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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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JimSandersIII Featured By Owner Feb 13, 2016
i know i am coming in super late on this----i hope that inking never gets totally eclipsed by computer programs-i love the 'feel' of a nib scratching on paper or the watching how a brush miraclussly goes from neddle thin to a quarterinch thick in one stroke-when i started at marvel,inking todd macfarlanes incredible hulk,i wanted to be the next bob mcleod or joe rubenstein-but i got paired up with larson,macfarlane,and lim;i had to relearn inking to keep up with the new styles that was coming up through the main stream (i.e. the jim lee/scott williams style that me and my studio mates would jokingly call-"THE style"-
ironicly my favorite pro inking was at ac comics inking :iconcbgorby:
inking bryan hitch was fun,but the only time i really pleased him was on a job i ghosted and even he didn't recognized my inking
all this is moot for me-i live in a nursing home and am doing kidney dalysis 3x a week-i plan on experimenting with new pencil and ink style and am even ready to experiment doing digital art-tho i will always ink with traditional tool for as long as i can-it just seems unfair that there are SO many megatalented ink slingers from the 80's and 90's that can't make a living at there craft any more because of the paradigm shift of the mid 90's that made all us guys form the 80's all but obselete-
my hope is to try to find someone at marvel to talk to and start lobbying to ink something for the hulk's 55th anniversary-after all,we both made are first appearance in 1963,and i inked a pretty good portion of hulks 'grey period' with both,macfarlane and purves
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.
JeffGraham-Art Featured By Owner Dec 18, 2011  Hobbyist Traditional Artist
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.
uberfeist Featured By Owner Dec 14, 2011  Professional General Artist
Unless I want my pencils to stay rough, I just mess with the levels and curves in PS. However the method of embellishing and making pencils cleaner by tightening the lines on PS still apply. It may not be "inking" per say, but its the same discipline.
RangyRougee Featured By Owner Dec 13, 2011  Professional General Artist
I don't have much to say, except to note the fact that everything that Madureira does now is just pencils... which it makes me wonder,
is it because they are cheapskating on the inker or just because he takes so fucking long to do anything that they actually have to bypass an inker in order to get things on time?

Always a treat to read your point of views, man.
charles-yo Featured By Owner Dec 13, 2011
as a former inker, I agree with you entirely and keep thinking: diversity, diversify diversify. I answered this a little more in my blog as well:


all the best on the DC direct work
mattkevin1991 Featured By Owner Dec 12, 2011  Hobbyist General Artist
before the typesetters, then the letterers... Now no more inkers...? :<
josue64 Featured By Owner Dec 12, 2011  Professional Artist
Really excellent journal entry and commentary. The vertical cameras were also called STAT cameras. It's crazy how technology helps us and yet it also affects the craft.
comicspotting Featured By Owner Dec 11, 2011
" I forget the name of the machine that preceded the scanner." I think it was the vertical camera. It can be adjusted to shoot line and tonal black and white images.
Badong09 Featured By Owner Dec 11, 2011  Hobbyist General Artist
I'm feeling very sad for what is happening in the comic book industry...
I'm an aspiring comic book artist and i know i STILL have a VERY LONG way to make it in the industry..
But upon reading your article my dreams on becoming one is becoming narrower...losing my hope as i speak..

All i do is buy comic books in a comic book store or anywhere when ever i see a comic book to read...
Ever since i was a kid, i always loved comic first comic book was SPAWN back in those times, and i had only ONE comic book at hand. and that was the day i said to my self "I want to be a Comic book artist".

But now that I'm 22, i can't imagine that the next generation won't know the essence on the chains in producing such magnificent art..i can't blame time for which society becomes more ''TECHIE''..

I wanted to learn INKING in a traditional way..they should realize that removing inkers in the process will make comic books "UNNATURAL"..

I wish i can bring back the times when comic book flourished the most..and most kids, where ever you look at, enjoys reading...

