An Inky Tale

February 18th, 2014 | Posted in General


If you are ever engaging a cartoonist in conversation and for some reason want that cartoonist to do all the talking, just ask them about the art supplies they use. This never fails to send cartoonists into a rant about how this pen and that paper and this ink and that brush just aren’t made the way they used to be, are discontinued, or some other tale of woe about the struggle to get the tools they like working with. It’s like a law of physics.

I’m no exception. I prefer the Gillott 303 pen nib for much of my inking and that’s a hard thing to find in quantity for a reasonable price in this country, Gillott being in the UK. Strathmore had some problems with the production of their 500 boards for a while, but that seems to be fixed. I really like the Kuratake Fudegokochi disposable brush pen, but again hard to get here in the U.S. There are other examples but this story is about ink.

Back in 1999 I started doing a lot of inking in my work, and in 2000 when I started with MAD it looked like inking was going to be a permanent part of my work process. I had experimented with a lot of different inks with varying degrees of satisfaction, but one stood out for me as being just want I wanted…Pelikan’s Drawing Ink A. It flowed nicely with the pen nibs I liked to use, didn’t thicken up too fast, and in general gave me the fewest problems. I thought I’d found “my” ink. Naturally, immediately following this realization came an intense paranoia that it would be discontinued or the formula changed, and I’d be screwed. Thus, I was determined to “stock up” on some bottles of Pelikan’s Drawing Ink A.

Of course, nothing ever is easy when it comes to art supplies. I was surprised to find that, at the time (the year 2000), I could not get a bottle of Pelikan’s Drawing Ink A anywhere. Many online art supply stores listed it, but they were all “out of stock”. My local art stores also were out of stock. Eventually I got a store manager to look into it for me. Apparently the deal with the company that was distributing Pelikan’s products in the U.S. had expired, and no new deal had been agreed to. No distributor, no imported product, no Pelikan’s Drawing Ink A for me.

I didn’t let that stop me. Pelikan’s was located in Germany, so I called up the one German artist I knew…Sebastian Krüger. I asked him if he had a local art supply store he used, and he told me he did and (not surprisingly) they knew him pretty well. I asked if it would be too much trouble if he could go in and ask them if they could order a few dozen bottle of Pelikan’s Drawing Ink A for me. I would send Sebastian an international money order for the cost plus whatever shipping costs needed, and would he please ship them off to me? Being a swell guy, Sebastian went to the art store and asked them.

He called me a few days later to say it would be a special order, and what size bottle would I like? I had only seen the Pelikan’s ink in a measly 1 oz bottle, but I had seen other inks that came in as big as an 8 oz bottle. I said “the big ones”. How many? he asked. I said I’d take twenty. I figured twenty 8 oz bottles would last me for a long time.

About 2 weeks later Sebastian calls me again and says he has the ink and is ready to ship it, and gives me the total. I honestly do not remember how much they were, but I do remember when I converted it to dollars I thought it was a lot… but beggars can’t be choosers. I sent off the money order. I was down to the dregs of my last little 1 oz bottle of Pelikan’s, so I was eagerly looking forward to getting a box full of 8 oz bottles and a supply to last for a long time.

A few weeks later I got this in the mail (less what I have used since 2000, baseball added for scale):


I received twenty 1000 ml bottles. Each is just under 34 oz. That’s 676 oz of ink.

That was 13 years ago. I am a little over half way through my second bottle. Given a consistent rate of consumption, I will run out of Pelikan’s Drawing Ink A in the year 2161, and I will be 195 years old, or just a little younger than Al Jaffee is now.

I have no problems with my ink supply. Pen nibs, on the other hand…



  1. Bill Karis says:

    Tom, You could sell some of them in your store…along with one of your books, or with a personalized sketch…share the joy!

  2. Rich Powell says:


  3. Kelly McNutt says:

    Halfway through your second bottle made me laugh out loud. That’s awesome.

    Say, can I buy some ink? 😉

  4. Jed Pascoe says:

    Great story! No Gillot nibs here, either, Tom. And sitting on my desk is a 250 ml (about a half pint) bottle of Winsor & Newton Indian ink. It’s been through two house moves with me since 1998 and the blighter still isn’t empty. Maybe I should try to do some more drawing.

  5. Kenny Durkin says:

    I’ll come shovel your driveway in exchange for a bottle.

  6. Funny story Tom, I know you like Gillott but if you want about 50 Hunt 512 extra fine bowl point nibs let me know and I’ll ship them off to you if your interested. Really loved your book too Tom.

  7. fdileague says:

    Awesome story! Just means you have to start drawing a lot more. MAD has to go back to Monthly.

  8. rob anthony says:

    Ha ha ha ha ha ….brilliant!!

  9. Marco says:

    Sir I’m afraid I’ll have to confiscate a bottle of your fine ink just to balance out the universe! I’m serious! Don’t worry I’ll make good use of it.

  10. Want to sell a Bottle ???
    Fred Fabishak

  11. Paul Harvey says:

    Glad I read that.


New profile pic courtesy of my self-caricature for the Scott Maiko penned article “Gotcha! Mug Shots of Common (but Despicable) Criminals” from MAD 550

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