Being an inker, I really don’t get many chances to express my views, so I’m going to take advantage of this opportunity to say my piece.
I’d like to start with what I believe an inker’s job is. In it’s simplest form, an inker’s job is to translate the pencils into a ‘camera ready’ page by finishing the pencils in black ink. When I try to explain this to people who know nothing of the process, their first response is, “Oh, you color it.” No, that would be the colorist’s job. I continue to try to explain the process by showing a work in progress and their second response is, “Oh, you trace it.” Now… as infuriating as this response may be to the untrained eye, this is what they see. To further explain what I do, I then show them the finished page next to a copy of the original pencils and their response is usually, “Wow!”
To elaborate, I feel an inker has to approach a page almost with the mindset of a penciler. Sure, the penciler has already worked out the story telling and composition, but you as an inker need to make sure the page is well balanced with a full range of values and textures; you need to make that page scream. Take a couple of minutes and look at the page in front of you and ask yourself what’s missing. I usually do this and sum up my battle plan in a short period of time.
There are a lot of inkers who just blindly ink what’s there and to be fair, I think the majority of the pencilers would rather an inker follow this path than completely obliterate any and all signs of who penciled the page. This brings up my next point; a good inker can bring a lot to the table and live harmoniously with the penciler. You can let the pencils shine through and still be able to do your own thing without stepping on too many toes. The page needs to be able to stand on it’s own before color is even considered. If it needs more black, add it. Look at what’s on the page and decide what textures you may use. You wouldn’t use the same technique on glass that you would use on a rock. There’s a whole palate of textures and techniques available to you on each and every page, and as an inker you need to use these to take the pencils to the next level.
There’s more great talent in the industry now than ever before and I’ve always been able to find something I like in just about everyone’s work, be it a penciler, inker or colorist. As far as inkers go, I think there are a huge amount of technical wizards out there, but too many of them are just ‘cookie cutters’; they have no identity. Who am I to make such a claim? Nobody, I’m just another guy out there with an opinion. Are these guys better than me? Maybe, but I think I may have some sort of an edge because my work doesn’t look too much like anybody else. Is there any originality in my stuff? Maybe, maybe not. All I can say is that I did borrow from many different inkers that I revere and try my best to make it my own. I still watch what other inkers do. The day you stop looking at what’s going on around you is the day you stop growing as an artist. Anybody that tells you that their stuff is the most original thin out there (be it a penciler or inker), is under a grand illusion with the possible exception of Danny Miki.
This sagging and highly competitive market demands you to be different; to stand out in the crowd. It may not guarantee you success, but it will guarantee you notice. Don’t just be a part of the production, be a part of the art team.
Looking back at my career in comics from an outsider’s perspective would show quite a successful jaunt. But it didn’t come without its bumps and head-on collisions along the way, both professionally and personally. I’ve been hired, fired, and rehired on a couple of the biggest gigs of my career. Looking back at these lost gigs, I now can see why I did lose them; I wasn’t ready yet. But I also busted my ass to get them back. After Tony Daniel and I parted ways and before I landed Psycho Circus, I had a dry spell that lasted nearly three months. These experiences certainly have a way of keeping you humble. It really makes you appreciate what you have. What’s that old saying, what doesn’t kill you only makes you stronger?
I would like to close by thanking some people who have helped me along the way. First and foremost, I owe my entire career and quite possibly my stay on Psycho Circus to Greg Capullo. Were it not for his help and guidance for the formative years of my career, I most certainly would not have entered and succeeded in the field of comics. Thank you Bob Harras for firing me, Tony Daniel for his insistence, Bob Harras for rehiring me, Art Thibert for his support and guidance, Todd McFarlane for ‘firing’ me, Tony again for ‘The Tenth’, and lastly Todd again for giving me the opportunity to be involved on the book of my dreams. Thank you all for my life in the funny books!