I liked what you'ved said and i support it..inkers should not be snobbed..cause inkers are as GOOD as pencillers/colorists
NoirZone Featured By Owner Dec 9, 2011  Professional Traditional Artist
Do you get 10000USD for 22 pages?
Freeezz Featured By Owner Dec 6, 2011
A few months back I hired Mr. Andy Owens for an inking job on a few McDaniel penciled pieces. He blue line inked a commission and an unfinished cover. This way I not only have two pieces by two different artists but I also wanted to be able to frame them together to show the before and after. Just awesome!!
ZeitgeistSam Featured By Owner Dec 5, 2011
There's something more to the vinyl record analogy, I think. Vinyls haven't just come back into style for the nostalgia factor (though I'm sure that has something to do with it), otherwise we'd probably just see re-prints of old vinyls hitting shelves. Modern albums are being sold as vinyls, particularly very high-sound-quality stuff which would be diminished greatly if listened to from a CD or mp3 file. In this case, new technology and techniques in the world of sound engineering and design have resurrected what most people thought was a dying or dead format. Vinyls didn't go away because they were poor quality, they went away because they were expensive. Now, they're coming back because they are of high quality, and in a way there's a better market for them now than there was in their heyday. Maybe it's just me, but I haven't heard a whole lot of vinyls recorded this year which don't sound, at the very least, interesting and sincerely trying to be good, even if it's not to my personal taste. Put another way, chances are good that if someone went to the effort to publish an album or a single on vinyl, the music "deserved" to be published in such a high-quality format. Shallow, mass-produced spewtunes need not apply.

This doesn't translate perfectly to inking, I know, but those same companies and customers who strive for the quality and, sure, authenticity, of manual inking will always be around. I hear people bemoaning the death of the physical book, as it's replaced by e-readers, all the time, but the reason I don't agree is precisely BECAUSE I hear so many people who don't want it to happen. The market might get smaller, but it might also get that much more loyal and discerning. Possibly as with what happened to vinyl, the people who do stick with manual inking will be the ones who have made a true art form of it, and who will probably have something of a mystique to them which is attractive to a lot of readers, even if they can't say exactly why. The number of manual inkers may dwindle, but I wouldn't be surprised to see the overall quality of manual inking increase almost proportionally.

Then again, I could be completely wrong about this whole thing. I am, after all, primarily a digital inker, and one whose stuff often looks like I inked it with a washcloth tied to the end of a stick, so my opinion and conjecture should be taken with a pound of salt.
KJVallentin Featured By Owner Dec 5, 2011
Devil's advocate but I have to believe that the more talented artists will adapt and will start doing sharper, better pencils that don't necessarily require inks. Might even open the door for some new techniques and styles. I don't think inking will disappear but it will become more a function of artistic expression than industry standard.
JoeWeems5 Featured By Owner Dec 9, 2011  Professional Traditional Artist
And those "tighter" pencils will take longer to produce...just saying.
KJVallentin Featured By Owner Dec 9, 2011
Better and easier, the perfect crime.
JoeWeems5 Featured By Owner Dec 10, 2011  Professional Traditional Artist
I'm not sure I understand this comment.
KJVallentin Featured By Owner Dec 10, 2011
Sorry Joe, I was responding to a different thread and somehow typed it in the wrong box.

I'm just playing devils advocate. I have a strong belief in the ability of talented people to adapt and achieve and am interested to see how this evolves. I do not for a second however undervalue the role of the many extremely talented inkers working in comics. Reading the pencil only version of the Batman Hush book i'm as aware of whats missing without the talent of Scott Williams as I'm aware of the talent of Jim Lee. I also believe that Joe Mad's art for Avenging Spider-man looks washed out and is crying out for a good inker, though I haven't found that to be the case with his other pencil work. The truth is I don't believe for a second that the role of the inker will be eliminated from comics, I just think some artist will choose to do pencil only work and the most talented of them will do it very well.
JoeWeems5 Featured By Owner Dec 10, 2011  Professional Traditional Artist
sheber Featured By Owner Dec 5, 2011
I'm with you. I so thoroughly enjoy the craft of your art! What legacy are we leaving behind digitally? What would happen if the collective plugged were pulled? An entire generation's digital record (art and photography) would cease to exist. Any idea of permanence have been replaced with the perceived importance of immediacy. Perhaps therein lies the answer: Adapt and innovate inking with vectors.
VoipComics Featured By Owner Dec 5, 2011  Hobbyist General Artist
Well, I wouldn't be surprised if the whole "Comic style" takes a big cut. Digital painting can produce some serious quality works that have amazing vibrance and shape in the same time it take to make a page traditionally. Alex Ross has already shown what kind of a market there is for a painted style and I have seen a lot of covers going that way. Once the industry realized how quick some of these talented painters are then it's only a matter of time.
tshasteen Featured By Owner Dec 5, 2011
For the most part I agree. There is one exception... Cintiques don't create anything. People do.
SAIDESTROYER Featured By Owner Dec 7, 2011  Professional General Artist
Give this man a motherfucking medal!!! Couldn't say it better myself.
charles-yo Featured By Owner Dec 13, 2011
tools are tools are tools. love 'em or hate 'em, the tools will change and we will change with them.

