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Comic book artist Jason Pearson\’s disturbing post at Facebook yesterday brings to light the plight of many working (or not working) in comics today. It\’s a hard hard business. There has been a seismic shift in the comics industry that occured over the last 10 years. On one hand one can point a finger at the dire state of world economy, but at the same time, one can definitely point a finger at developments in technology that has affected the art and craft of creating comics.

Although many in the chain of comic book creation are affected, it is comic book inkers and hand letterers that I think are being hit hardest. With the development of new ways of producing comics, companies are starting to use inkers and hand letterers less and less.

For those not fully aware of the chain that describes the production of comic books, it usually starts off with a writer coming up with a script. It is then handed over to a penciller, who draws the story in pencil. And then an inker comes in who clarifies and solidifies the pencils using a variety of inking tools like pens, brushes, etc. This is to make the artwork more easily reproduced in printing. The page is then handed to a colorist who will add colors, usually by a variety of computer programs, Photoshop being the most common. In the older days, the lettering was applied by hand before the page was inked. Today, comics are computer lettered after a page is colored.

Because computers are now used more and more in production, it\’s now easier to work directly from a penciller\’s lines. Skipping the inker, the pencils are processed in Photoshop to make it cleaner and darker, and is then colored on directly. To make this process work, pencillers are usually required to pencil more tightly and more cleanly. Although pencillers can charge more for the extra work, the production cost is still reduced when taking the inker out of the equation. It makes perfect business sense, and I really can\’t fault any company that would endeavor to cut costs in production. This is perfectly true for any business.

Unfortunately, this means inkers are getting less and less work. This is a reality that all inkers need to face. We can\’t stop technology. Once it gets a foothold, for better or for worse, nothing can stop it. All we can do is adapt and ride the waves.

Here\’s an article by comics artist Sean Gordon Murphy on his fears that comic book inking is becoming obsolete:
http://seangordonmurphy.deviantart.com/journal/Obsolete-Inking-271985217

Here\’s inker Joe Weems about his need for an inking job:
http://joeweems5.deviantart.com/journal/Who-needs-some-Inks-273313029

Other inkers have expressed the same sentiments at mailing lists and direct emails to me.

It\’s one of the many reasons I kept pushing to create my own comics like Wasted and Elmer. I feel the need to diversify and become adept at other aspects of comic book creating. I have to think of my future. I\’m perfectly happy inking Leinil Yu for all time in whatever he does, but there is always the possibility that it will not always be there. So I will continue creating my own comics, and continue creating my own characters. I do it not really just because of necessity, but because I want to do it. What I had written before about my need to express my creativity in other ways is still true, much more so today.

If I can give some advice to my fellow comic book pros who may find themselves in a dire situation, never forget that you are an artist first and foremost. Forget about that \”tracer\” crap because we all know it\’s not true. Give a non artist some pencilled art and he won\’t know what to do with it. As artists ourselves, we completely understand what we need to do. You are artists, and inking is not the only thing you can do. Give pencilling a try, or writing , or coloring. If they don\’t hire you, publish your own comic book. Find sponsors or get a Kickstarter going. Next, you can do commissions. Commissions are what some of my friends do when they\’re in between jobs. It pays very well too. Since I\’m in between jobs myself, I will start on a couple of commissions too. Sell your original art. If you\’re US based, it\’s so easy to attend a convention and sell your art there. You can spend the day sketching and you\’ll get something out of that. Next, you can explore other fields of art. Create logos, design T-shirts, provide designs for tattoos, go into animation, go into painting, accept jobs from advertising companies. Next, you can even start your own business. If you self published your own work, you can merchandise the crap out of it. There are so many things you can do as an artist!

I hope aspiring artists take all this to heart and learn from the lessons we are seeing today. It\’s not enough that you manage to break in today. Your future is not secure. As a 16 year veteran of comics my future is not secure. But that is the risk any artist takes. As artists our every decision is a risk. Once you are in comics, always treat it as your last project and work the hell out of it, working the best that you can. More importantly, do it on time. The proving process never ends. You\’re only as good as your last job. Never become complacent. It only takes one bad job and one disappointed editor for you to fall off the tracks.

