Wednesday, November 17, 2010


During the Golden and Silver Ages of comics, the process for creating a comic book page remained pretty much the same. First the artist would draw the pages in pencil, possibly using a blue pencil for guidelines. Then the pencils would be inked over, usually by a separate inker. Room would be left for word balloons. A letterer would fill in the word balloons in ink. Copies would be made of the pages and sent to a colorist. The printing process was in four colors with different shades of each color. This allowed 32 colors. From there, the colors were separated back into their individual four colors and sent to the presses.

Today I'm going to talk about the inker's role in the process. On the surface, his job is simple - just follow the pencil lines. In practice, the inker had a much stronger impact. Just deciding how thick to make the lines can have a major effect on the art. The inker also added the shading, cross-hatching, and zip-a-tone. An artist with a strong style might overpower the pencils.

For an example of how an inker can affect the finished work, look at issues #6 and #7 of the Silver Surfer. Both had the same artist, John Buscema, but issue #6 was inked by Joe Sinnott and #7 was inked by John's brother, Sal. The Surfer seemed to lose 100 pounds of muscle, going from the Silver Surfer to the White Wipeout.

During the 1950s and early 1960s, the inker also enforced the house style. Most of the time during this period, any artist was expected to be able to draw any comic book and the readers were not supposed to know the difference. Neil Adams, who is best known for his ultra-realistic work on Batman, did some issues of Archie. At Marvel (which was still Timely), the artist would come in for a monthly meeting with Stan Lee. Lee had a pile of scripts and would hand the artist the one on the top. There was no permanent assignment. Kid Colt might be drawn by Dick Ayers one month and Don Heck the next. Inkers who knew the house style could cover over any differences in the artists.

When Timely switched to Marvel, artists were assigned to individual books but, even then, there were exceptions. Most of the early issues of the Avengers were drawn by Jack Kirby but a few were not.

Things changed over the next few years. Artists were allowed to develop their own style and were assigned to books for long stretches. At the same time, inkers began to develop their own style. This was especially true of inkers who entered the field after the mid-1960s.

Joe Sinnott was one of the first celebrity inkers, but with a twist. The fans still hadn't noticed inkers but the artists were always concerned with how the finished product looked. Sinnott was in demand by artists because he made them look good. Stan reserved him for flagship books, especially the Fantastic Four which he inked for 16 years.

On the other hand, Vincent Colletta had the reputation of simplifying backgrounds and even eliminating characters in order to make tight deadlines. In his defense - many people consider his work on Jack Kirby's pencils to be the definitive look for Thor. I have a page of original art from a Frankenstein black and white that he inked over Val Mayerik's pencils and it is a really nice piece of art. Marerik had a light, sketchy style that was complimented by Colletta's inks.

One of the first fan favorite inkers was Tom Palmer. He was knows for imaginative shading and cross-hatching. He also colored his own work, combining colors and zip-a-tone to give the impression of more than the standard 32 colors. Palmer was involved in fan favorites such as the Roy Thomas/Gene Colon Doctor Strange and the Tomb of Dracula and contributed a lot to their atmosphere.

Tony DeZuniga was an artist with a strong style that carried over to his inking. He was from the Philippines. While he was working for Marvel in the 1970s, he hooked them up with several other Filipino artists who became mainstays at Marvel. One of these, Alfredo Alcala, became an inking star for his work on John Buscema's pencils on the black and white Conan books. Rather than rely on short-cuts like Zip-a-Tone, Alcala did all of his own shading by hand with intricate crosshatching and whirls. His inking over Buscema's pencils was so popular that their art overshadowed the stories. Robert E. Howard had only written a limited number of Conan stories and Marvel had been parceling these out carefully. Most of the Howard adaptations from the 1970s were done by this pair.

Another popular inker was Klaus Jonson. He is best known for his inking over Frank Miller's Daredevil during the 1980s when it was the top-selling comic book in the country.

I'm not sure why but inkers seem to have declined in importance since the early 1980s. Most inkers also pencil and it might be that the rise in comic books stores and independent comics allowed new artists with strong styles to launch their own works.

No comments: