To Think of Ink: The Role of the Comic Book Inker

Image courtesy of Bob McCleod

When you read a comic book some of you probably don’t think about the detail in the art. Sure you look at a page and think, “this spread looks amazing” or “damn that drawing is badass,” but how many of you understand the different layers that go into creating the art. The true unsung heroes of the comic world are the inkers. Inking is the process of adding shading and detail to the original drawing, giving it more character. It’s one of the most important and most unrecognized aspects of comic books. Without good ink work, comics tend to not feel right. At least that’s my opinion.

Some out there know a little about inking while others think that they are basically glorified tracers. In fact the movie Chasing Amy has a running joke about that very thing, yet there is so much more to the process. A good inker can bring feeling and emotion to a simple drawing. Some inker styles are sharp and polished, while other can be rough and gritty. No matter what the style, inking is crucial to developing the final product that we receive.

The reason most don’t think about the ink works is because it’s easy to overlook when you’re not an artist or hardcore comic reader. While the work is impactful and important, it is quite easy to overlook. The question about what an inker does was actually answered by DC once in a one page layout seen below.

Image courtesy of DC Comics

This layout shows the different styles that inkers utilize and how they each bring their own value to the art. Some inkers prefer more detail and less shading while others are the exact opposite. Both styles are valid and both have their place in comics, but not all styles are for all works. That’s why it’s important for an inker to match up with a penciler. While there are famous inkers in the comic industry, most go unnoticed due to the nuance of their work.

The Spider-Man/Punisher layout at the top of this article was done by a very famous artist, Bob Mcleod. Bob has held the role of both a penciler and an inker and the piece up top is an example of his inking ability. The pencil work was done by artist Lee Weeks, and we can see how much detail was added when Bob put the ink on the page. This is the perfect example of how inking works. The original drawing was nice and had a fair amount of detail, but doesn’t have the same impact on the reader that the finished product has. There’s really no comparing to a properly inked book.

In fact there are since titles out there like Walking Dead All Out War, that were published without ink. These comics are unique in their own right, but when reading them you get the sense that something’s missing. It’s like all the puzzle pieces are there, but they won’t fit together. Comics that use this approach always feel washed out or faded, and I personally don’t enjoy them as much as inked issues. So the next time you read a comic, take a moment to look at the art, see if you can notice where the inker added detail or gave a scene emotion with their subtle style.