However, it is still disappointing nevertheless that a once great tradition in comics seems to be slowly dying. I\’m not convinced that it will die out all together though, as there will always be pencillers who want to be inked, and many comic book readers who still want inked comics. But we are becoming almost an endangered species. But for this endangered species, there is no outcry from the comics community at large, no widespread concern that a form of art unique to comics is gasping for breath.

I really can\’t blame the comics readership. For the most part, they read comics to be entertained. They want to follow the lives and adventures of their favorite heroes. What goes on behind the scenes, well, most of them really would rather not know. And I understand that. Indeed, many regular comic book readers don\’t even understand what the job of the inker is, and how we contribute to the production of the book. I myself didn\’t know what \”inking\” was until I became an inker myself. It\’s a hard job to describe. I would like say that inking is an essential and important part of the process, but I would perhaps only be deluding myself seeing comic books being published (and be successful) without the benefit of inkers. There\’s really nothing concrete for me to stand on.

What am I really saying? This is unfortunately, a reality. As I mentioned earlier, there\’s no stopping technology. All inkers can do is adapt. But at the same time, I wish more people cared. I wish people cared more that the art of comic book inking is being endangered. I feel people are so eager to embrace technology that they forget to realize that living, breathing people are getting trampled underfoot. I think inkers sorely need appreciation and attention for the things we do. There should be an Inkers category in the Will Eisner Industry Awards. There should be an Inkers category in Comic Book Resources\’ Twitter directory. There should be more inkers invited to comic book conventions. There should be more inkers invited to speak at podcasts. There should be more inkers being interviewed and profiled for various comics websites. There should be books and magazines profiling inkers and the work we do. There should be an Inkers Appreciation Day in comics!

If you can, please visit the site below. It\’s a website that celebrates and promotes the art of comic book inking. If you can spread the site around, it would be great. A little understanding of what inker truly does would be just great.

The Inkwell Awards
http://www.inkwellawards.com/

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I also need to address some rumblings from the comics community about how inking jobs are being taken away by artists in 3rd world countries who work for cheap. I live in a 3rd world country. I understand the sentiment, and I will not deny that there may well be artists in 3rd world countries working for slave labor rates. Fortunately, I\’m not one of them. I\’d like to say that my rate (without being specific about what it is), is competitive with rates inkers make in the US, commensurate to my experience in the business. And as far as I know, none of my friends who also work in US comics accept slave labor pay. As far as we are concerned, they did not hire us because we sweat at shops.

Once again, that is not to say that it does not happen. I have encountered a Hawaii based publisher who wanted to hire me for 10 dollars a page, all the while boasting what a great rate it was, and that he had another artist in Bulacan already working for him for less than that. As if I should be thankful. Needless to say I declined, and I didn\’t decline nicely.

I\’ve always posted on this blog advice to my fellow comics professionals never to sell themselves short. Many still email me today asking if they should accept this or that job which pays this or that rate. And I do gladly give my advice. I always tell them to be proud of what they do, and as Filipinos, our talent and skill can match toe to toe with any artist in the world. And they should charge accordingly.

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Go, Read: Gerry Alanguilan On The Decline In Comics Inking
http://www.comicsreporter.com/index.php/
go_read_gerry_alanguilan_on_the_decline_in_comics_inking/

The changing nature of comics work
http://forbiddenplanet.co.uk/blog/2011/the-changing-nature-of-comics-work/

