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THE INTRICACIES OF INKING, or, HOW A HACK KNOCKS OUT PAGES

Anyone who knows me knows that inking comic pages is laborious work I try to evade like the plague. For some people inking is their favorite part of comics making (for me, it's a toss up between scripting and successfully penciling out pages), the way to cross the "t"'s and dot the "i''s of their work. For me though it's always been a painfully frustrating experience, and daunting on top of that.
I have never possessed inking "skills". Admittedly if I look back at older work I can go see a HUGE difference and be like, "Fuck yeah, I ink waaaay better than I did then!" but it's still not pretty. Some call it a problem with patience, though I will sweat for hours over pages sometimes and still get less than desirable results. Others push the "practice, practice and more practice" mantra which if I follow well maybe by when I'm 60...
Anyway, let me give you a little run down of my inking process. I promise it's nothing complicated and you will learn ZERO from it, but you may be entertained, and you all know I live to entertain you, as your humble, bumbling servant.
I am perhaps a follower of the Alex Toth school, which is to say I am NOT anyway as skilled as that Master, but I am an admirer of his favorite inking implements, the lowly markers. No, nibs have never appealed to me, and most brushes are used to fill large spaces with copious black ink. My tools of choice have been for the last almost 15-16 years Faber-Castell Brush pens and their various pen size "nib" types. I have tried the Staetdler brush pen favored by inking Master Joe Meyer, who can wield that thing to make the finest lines and the boldest strokes. Mine quickly became a brush I could dip into ink wells and fill up the large space with.
With the Faber Castell I can usually come up with a reliable line, and with pens I can get pretty small things. Control has always been a problem so often line thickness is inconsistent, or "weak" as I say, but with a little work I've managed to somewhat improve on this. Yes the brush pen can lose it's tip and then you do the infamous "flip" of the brush head by pulling out the thing and flipping it over to a secondary fine tip. It's a pain, but it's what I know.
One of the things I have taken to heart about inking a page I learned from artist pal/former publisher Ron Gravelle who would say to me, "You NEVER want to ink one page after another in order. People will figure out where you got tired, bored, or rushed a bit."
"Well, what do you do?" I asked.
"Just go through the pages and ink random pencils. Maybe do the hard panels first," he said,"get those out of the way. Knock out easier panels if you're not feeling up to bigger panels with more details. Just keep it random and let the package come together. You'll maybe have some weak spots, but they'll be joined up with really strong spots too. Eventually you'll learn to make it all look good."
This method indeed proved invaluable, especially if I wanted to avoid that rare crowd scene or complex establishing shot for a few days. I still employ this method today and really, it works for me. Maybe not for everyone, but I am a bad inker so I need all the tricks I can get. Another trick I learned from Ron, and if you look at comics you'll find this to be true is that not EVERY panel needs backgrounds. "Use your establishing shot to set the place your characters are in. Don't overcrowd panels with a lot of background stuff unless it helps tell the story or just put the odd reminder in.". SOMETHING like that.
As far as where I ink, it doesn't seem to matter. Most of my inking is sitting on the floor of our bedroom with a light table (a new method I had to employ for the pencils of my new book), something on the radio (usually Dragnet or some other old radio dramas, but ANY music works while I ink, whereas with penciling -forget it-it's gotta be mellow or strictly talk shows/old radio shows), and as few distractions as possible. My studio has been a disaster since my Mom passed away and sometimes I'll be in there working but usually only if Kris and the kids are away or Kris is home in the evening.
I get no particular joy from the inking to be honest. It's WORK for me. REAL work. A page is like drawing blood with a dull needle and no visible veins to poke at sometimes. I may ink a panel or two, then just sit there and "rest". Some think that this indicates a lack of love for comic making, but I love making comics. I NEED to make comics. If I could get away without having to INK comics, EVER, or my God, LETTER comics, I'd be in Heaven. Inking my own work has always been a poor man's "tracing", I guess, and it feels like I'm drawing the same thing twice (essentially this is true).
Over the years the inking process has become somewhat easier, and I'm finding as I grind away through pages for the new book I feel not as intimidated. I still however feel that the product is inferior to what it COULD have been say had Joe Meyer or other old inking pal Jeremy Kaposy tackled the job. That thought will linger in my mind if say, I fail to land a Publisher for the book, but I can only do what I can do. I only trust those TWO PEOPLE with the job. Well, maybe Andrew Foster too, but we all know he doesn't make comics anymore and it makes me sad but I digress...
I look at and admire say the inks of Lucy Knisley (so clean! So little linework!) or Joe Ollmann (it looks roughly hewn with pen nibs and brushwork but it's beautiful!) or even the VERY simple appearing work of John Porcellino, or the amazing work of pal Box Brown who has improved a thousandfold as an artist in only ten or so years. I could go on and on over people who blow me away and even more so over people who make shrug my shoulders and say, "What the FUCK is the big deal about THIS guy/gal?!"
But I'm rambling. Feel free to comment on my Facebook where I'll be linking this.

Comments

Ron is a smart guy. Having said that, I continue to ignore his advice about inking pages in order. I always have: pencil the page, ink the page, pencil the next page, etc. I gotta do it that way. In part cuz sometimes I will hit upon some nifty new detail in the inks and I want the pages that follow to be consistent with it. So yeah, I have my up pages and my down pages, but I can live with that... and amen to the part about not overcrowding your panels, which latter-day Toth would also agree with.

And you can handle a brush pen?! Man, my hat is off to you! I never could get the hang of those things! I still use a nib, with markers reserved for fine details and touch-ups.
I love inking! My whole workstation is set up primarily for inking (I should share some pictures). Even my paintings are just layers of Bombay color inks. I think my penciling is suffers because I want to jump ahead. I've always gone in page order, but it makes sense to jump around.
foster's

April 2015

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