Sunday Mailbag

December 14th, 2008 | Posted in Mailbag

Q:¬¨‚Ć After all of these years of cartooning, I should know this, but one of the biggest issues I have when it comes to drawing and cartooning is when I erase something on my bristol board it ruins that area (that I erased in) when it comes down to inking it.¬¨‚Ć What happens is that area that I erased in ends up creating awful, bleeding lines (or runny) from my ink, therefore not allowing me to have control and achieve the desired effect.¬¨‚Ć I’m always afraid to erase too much.¬¨‚Ć I don’t erase ‘rough’ or anything, and I use Strathmore 300 series Vellum.¬¨‚Ć I realize that this happens largely in part because the eraser takes away the texture of the paper.¬¨‚Ć So, the question is, what do you recommend I do to fix this?¬¨‚Ć Is there some kind of ‘magic’ paper out there that can handle an eraser better, or is it best to NOT erase and work around mistakes–erasing when completed?¬¨‚Ć Basically, what do you recommend?

A: This question comes from Nate Fakes, a cartoonist, writer and fellow member of the Usual Gang of Idiots! Thanks for the question, Nate!

Just to clarify: your problem is that you are penciling on Strathmore 300 board, do some corrective erasing and further penciling, and then when you ink on top of the pencils you have bleeding and fuzzy lines in the areas you erased on. I just wanted to make sure the that was clear, and your issue was not that the inks smeared when you later erased the pncil lines way after inking.

The bottom line is that should not happen. You must be able to erase and make corrections at the pencil stage. I am pretty sure the problem is yourbioard. Strathmore 300 is not a very good board… I’d call it a “student grade” board, good enough for layouts, experimentation and studies but not consitant enough for pro work. If you are going to use real ink with a dip pen or brush as opposed to a marker or brush pen, get at least Strathmore 400 series. If the texture of the paper is not important to the look you are going for, get smooth (plate) finish as opposed to vellum. That has a much better surface for smooth inking. Also use 3 ply thickness or heavier… the thicker plys seem to have the better weave. Also buy the indivudal baords as the bound tablets are not the surface you need to work on.

Unfortunately Strathmore has really lost quality control in the last few years. I’ve learned the hard way not to buy too large a quantity of Strathmore board at a time, as some batches are badly woven. Right now I have a stack of 500 series Strathmore that is practically useless as I get the bleeding you described no matter what on every piece. MAD had a batch like that a year or two ago and it was awful. Lot’s of “fixing” the lines in PhotoShop. ugh. That stuff is too expensive to put up with those kinds of issues.

It seems like any cartoonist you talk to that has been in the business for a long time will lament the poor quality of art supplies these days. Nibs, ink, paper, etc. are just not made the way they used to be. This is not a new phenomenon. Charles Schulz used an Esterbrook Radio pen #914 for his work, and when the company went out of business he purchased enough nibs to last the rest of his life. I know a few other cartoonists who own and horde pen nibs or other art supplies that have been discontinued because they can’t stand the later maufactured versions.

Strathmore’s issue seem to be batch related, so if you get a bad board or two return the rest or at least seek new board from a different source. I’m going to be forced to get a new pack of 500 series as this stuff I have is almost unuseable. I prefer the vellum surface as I like what the imperfections and texture add to my inks, but to each their own. The point is seek a better surface as there are enough challenges to overcome in any given job withotu fighting poor materials.

Thanks again to Nate Fakes for the question. If you have a question you want answered for the mailbag about cartooning, illustration, MAD Magazine, caricature or similar, e-mail me and I’ll try and answer it here!


  1. anne says:

    John has had great success with Bienfang smooth 146 lb bristol.

  2. natefakes says:

    Thanks again, Tom, for answering this on-going problem! I think many others will benefit from your advice. I know for me, it has always been the most frustrating aspect of cartooning, and I could never figure out what was going on. I’d blame the pen, ink or the neighbors cat instead of concluding that IT WAS THE PAPER that couldn’t handle erasing. I didn’t blame the paper often because SOMETIMES it would work okay. So, that’s why I’ve always stuck with the Strathmore series I’m working with now. It had a success rate of, well…50/50 on frustration terms, however….

    I’m anxious to go through the remaining ‘decent’ batch of paper I have left (which luckily there’s not much) and try out what you have recommended.

    It’s too bad the quality of art supplies has dropped so much! Maybe the government can send Strathmore some bailout money and get the quality control moving again?

  3. Hmm, I happen to be using 300 series and have the same problem. Thanks for solving my problem without knowing it!


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