Alright, disclaimer: from here on out, we’re dealing with the underappreciated aspects of comics. The rest of this blog series will focus on stuff that most people don’t know or think about. So, if you do/want to do these things, you are a real hero.
I think inking is the hardest thing to explain to someone outside of comics because, as illustrated in the famous scene from Chasing Amy many people look at inking as simply tracing a picture. But this is wrong. Yes, you are going over penciled lines, but there is so much more to the art.
If I’m not mistaken, inking is a unique process in comics. While other forms of media deal with ink, I think comics is the only place where it is a separate process unto itself. It basically came about because in the early days of comics, they knew these things were going to be reprinted, so they couldn’t just stick with pencil lines. Well, then they decided they wanted to speed the comic making process up, so they had another person come in and do inks while the artist drew another strip or book.
So, what is the actual job of an inker? As I said, the inker goes over the lines of pencil with ink. Sounds pretty simple right? But it’s much more complex than that. The inker is responsible for giving the pages depth. Without ink, a page can look very flat. Sure, it might still look very good, but the inks are what give that page dimension. It’s what really helps with immersion in the fact that inks can trick our eyes. Good inks can convince us that something is closer or further away, even though we are looking at something that is only two dimensional. They also help with textures. Most pencils do a guide for what textures are on objects in the panel, but the inks are where those textures come to life. Rocks int the background, clothing, houses, these things may all have textures that are represented visually, so that our brain can look at them and understand what they feel like, or what material they are made of, or even simply, but MOST importantly, just what they are. Like everything thus far, and everything to come, the inker’s job is CLARITY.
It is important for me to note that there are quite a lot of tools for inking. You can ink with a pen (there are many, many pens out there to choose from. When I do this, I use Micron). You can use a nib (which looks a bit like a fountain pen) or a brush, both with India ink. Or you can ink digitally. I have done all of these methods, and they are all swell. Just see what works best for you. For a way better look at this, look at The DC Guide to Inking Comics by Klaus Janson, because he knows what he is doing one million times more than me.
So, remember last time when I posted the pencils of a drawing? Let’s see what it looks like inked.
These inks were added by Bob McLeod. To me, the inks supply a little more emotion and help set the tone. Look at Punisher’s eyes in the fifth panel. The darkness around them is menacing and we know he means business. McLeod was pretty faithful to the original drawing, and that’s good. An inker’s job isn’t to stand out and be the loudest thing on the page. Like everything left in this series of blogs, you want inks to blend in so that they don’t over power the story telling. Of course people will notice them, because everything is in ink, but don’t let that ego try and make it so the inks are explosive. A bad ink job can ruin good art. However, a great ink job can save bad art. Realize that, when it comes to inking, it’s a powerful tool with the ability to make or break a comic.
Now, earlier I said that inking could trick the human mind, and often times it does. Next time you read a comic pay attention and see if you notice what I mean. The best example (I think) I can give you is line weight. Imagine if you had a man standing in front of a house. With similar line weights, those two things could be pretty close. However, if you give the man thicker line weight, and the house thinner, it might just look like the house if further away than the man. Or, perhaps the reverse is true of the above scenario. Maybe the house has thick lines, and the man thin. This will draw your eye to the house and make you ask “what is important about this house?” It’s all about perspective and perception. Both scenarios above creates an illusion of separation, even though those two things are on the same plane. You might have to read a lot of comics before you can train your eye to look at such things, but once you start to see it, you notice it everywhere. Inkers are working hard to direct your eyes. Background can just be backgrounds sometimes, so they don’t stick out. If an inker is doing their best, you will be aware of everything, but only really take note of what they want you to notice.
I also talked about texture earlier for a bit. I think the perfect example to demonstrate this is Stan Sakai’s Usagi Yojimbo.
Have a look at this image. There’s a lot to see. We can tell that the trees and ground and shrubbery are all different, not to mention the clothes and the characters themselves. Sakai is a master of making comics, so he really knows what he’s doing. When you look at the ground, you can tell that they are standing on dirt. When you look at the trees, they are inked in such a way that evokes bark into your mind. And then the shrubs in the background are clearly bushes. He also uses inking to indicate shadow, as we see some spots on the trees are darker than others. But then, to make sure that the characters stands out from all this, he adds details, like the lines on Usagi’s shirt, or the, uh…jellyfish? on the woman’s gown. At first glance it all looks very natural and not at all flashy, but he could have very easily left out all these details and given us an extremely flat image.
As a side note to this, you should definitely read Usagi Yojimbo. It is one of the greats. And I took a lot of what I learned about inking from there. My earliest comics are devoid of much inking, but now I’m taking a course through Stan Sakai, and they look better (to me at least).
So keep practicing inking. It can be a little tough at first, but if you persist, you’ll get the hang of it. Study people like Sakai, Brian Bolland, or Klaus Janson and see how they use ink to make the page come to life. Black and white comics are extremely helpful for this, because ink is their primary tool for “color.” And, speaking of which, look for the next topic: color.
The DC Guide to Inking Comics by Klaus Janson
The Complete Guide to Self-Publishing Comics by Comfort Love and Adam Withers
(There are not as many books on this subject, so study Usagi Yojimbo, Tintin, Klaus Janson’s work on Daredevil and Batman, and really anything you can get your hands on.)