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December 2, 2011
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Lately I've been doing work for DC Direct--the wing of DC in charge of statues, toys, etc.  It's been a nice break from PRJ.  The money is good, and it hasn't been soulless like I imagined.  Corporate gigs can go either way--sometimes they want you to do exactly what "they" want, other times they want you to do your thing unencumbered.  Luckily this was the latter.

The rates for toy designs are broken down into three parts: you get paid for the sketches, the final pencils and the inks.  For this gig, the inking rate was higher than my normal inking rate.  It felt good, but then I realized that 25% of my fee was for inks.  And it raised an unsettled concern that's been on my mind.

How long will inkers be needed?

In the old days they needed inkers because computers weren't yet being used in print.  I forget the name of the machine that preceded the scanner (process cameras?), but it was low-tech enough that inking was REQUIRED because the pencil lines weren't dark enough to pick up.  A side effect of this lumbering technology was that it created "inking" as an art form exclusive to print and to comics.

Imagine you're an artist working for Ben Franklin at one of his printing presses.  Ben loves your comic strip ideas and wants to publish it.  But there's a problem: scanners haven't been invented yet so your pencils won't translate.  He hands you a pen and brush and a bottle of ink and tells you to go over your pencils to make it darker.  You frown--your pencils have nice shades of gray that ink will ruin!  Surely Ben will understand that.  "Too bad!" he says while staring at some chicks walking past the window, "Take this ink and find a way to make it work.  Or you're fired."  And off he goes to get laid.

Demands like this are what gave birth to hatching, cross hatching, feathering, and other tricks to give the impression of "gray" even though there's only black and white.  Before Ben Franklin, it was the lithograph invented by some Bavarian guy in the late 1700s.  Before him, it might have been the Greeks using stone blocks or something.  Whatever the history, we have to acknowledge that it was the shortcoming of technology that gave birth to modern inking.

After Ben helped improve the mass production of newspapers, comic strips came of age.  Then comic books, then the golden age and silver age.  Then the "fat lady" Art Crumb underground age.  Then Watchmen, then Frank Miller, then the Photoshop age of comics was boosted by Image.

The 90s is when many publishers switched over to scanners and modern printing technology.  While it helped give birth to better coloring via Photoshop, it also helped make inking obsolete.  But inking survived because it was part of the identity of comic books.  Many people working in publishing still had a soft spot for the writer/penciller/INKER/colorist/letterer dynamic.  We had the technology to print pencils and colors without needed it inked, but it wasn't enough to kill off inking.  Would readers even buy books that  were just pencils?  Thus, Marvel and DC continued including inking rates.

With Wacoms and Cintiques coming of age, traditional inking is completely unnecessary.  We no longer need comics to have that "comic book style" because readers have adapted to variety of styles that Cintiques easily create.  And if it's an old fashion "comic book style" you want, Cintiques can do that too!

Obviously, most of comics is now digital.  I write to my editors digitally--phone calls aren't needed anymore.  Even though I create my art traditionally, it's scanned into digital files which is exactly where digitally created artwork ends up--there IS no distinction at the end of the day.  Comics are colored and lettered digitally, the graphics are added digitally.  The printers are digital.  And if we could find a way to automate the writing and artwork at a lower cost, you'd better believe it would happen.  Cost of iArtist (the computer program designed to create art based off the script create by iWriter)--a one time fee of $500.  Cost of hiring Sean Murphy for one 22 page issue--$10,000.

So there I am, cashing my paycheck from DC.  My inking rate still included.  But for how long?  In a few years, I wouldn't be surprised if the publishers cut out inking rates altogether in order to save money.  You can still ink if you want to, they just won't pay for it.

Like I've said before, I'm an art snob.  I like creating art the old fashioned way, and I enjoy other people's art more if I know it actually exists and isn't just on a computer somewhere.  But my values don't stop me from acknowledging what's happening around me.  I can clearly see that inking is technically obsolete.  But there will always be purists who can carve out a living.  Records are obsolete, yet there are still record shops for the music snobs.

