say, a 4-issue story rather than 4 one-issue stories in which the FF beat Doom and he keeps coming back for a rematches in the following issues. This also allowed for more in-depth characterization of the characters.
Interestingly, Ditko started two of Marvel's earliest and longest ongoing stories, Dr. Strange's clash with Baron Mordo and Dormammu in Strange Tales and the Hulk's clash with the Leader in Tales to Astonish. Ditko didn't stay around to complete the Hulk story, and the story idea isn't credited to him, but I've a strong hunch it was largely crafted by him. Ditko's run on Dr. Strange is one of the great classics, and although I prefer Kirby's rendition of the Hulk, Ditko's run on the not so jolly green giant was pretty good too.
Regarding hackery, I'd say even the best artists and writers who stayed in the industry for any great length of time engaged in it for the sake of earning a living (after all, most weren't earning all that much from their work). I actually liked Colletta's inking on those old Thors, as his style definitely added to the archaic feel of the art; of course, I wish he hadn't deleted so much of Kirby's original art. Ditko himself seems to have purposely become a hack from the late '70s on, distinguishing between what he did to promote his Objectivist view of the world and what he did to earn a living, on which he would do the minimum required but no more.
Then there's someone like Don Heck, whose work was ok back in the '60s but really terrible in the '70s. Most artists, good and bad, were doing it for the money rather than any great love for what they were producing. The big difference, for me, is work produced by writers or artists who put in that extra effort that shows they really care about the product. Clearly evident in Kirby's best work on the FF and Thor, and Ditko's on Spider-Man and Dr. Strange, as well in Thomas and Smith's Conan; Starlin's Warlock; Wolfman & Colan's Dracula, etc.

Jonathan Stover said...

I'd say that a hack meets a minimal standard of competence, produces a lot of work, and is defined by blandness and cliche moreso than being truly awful at what he/she does. Colletta was a hack -- he could make any penciller look worse than they were, but he didn't make them look godawful. Rob Liefield, on the other hand, is an example of someone's who's not a hack -- he's just awful.

Terence Stewart said...

I don't believe any one artist or writer can be defined as a hack, but some artists and writers have descended into hackery during their careers. For whatever reason, usually a lack of interest, they'll turn in the bare minimum.
I'll use two examples: Moench and Wolfman, both during their runs on Fantastic Four. Neither were particularly suited to the FF and it showed; but both produced exemplary work before and after.On that basis I couldn't refer to either of them as hacks - but they have produced hack-work.

Anonymous said...

Another vote for Bendis


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