After spending a lot of time chatting with folks at the San Diego Comic Con, it seems I am being asked more and more why I still draw and ink traditionally…i.e. with pencil, dip pen and brush on bristol…rather than just going all digital. In fact, I am getting more and more puzzled looks of incredulity over this question as opposed to casual interest, especially since I do all my coloring via the computer and many people therefore assume I am completely digital.
There is an easy answer to that… I like working traditionally.
Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against anyone who works entirely with pixels as opposed to pigments. In fact, I couldn’t care less how any kind of artwork I enjoy is produced… I am all about enjoying the final product. If you are a digital artist and never get a single smudge of ink on your fingers when you are cartooning, then more power to you. I see incredible work produced using nothing but digital tools all the time. The tools an artist uses to produce their work are only tools. It’s the skill and vision of the artist that creates.
I started working professionally in early 90’s, just when computers were starting to become a force in the world of publishing and media creation. Desktop computers were still the exception rather than the rule, and software like PhotoShop was still in comparative infancy. Back then computer-based artwork was very rare and really nothing but a novelty. At that time there was no such thing as being able to duplicate the fluid lines of traditional inking for comic work, so I took to the traditional media… dip pens and brushes on bristol board.
However by the mid 90’s it was obvious to me that computers were the future of media creation, and illustration would not be an exception. Pen/tablet technology became usable and affordable, and software features began to enable digital artists to emulate what was previously only possible with physical media. I took to coloring my art on the computer because it not only saved time in the creation of the work, it also eliminated the need for the client to have to send the physical artwork out for color separations, something no clients wanted to waste time and expense on anymore. However, I never did switch over to digital inking, because I liked the process too much.
It would be hard to defend that statement if you were to sit in my studio when I am inking a MAD parody or some other illustration. I get frustrated if things aren’t going smoothly. I curse when I smear some bit of wet ink I thought was dry enough to work over. I have been known to smash a misbehaving pen nib into a bent ruin and yank it from my penholder in disgust. Yes, I still like the process. There is something about the surface of the paper, the tactile sensation of the pen or brush dragging on its surface, the magical quality of a blank sheet of pulped wood no one would spare a second glance at being transformed into something that can grab someone’s attention and entertain or move them, that still keeps me reaching for the ink well.
It isn’t only my enjoyment of the process, though. I do think the paper surface and the ink create a certain warmth to the line that is very hard to get with digital media. The imperfections might be miniscule, but there is an overall feel that I still like better than the slickness of all-digital inking…at least with my own work. I also am a long way from being a master of the craft, and that gives me goals to reach for and experiments to try… although that is true with any media, including digital. Maybe it’s more that my heroes of cartoon illustration, giants like Jack Davis, Wally Wood, Mort Drucker, etc. WERE masters of the craft, and I’d like to master it, too.
Last, but not least, I like physical artwork. I like being able to hold a piece I did in my hand and feel like the hours and hours I spend slaving over it left me with something tangible rather than a bunch of 0’s and 1’s on some magnetic disk. Even if the actual finished product ultimately is very different, it is nice to have something “real” as a byproduct. If there is anything that is bad about the proliferation of all-digital comics, it is the sad lack of actual original art that is the result. It is incredibly cool and inspiring to hold a piece of bristol board in your hands that an artist like Wally Wood physically worked on, scraping his pencil and pen over it until the amazing art he does appeared. Imagine if Wood had done all his work digitally, the only thing we’d ever have is the printed product. It’s worth noting there is a secondary market for originals as well, so there is a tangible reason for producing originals, albeit a small one in my case.
I don’t think I’ll ever give up the traditional route for my drawing and inking. If that makes me a dinosaur, so be it. Some traditions are worth preserving.
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