Diary of a MAD Job, Part 4

July 18th, 2006 | Posted in MAD Magazine

Now that the pencils are finished, it’s time for the inking. This has always been the toughest part for me. I??ᬨ‚Ć don’t know too many comic artists who ever feel their inked work is as effective as their pencils are, and you can count me among them. No matter how much I’ve done it, I always begin an inking job with trepidation and a certain amount of nervousness. Over the years I’ve learned to trust myself a bit more, but I still wouldn’t say it’s easy. To get started, I take out a #3 (.80) Rapidiograph pen and rule the balloons and tails, bleed and panel edges. That’s the easy part. Now comes the real inking.

Inking is about drawing, not just tracing your lines. You have to follow the lines you’ve drawn but not be a slave to them. In order to do this I look at the same reference I used to draw the pencils when I ink. Essentially you are drawing it all over again, but with the ink this time. Now I am much more conscious of line weights, using black areas to create shadows and contrast, and trying to imply depth of field. In certain ways, because I know this work is going to be colored in PhotoShop, I don’t have to work that hard to lay down a lot of black areas, define forms with hard shadows or work up many values with crosshatching because all the value work can be done with the color. However, I have always felt the work looks best if the inks can mostly stand on their own, when the color is used to enhance the art, not carry it. So, I try to ink like I want the piece to look good in black and white. Of course, that’s a lot more work, so I pick and choose where I want to do this if pressed for time. In the example of the inks for this piece below, the large upper panel uses a lot of blacks and a fair amount of cross hatching, and it stands well enough alone without the color. The panels across the bottom have less contrast and values, and they’ll need the color to be more substantial. I’d say I did that for artistic reasons, but truth to tell I was getting tired and just wanted to go to bed.

Click for a closer look.

I ink mostly with a dip pen. My primary nib is the Gillott 303, and I use “Pelikan’s Drawing Ink A”. This is a nice, flexible nib but has forgiving edges on the tip that allow for a reasonable amount of sideways movement. Try to do that with a crow quill pen like a Hunt 102, and you get a “skkkrritch” followed by a splatter of ink which is immediately followed by some serious profanity, gnashing of teeth and hurling of heavy objects… and that’s just how my wife reacts! You should see what I do when that happens. It isn’t pretty. For my heavy lines and ones I want to be especially smooth I use a brush. A Winsor Newton Series 7 to be precise, either a #1 or #2 depending on the thickness of line needed. Inking with a brush is easier in some ways and harder in others. It’s easier to get a smooth line, the ink dries almost right away and you can get very fine hairlines and thick, broad lines from the same brush. The hard part is that you cannot change direction very easily, and it takes a lot more concentration to ink well with a brush. I get sloppy with it after 15 minutes or so. Mixing a brush and pen nib gives you the best of both worlds, except for one problem. When you erase the pencils after inking, brush lines tend to lift up some and become gray, where as pen lines stay nice and black, and that shows up in the scans. To try and combat this, I use a thicker, denser ink for the brush like “Black Star” or “FW”.

I start with the thickest lines and the areas of the panels I want to be the focus. This is where I want the eye to go. Often that means that area or figure has the boldest lines and most contrast, but sometimes I’ll do the opposite so the lightness of the object makes it stick out. I try to think about where the thick and thin lines need to go to add interest to the focus of the panel. Backgrounds I use less contrast and less line variation, with thinner lines. I also do not ink all the way to the edge of a foreground or focal object, so there is a slight separation from it and the background elements. This helps bring objects or figures into the foreground. Here are two close ups of the inks for this splash:




Bored yet? I am by now. Inking can be tedious work as it takes time and I am often fighting the materials. I need to ink things out of sequence so I can allow some areas to dry before I can go back to do more inking in that spot. Otherwise my hand smears the ink, and there is more gnashing of teeth and profanity. I also run into bad nibs, nibs that need to get broken in a bit, nibs that break in too fast and I have to toss, and ink that is either too thin or too thick. I will struggle for a while, then get into a groove where I think, “Hey, this inking thing isn’t hard at all! I must be getting the hang of it!” Then my pen blops ink down my board and things get ugly. Another tip: if you drink soda or whatever from cans while inking, please remember which cans are the fresh ones and which you have dumped old ink into, or this could be you…


Once the main inks are done on a board I erase the whole thing with a white plastic eraser. These things leave eraser shaving everywhere, but kneadable erasers just don’t do the job… too many pencil lines left. They used to make these giant white plastic erasers (2 inches wide, I think) which really worked great until some genius at the product department level decided to discontinue them. Now I use the little ones.

Once the erasing is done, I go back in with some smaller markers like a Pitt, Copic or Micron or a roller ball pen and add little touches… maybe some cross hatching, or some scribbling for texture. I might thicken up a line here and there. I will go in with white-out and fix errors and add white buffers between some lines. I still use the white-out because it’s easier to spot your mistakes looking over the board than it is when scrolling across a computer screen. Half the time I forget I messed up in some spot and never fix it if I leave it for the computer stage.

Inking is a trying process for me, but eventually I get through it. I do my best inking late at night with the audiobooks going and distractions at level zero. I have to lay off the caffeine, though, or my lines would look like I did them in an earthquake. Once the inking is done, it’s all about the caffeine, baby. That’s because by now the deadline is really looming, and the next step, the scanning and the color don’t require a steady hand.

Tomorrow: Scan-o-rama and Color Me Stupid or Bring on the Monster Lo-Carb!


  1. pagmatic says:

    Thanks for taking us through the process. Those faces you’re making are pricless!!


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