Comic Art Friday: A drink of ink
I haven’t done a post like this in some time, but having recently received a pair of commissioned pieces back from master inker Bob Almond, this seemed an appropriate occasion to revisit the subject of inking in comic art.
Inking is a often-ignored and much-misunderstood facet of comic art, largely due to the fact that inking is unique to the art form itself. In pretty much every other area of popular art, the artist is a sole creator. The painter creates the image (although possibly from a reference photograph, which might involve a different artist) and does all of the work to bring the image to fruition. The sculptor sculpts. The potter… pots.
In comic books, however, creating the art one sees on the printed page often involves several hands. First, there is a pencil artist who drafts the initial image — sometimes in extensive detail, other times in a rough layout or sketch form. The ink artist then embellishes the penciled image in India ink, adding detail and shadow, as well as enhancing the overall linework so that it will photograph well for printing. A color artist adds all of the color — in modern comics, this process is usually done digitally, but for decades, colorists applied dyes directly to a print of the inked image. A letterer adds the dialogue and sound effects.
I don’t collect color art, and my commission pieces don’t generally involve lettering — aside from my Bombshells! theme, where a modest amount of lettering is done by the penciler. But I quite frequently commission artworks in pencil that will eventually wind up being embellished by an inker. I’ve employed a number of talented inkers over the years, but none more often than Bob Almond, who to date has completed more than 50 inking projects for my collection. I return to Bob time and again for several reasons, chief of which is that he’s extremely flexible, having a style that meshes well with almost any pencil artist.
To illustrate this point, take a look at Bob’s inking over two very different pencilers.
First, here’s an original pencil commission by Peter Vale, a Brazilian artist with a supremely detailed style. Peter’s approach is smooth, precise, and very nearly photorealistic.
Now here’s that same drawing, as inked by Bob Almond.
In contrast, here’s a pencil commission by Kevin Sharpe. As compared with Peter Vale’s work, Kevin’s linework is less “fussy,” for lack of a better word. Kevin’s drawing style is bold, muscular, and less tightly controlled. His work shows the strong influence of Jack Kirby, perhaps the greatest of superhero comics pencilers.
And here’s Kevin’s art, again with Bob Almond manning the inks.
You can see how in each case, Bob adapts his inking approach to the style of the penciler. When inking over Peter Vale, Bob’s ink line is tight and precise — and has to be, to capture all of the fine detailing in Peter’s drawing. (Just imagine having to outline every single one of those tiny glass shards!) When inking over Kevin Sharpe, Bob’s hand can be a bit more free, especially when filling in the shadows. There’s still a ton of detail in Kevin’s drawing as well, but those details are more loosely delineated, more suggestive and impressionistic than photographically realistic. Bob manages to capture that powerful quality in Kevin’s style as well as he enhances the gracefulness of Peter’s.
As is true of pencil artists, inkers come equipped with diverse approaches to their art. Some of the greatest inkers have their own idiosyncratic styles that tend to dominate the pencils beneath, whether that style is bold and weighty like that of Klaus Janson, or sleek and technical like those of Terry Austin or Murphy Anderson. Other inkers, such as Bob Almond, are chameleons who blend into the natural flow of the penciler. Still others, while skillfully adaptable, bring a distinctive flair to their inking that is unmistakable — I’m thinking especially of that legion of artists who came through Neal Adams’s studio in the early 1970s, guys like Bob McLeod, Joe Rubinstein, and the leader of that group, Dick Giordano.
The bottom line (no pun intended) is that without inkers, we wouldn’t have comic art as we’ve come to know it. And what a shame that would be.
That, friend reader, is your Comic Art Friday.