Wednesday, August 25, 2010


Adding to the pencils

Every now and again you may be approached by your editor to not only ink a project but to “finish” it. Don’t panic. He’s not asking you to hurry up as you’re fast approaching your deadline. He’s not even asking you to color, letter, edit and print the comic. What this means is that, for whatever reason – whether it be time constraints or the certain strengths of a particular penciler – you’re being asked to, essentially, strengthen up the pencils in your inks. Sometimes, you’re being asked to have a hand in the actual finished style of the job in hand.

If you’re being invited to do this you obviously have enough confidence in your own abilities that your editor has noticed that you’d be able to handle it, no matter how complete the pencils are – and sometimes you’re given very little to work from.

To illustrate this welcome predicament let’s take a look at one of the pages from Captain America #10 which I finished over Lee Weeks’ always strong pencils.

As you can see from the penciled page all of the basic information is there it just needs a little more depth and refinement. It’s up to you as in inker to determine how much refinement you feel is needed. There are some projects that are given to particular inkers so that their own style can shine through. The inks of Kevin Nowlan being a perfect example. Unless I’m specifically asked to take this approach I usually try to go in a different direction when I’m offered such an undertaking. I’ll try to take a look at the pencilers previous work – in particular something they
were pleased with or something they inked themselves. By doing this you’re probably on the fine road to less friction with the penciller – they’ll also want to work with you again in the future.

The first panel we see on this page is pretty much presented to me as shapes with a little more detail on the Magneto figure. If it was inked line for line you really wouldn’t be able to figure out what the giant figures are and the power of Magneto’s attack would be non-existent. This is where a little bit of research comes in handy. It’s now your job to go and find out what a sentinel looks like – don’t just rely on your hazy memory of a comic you read a few years ago.

Figure out where your lighting is going to originate from. In that first panel I’ve actually used the figure of Magneto as the power source, utilizing a central shadow to show the magnitude of the force emanating from within him. I’ve also accentuated the flow and ripples of his cape to lead the eye towards the focal point. This lighting is then followed outwards to the now metallic figures of the sentinels with the foreground figure capitalizing on the foreground placement by being the darkest element on the page to give the perception of depth.

Further power is underscored by the radiating lines – once again pointing to the focal point of Magneto – being cut into by the electrical affect achieved by using a white-out pen or white ink.

The next three panels consist primarily of a crowd scene in a New York street. In the pencil version shapes are indicated in order to establish figures and faces. The buildings are represented as basic boxes with rudimentary windows. Do NOT draw this! Finish it!! Look at life. Look at photos. Study the fall and texture of clothing. Put the most prominent shadows in the foreground and drop those buildings back. Add more figures if needed to give the crowd some substance (as you can observe
in panel 4). Think about where you’re adding the blacks – your page has to flow, it has to be composed, those solid blacks need to balance the page and lead the eye.

The final panel – although simply a hand reaching into a wardrobe must be approached with the same kind of commitment and drama as the other panels otherwise the whole page could fall apart at a glance. Add that depth with shadow and give those clothes a few more wrinkes especially where the hand is grabbing the jacket. The wrinkes on the shirt sleeves of both the arm and the arm of the jacket lead the eye to the action.

When finishing a job in the inks follow the pencilers intent. It’s similar to the relationship of a director and a director of photography or cinematographer -all of the storytelling is there, what you need to do is add the drama and depth.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010


We’ve outlined the basic rules of giving the pencils a slick finish but let’s look at a different approach. A lot of the comic books on the stands today are concerned with real world occurrences where the actions of their characters are just a bit more harsh. Sometimes those situations and environments just get downright mean and dirty. Often your inks are going to need to reflect that. You’re going to need to create the kind of environment you would not want to be a part of.

I’ve provided an example to illustrate this point so let’s go over it and point out what I’ve done, why I did it and what I did it with…

On this page of Captain America I really wanted to portray the grungy atmosphere of this hole in the wall bar – roughing it up was , by far, the best way to go. In no particular order here are the tools I utilized….

A: The exacto-blade. Once you have the page finished you may still feel that some extra roughing up is needed. The blade will be your best friend. All those nice smooth lines you’ve laid down with your brush can easily be obliterated with one swoosh of it’s sharp surface. Here I’ve used it to emphasize the graininess of the roof structure. Pulling the blade along the lines there already and breaking up the solid edges. The blade is also one of the best tools for throwing a rain storm down on the page – just flick the blade upwards away from the rain drop and you get that atmospheric streak. Confidence is needed in the use of this tool. You can easily obliterate the parts you didn’t particularly want to get rid of.

B: The Prismacolor pencil. Using a black coloring pencil can give you some amazingly rough textures. The Prismacolor is one of the roughest. You can see here on the walls of the bar where it’s utilized to show the effects of fifty years worth of cigarettes and alcohol. By pressing down on the pencil you can bring the depth and density of the mark you’re making forwards and backwards.

