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I think, therefore I obsess…

Hi, Folks!

What a week!  I’ve been burning through episodes, and I’m really proud of what Benita and I have been producing.

I looked through a lot of my trade paperbacks this weekend, the ones I collect and read, and something became obvious to me: most modern inkers do not bother with line width.  Indeed, most “inkers” these days are colorists who darken pencils in Photoshop and maybe fill in the black areas, maybe not.  What’s worse is that this practice has become so prevalent that I actually got used to it and stopped noticing it.

Change is a constant, and I have the right to complain—“Why, in my day…”  This kind of complaining is pretty useless, of course, because change gains momentum and things will continue to happen whether you like them or not.  So, I won’t complain.


My big inking influences were probably Joe Sinnott and Tom Palmer.  Joe Sinnott inked the Fantastic Four over Jack Kirby’s pencils, and he used lush brushwork and line weight to lead the eye, aid in story telling, and separate the foreground, middle ground, and background elements in panels.  Tom Palmer inked the Avengers for a very long time, but I always remember him most fondly for his Tomb of Dracula comics, inking over Gene Colon.  Beautiful stuff, very dark and moody.


In the 90’s, I noticed a dead-weight inking style gaining use in mainstream books.  This style, with its unvarying line widths, used heavy lines on the foreground, and lighter lines in the background to establish depth of field.  This style, while not traditional American “comic book,” was very reminiscent of Art Nuevo inking, and the inks of Alphonse Mucha.


As the 90’s progressed, comics that skipped straight from pencils to colors became more common.  Now, the onus was on the colorist to provide the field of depth and spot the blacks.  Now, most pencilers don’t make any pretense of setting line weight, preferring to leave the heavy lifting to the colorists.  Without colors, these pencils look flat, confusing, and a little hard to figure out.


So, old guys like me moan about change; that’s fine, because that’s what old guys do.  But, I have to wonder if every change is good?  Dismissing the inker came mostly as a cost cutting move, not one based on artistic vision.

Inking originally became the norm for comics because early reproduction methods couldn’t accurately capture pencils, so the lines were blacked out with ink, making a bold enough line to transfer from offset printers to newsprint.  Once computers came of age, it was possible to scan art and capture it in the pencil stage without problems.  Yet, inking had become such an integral part of the process over the decades that it still persisted.  Western comic inking is unlike any other ink art in that it has developed uses and rules specific to the medium.

I would like you to note that I make no distinction between inking by hand or inking with a computer program, those usually being Illustrator or Painter, but also Flash and Photoshop and Manga Studio.  A good inker is a good inker, and whether he works with bottled ink or digital makes no real difference.  Both are appropriate tools.


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