I imagine that even if Marvel and DC stop their inking rates, the most in-demand artists could still get what they want if they fought for it.  If Bachalo wants Townsend to ink his Xmen, he'll get his way.  And if I prove myself valuable to DC, I'll still get my rates as well.  If they cut my inking rate, I'll just up my pencilling rate by the same amount.
  • Listening to: Charlie Rose
  • Reading: Trotsky
  • Watching: Top Gear UK
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DarkDragon247 Featured By Owner Jun 20, 2013  Hobbyist General Artist
randomacity Featured By Owner Aug 15, 2012
Good post.

Don't you think that there are things that inking offers though that you can't get from a pencil? Things that are even difficult to do on computer?

Stuff like splatters and smudges with your fingers?
BoDiddles Featured By Owner Jan 8, 2012
There's a big debate among film people. We all like film, and we love to shoot on it because it's still something that you can hold up to the light and see, it has a depth to it that digital doesn't but at the end it's still something that you can hold and see. As digital cameras are arriving at the resolution that film has lots of people are switching over from film to Digital, especially on the low budget spectrum due to the large cost of film. Film projection has a finite deadline now and will be switched over to Digital Projection which is phasing out the projectionist, now you will have the lead popcorn scooper go upstairs and push play. There are pros and cons, to each, mainly cost for film as well as the gamble you take that what your shooting will actually be what you hope it is once it's developed. However there are purists that refuse to make the switch.
JHurlburt Featured By Owner Jan 5, 2012
This has been a concern of mine for sometime, For Penciling and painting as well, although they might not be obsolete traditionally, they defiantly take much more time to complete and mistakes are not so easily fixed, this alone might be reason enough for company's to pick the digital guy over the trad.

On the up side The value and appreciation of the original piece should rise.
paime77 Featured By Owner Dec 31, 2011
Records are making a comeback, saw something on the history channel about it.
duss005 Featured By Owner Dec 19, 2011
you're too modest a guy to point it out, but i will. you're a special case- im pretty sure ( 100% sure) that when companies like DC, marvel, etc are looking to hire you, it doesnt come down to simply penciling/inking or layouts/finishes, but rather for your overall art and the ability to use your name as a selling point : )
seangordonmurphy Featured By Owner Dec 20, 2011
Yeah, I guess a lot of this applies to the smaller guys.
JK5-Inks Featured By Owner Dec 18, 2011  Hobbyist
It goes back to something you've said before...about holding the original artwork in your hands and seeing not just what's in the panels, but the stuff off to the side...the brush testing, line testing, shows that someone actually put their time & effort into creating a piece of art in ink, and you hold that in your hands. It becomes an entirely new piece of artwork all on it's own. Without inks, you might have the original pencils in your hands...but that's it...we lose pieces of artwork as a whole (now only pencils exist, no copies of an inked page) and there's no more seeing how someone interpreted a penciled page or the process & workmanship that went into creating an inked page. I dig penciled pieces...but I love inked pieces more-so.
PeterDoherty Featured By Owner Dec 17, 2011
One thing you don't mention here is that inking speeds up the production process too. In the UK where I'm based there was no need for inkers as most comics were anthologies so artists were given enough time to produce black and white artwork by themselves.Consequently it's rare to get a separate rate for pencils and inks, there's just a rate for the production of the artwork.
And on the subject of automating the process, that's been parodied years ago in a lovely little John Wagner/ Alan Grant Judge Dredd story "The art of Kenny Who?" drawn by Cam Kennedy. It's pretty much on the mark and funny too.
RichardHancock Featured By Owner Dec 14, 2011
I'm a consumer, not producer, of comic book art; but I always thought some artists worked better as pencilers (e.g. John Buscema) and some artists worked better as inkers (e.g. Joe Sinnott). Of course, I'm talking about the 1970s, so things may be very different today.
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