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.