After all, bought any letraset recently?
Danferno Featured By Owner Dec 5, 2011  Hobbyist Photographer
"Wacoms and Cintiques" Isn't the Cintiq also a Wacom?
ManoelRicardo Featured By Owner Dec 4, 2011  Professional General Artist
Aways constructive thoughts. Love your journals.
Pretty scary shit on this one... hehehe...
KoShiatar Featured By Owner Dec 4, 2011  Professional Digital Artist
What you say applies not only to inking, but to every step of the production process.
Some pencilers can do great panels but are not as good when inking. A good inker can signficantly increase the quality of pencils, not to speak of the expressivity in some styles of inking that you could hardly obtain with just pencils.
I can see little difference between digital and traditional inking in this; one medium can be more convenient than others, but you still need to know WHAT to do and HOW to do it. You speak as if a Cintiq could do all the job by itself; it is not so. If you're bad at it, Cintiq or brush you will still not produce good art, I grant you.
How long will be inkers needed? Generally speaking, as long as we wish. In manistream comics, as long as publishers will still have an eye for quality despite the costs quality requires. I still think it will be some time before a computer can replace the individual choices of expression human artists bring into the process. Perhaps that will never happen. Television did not replace cinema or radio, 3D animation did not replace 2D (despite what some think). Digital art can't, and won't, replace traditional art completely. It's offering different and new choices, but I strongly disagree when people want to put one against the other. I do digital AND traditional. And I love both.
augustustodopoderoso Featured By Owner Dec 4, 2011  Professional Traditional Artist
Well, if you wanna take it even further, I guess the question would be: Why even have originals? These days you can pencil, ink, color and letter digitally your comics; you can skip the scanning stage, help the environment by not using paper, and maybe save some of the editorīs time by doing that. Like Declan said, probably, editors will pay you for finished artwork, no matter how you crafted it, traditionally or digitally. The tabletīs just a tool like a pencil, brush or quill; the person holding the tool is what counts, I guess. Me? I like my originals done by hand on a piece of paper, but maybe Iīm a diying dinosaur.
Good reading, Sean.
Take care

ps: thanks for rubbing your paycheck in my face, dumbass :)
seangordonmurphy Featured By Owner Dec 4, 2011
We're both dinosaurs I think.
augustustodopoderoso Featured By Owner Dec 5, 2011  Professional Traditional Artist
Well, itīs good to know thereīs lots of dinos out there willing to give a good fight before being force to extinction.
All the best, man
Chat-Field-Pirate Featured By Owner Dec 4, 2011
This was a fantastic read before work. Really got my brain thinking about things. The only thing I would say is, I don't see inker disapearing all together until pencilers learn to do tighter pencils. Not saying all but I have seen some pages and not ready for the colorist. Darkening the pencils to look like inks is just horrible and lazy. I think more and more younger artist are learning how to do everything. Not just focus on the pencils, inks or colorist. It will be interesting to see what the future holds for this medium. I do know in my work it will always have a place.
stuck-in-tree Featured By Owner Dec 3, 2011  Student General Artist
All I can say is you are discussing one of my recurring nightmares. I absolutely love inking and, no offense to colorists, but I prefer work that's in black and white. I still appreciate and definitely respect the hell out of anyone who colors, because I know from experience that it's not easy.