C. The small #1 brush. Not only used for getting those delicate lines in there but also abused when you want to utilize the “drybrush” technique. This is a process in the inker’s arsenal which can be invaluable when portraying a little more grittiness than usual or if you just wish to soften a line. Make sure that you dry the excess ink off your brush using a piece of paper or a paper towel and sweep the line along the page. You’ll notice a ragged edge – it takes a lot of practice to get it to a point where you can be relatively happy with it. In the example shown I’ve used it prominently on the pool table so that the ridges on the sides are not so sharp and more rounded (as they are on an actual pool table). The drybrush is also appropriated on the baseball bat the barman is brandishing – it gives it that “used to beat heads in” look that’s needed in this scene.

D: The Col-Erase pencil. This is the smoother of the two pencils I use on my pages. This gives a much softer line and a more consistent tone. Great for softening jaw lines, indicating eye shadow and portraying the texture of leather cat suits ( a staple diet in any comic book)

E: The grey wash. Back to your brush and your ink. This ones a little repetitive but you’ll get used to feeling like a caged animal stuck in your little freelancing studio. Next to your drawing board you’ll, most likely always have a small cup of water close at hand – usually for cleaning your brushes ( NOTE: Try to always look when you’re taking a sip from your coffee cup. We inkers may have ink in our blood but it doesn’t taste so great when it mistakenly slides down to your stomach – also, attempt to clean your brushes in the water provided for such use… not in your
coffee). To get the best wash effect just keep adding a brush load of ink to the water each time you take a pass at placing the greys on the page. You’ll get a great sense of depth and texture when you do this.

Of course, you don’t have to employ all of these textural techniques on every page, just one or two will usually suffice, but when adding that “grit” the best advice is to practice and get increasingly more confident in wallowing in the dirt.

Sunday, August 22, 2010


A couple of years back I wrote a chapter on inking for Andy Schmidt's book - The Insider's Guide to Creating Comics and Graphic Novels - which is available to purchase here:

Over the next couple of days I'll be re-presenting some of the individual subjects here:

Seperating Planes

On the comic book page the creator is fundamentally working in a two dimensional environment – attempting to visualize a three dimensional world. Sometimes, due to the imaginations of the hardiest of writers, the artist is also called upon to work in a multi-dimensional tableau – but let’s just stick to the basic three for now.

The penciler will most likely turn in pages that lack line weight and depth. It’s the inker’s job to bring a certain amount of depth perception to the pages provided. This can be attained by utilizing various approaches, sometimes depending on the subject matter and the desires of your penciler. One of the most widely employed techniques is concerned with going from using a thick line in the foreground to a thin line in the background. The inker can also darken the figure or fixture in the
foreground leading to a shadowless background. Both techniques are viable.

For another approach let’s take a look at one of my Captain America pages and see what techniques and tools I’ve used to give a little depth.

The script required a page of Black Widow bounding , leaping and jumpingthrough a cityscape. By necessity this would be a highly detailed page and if the inker is not careful the figure and surroundings could easily mould into one mass.

Let’s go panel by panel and I’ll show you what I’ve done to make sure this doesn’t happen…

PANEL ONE : Black Widow is leaping forwards and upwards in this shot towards the reader. In order to make sure that she doesn’t look as if she’s just standing on the roof ledge I decide to make the most of the grey techniques I had been using throughout my run on the title. By using a combination of tools the depth perception became that much more pronounced. A Prismacolor black pencil gave a grey texture look to the brick work. Above this brick work is a flat plain weathered by using a grey wash. To make sure that the background plain was prominently in the background a little bit of “flecking” was introduced by scratching away at the greys with the exacto-blade exposing the white page beneath. These kind of approaches enforce the separation of planes.

PANEL TWO: Now we see the Widow jumping from the ubiquitous New York water towers. Again this depth separation is required and shown by using various techniques from the grey wash on the towers to the distant water tower in the far background – illustrated by employing the use of a lighter, smoother black pencil. There are very few solid blacks in this environment. They are used sparingly on the figure itself and also on the wall underneath the towers to balance out the panel.

PANEL THREE: To separate all of the clashing planes in this panel the penciler ( in this case myself) has used a rim-light effect on the prominent figure. By doing this Black Widow “pops” forward a little more and doesn’t bleed into the surrounding buildings, This is a method of utilizing shadow in an effective way that, most often, the penciler will provide – but sometimes not. As an inker it is your job to make sure that all the information on the page is portrayed clearly and adding shadow to certain planes and people will emphasize the prominence of the particular element.

A good knowledge of anatomy and an understanding of the structure of real world surroundings is not only the responsibility of the penciler. It is most important that you educate yourself in these essential aspects.

Again, for the background elements, I ended up using a combination of grey wash, Col-erase pencil and, in this particular scene, just an ordinary 2H pencil.

PANEL FOUR: Lots of chimneys and rooftops in this panel - a lot of ways for this panel to look completely flat! I ducked that particular problem by making sure that the foreground bricks on the chimney were solid black with the background chimney bricks worked in with the grey wash. The other building in the top right of the panel was given that hazy quality by availing myself of the Col-erase pencil once again.

PANEL FIVE: Just a completely solid portrait shot of The Black Widow using a lot of solid black on the back and side of her face so that, even though you can not see the city she is looking out at, she’s still part of the environment. The colorist can also add depth to a page but do not concern yourself with this. It is the inkers job to differentiate the depth and seperate those planes.