But the digital age is absolutely terrifying to me. I've been told by just about everyone I meet in the industry that unless I have more to offer than just inking, I'm never gonna get a job. I feel that people don't realize what they're losing by moving away from the traditional methods. I don't care how good the computers are at making it LOOK like real ink...the bottom line is, it's NOT. It will never be the same.
ThornedVenom Featured By Owner Dec 3, 2011  Professional Digital Artist
Nice insight, I find myself always digging these journals.
RichardPace Featured By Owner Dec 3, 2011  Professional General Artist
My current process down't allow for an inker - -though I would make allowances for the right one. Bill Sienkiewicz said he'd like to ink me in the future, which, to be fair, would be me doing my best to set him up to do what he does best and not bother with tight pencils by any stretch. The standard penciller/inker paradigm is in its last days.

My current work flow goes from layout/rough pencils to the scanner. I do a quick once-over in Photoshop, fixing mistakes, flipping or resizing panels and whatnot then print the still loose pencils in 22% cyan onto Strathmore Bristol. All the rendering and line weight decisions gets made on the board with ink. the result is finished work that takes roughly the same amount of time as my tight pencils used to take.

I've seen the death of the inker as a viable career choice start with the mid-list publishers: I was asked to draw a GI Joe thing for a now defunct publisher and they offered 100.00 for pencils or 115.00 if I inked it myself. 15.00 for inks. Wow. In hindsight, I almost think the 15.00 for inks offer was there to distract me from reacting to how low their pencil rate was.

It seems the smaller publishers have abandoned inking as a consideration and are already making offers on finished art and I agree it's only a matter of time before that works its way up.
Tripage Featured By Owner Dec 3, 2011

I think the picture you're painting is too dire. Technology is great, and currently it's improving at an incredible rate. But there's never going to be a tool that's developed that will do the artistic or storytelling work for you.

In a world full of photoshop filters and illustrator's live trace, people aren't stupid. They can tell the difference between an image that took a few moments to render digitally vs one that the artist spent time designing.

That being said comics are a business, and digital tools can make comic production faster, without a lapse in artistic quality (just ask someone like Kristian Donalson, or Nathan Fox, both use manga studio for a lot of their comics work). If you can produce great work quickly, using digital tools, then you'll be marketable. If you can produce great work quickly, using traditional tools, then you'll be marketable as well. Publishers don't care as long as the work looks awesome and is turned in on time.

But people in our world right now crave authenticity. It's a huge marketing ploy. 100% real, organic, hand-crafted, home grown, hand made, etc... And I think that people want something that's real in comics. They want to see the human element, and inking is a huge part of that process.

Maybe that's one reason why you've been successful, because people like seeing your work and knowing that it's real.

I don't think inking is going to die. But times are changing, and comic artists will have to adapt accordingly. Adapt or die...
BLACKSTAR-SHABACH Featured By Owner Dec 3, 2011
havent read all the comments..but will say this, Inking is an art form, just as penciling is. Yes it was originally an enhancement process however, YOUR inking is much different, you cant just adjust level and grayscale YOUR pencils. Watcolor used to be the standard for coloring comics too, but now digital programs do that, but the skill of a fine artist outweighs that of a novice designer. The issue is technology really not the medium. Inking has been around for hundreds of years. In comics it may go totally digital but the "Inker" will always be in demand, even if it's digital.
ChadMinshew Featured By Owner Dec 3, 2011  Professional Artist
I'd wager the move into the RGB gamut will be what obsolesces inking. It's coming, I'd give it five or eight more years before the big two give up the notion of a house style.
BillReinhold Featured By Owner Dec 3, 2011  Professional
Can you elaborate please?
rillani Featured By Owner Dec 3, 2011  Professional Digital Artist
You gave me an idea! :D

KidneyTheft Featured By Owner Dec 2, 2011  Professional Traditional Artist
damn this was so informative, and sadening at the same time. thank god for us traditionalists! long live the pencil and ink formats!
neurotype Featured By Owner Dec 2, 2011  Hobbyist General Artist
On the other hand, people appreciate the traditional "feel" more so now than they did when it was the only option. I think it'll become less common, but also more valuable.
RockHurtz Featured By Owner Dec 2, 2011  Hobbyist Filmographer
It doesn't seem likely to me that inking would ever become obsolete... mostly because new art techniques didn't kill older ones in the fine art industry... reminds me of a clothing store near here that still hand prints all the fabric for their clothing line... they've been selling well for years and years. There's no doubt that it could be used less by artists... but i don't know about "obsolete"... at least i hope not! o_o
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