Comments

16 Responses to “Thinking About the Future”

  1. Bernard M. Santos on December 11th, 2011 5:38 pm

    I feel very sad on what’s happening in the comic book industry. I’m an aspiring artist and I’m still in the verge of improving my skills. Reading those links above made me wonder, how come until now they don’t recognize still the skills of such inkers contributing to the essence of creating comic book..isa sa mga idol ko sa pagbuo ng comics liban sa writers at pencillers ay ang INKERS..dati mas mataas ang tingin ko sa mga pencillers kasi nga sila mismo ung, sa tingin ko nung bata ako, ay ang pinakamahirap na trabaho dahil sa tagal ng proseso sa paggawa..pero habang tumatanda ako mas natutuon ang tingin ko sa mga inkers, at napapaisip ako, panu kaya nila nakukuha ung magiging light source ng isang image kahit walang shading na nagawa ang isang penciller para masundan ng isang inker..un ung isang nakita kong challenge sa pagiging inker..maituturing din naman silang as AWESOME as pencillers..and addition to that without the inkers comic book pages will be “UNNATURAL”, parang walang substance ang isang image kung di xa naINKed..

  2. Reno on December 11th, 2011 6:37 pm

    After reading Jason Pearson’s post, I echo what you’ve said. Artists, don’t limit yourself to one field. When I went freelance some two years back, I did a whole lot of stuff. I did comics, but I also did storyboards, logo design, graphic design, etc. etc. I would much rather do comics than everything else, but jobs in comics are few and far between.

    As for the stuff about inking, I also feel the loss. My latter comics projects, the pencils went straight to coloring and lettering, bypassing the inking stage. When this first happened, I did not know that they would e coloring directly on my pencils, so the pages I submitted were not really clean. It resulted in a “fuzzy” effect which I didn’t really like. So now I’ve been pencilling tighter, since sometimes I don’t know if a particular project will be inked or not. The funny thing is, when I suggest that I do my own inking, they tell me they just want pencils. Go figure.

  3. Arnold Ramirez (aka Axistrizero) on December 11th, 2011 7:53 pm

    I truly agree with what you said above Sir Gerry… and although I’m just a hobbyist in this category, I myself is an artist and appreciates the artists as much as their works… inkers included. Thanks for this very beautiful article….

  4. Kevin on December 11th, 2011 7:53 pm

    Inking will not die, for that I’m sure. Yeah, working as an inker may become less and less popular and economical for publishers, but the art of inking will not die. (as long as artists still see the value of it and continue to practice this)

    There will come a time when digital inking will fall short and fall out of “fashion” and they would need the “human” touch an inker for their books.

  5. auggie on December 11th, 2011 10:37 pm

    Thanks for this piece Gerry. Yes, the shape of things to come is rather bleak. And this is a very timely caveat.

  6. Max West on December 12th, 2011 6:34 am

    The notion of inking becoming a dying art seems to be more a concern of the mainstream companies. I’m from the indie field and here, there is so much biodiversity. People draw and letter comics the old-fashioned way with alternative comics and use many other methods too. I’ve seen digital, photo comics, screenprinting, collage, stencils, scratchboard, woodcuts and linocuts, and more.

    The mainstream superhero comics are becoming too stagnant, not only relying on cliches like reboots and constant death/resurrection, but also on the problems of cutting out certain phases of talent. That’s why I believe the future of comics are in the alternative field.

  7. Kat on December 12th, 2011 11:24 am

    Inking is a skill that I actually want to be good at. Never really got around to practising it. I’m not in the industry, so I don’t know the trend, but I think it’ll be something that won’t really be gone, just changed.

  8. Gerry Alanguilan on December 12th, 2011 11:41 am

    Kat, if you want to learn it, here’s a tip. Never treat your pen like a pencil. Meaning, don’t do quick sketchy strokes with it (unless that’s the look you want). Inking is usually done with slow deliberate strokes, making lines as solid and as clean as possible.

  9. stefano gaudiano on December 12th, 2011 10:17 pm

    Hey Gerry,
    Great post. Commercially it’s natural that as technology makes that production step obsolete, inking will go the way of hand letterering. To earn a living we inkers have no choice but to adapt as you advised. Artistically, in the long run, inking will be appreciated for what it is: the skill of reducing the complexity of human vision into lines and defined shapes, ideally making the vision absolutely readable without sacrificing nuance. At its best inking is comparable to a great vocal or instrumental performance, delivering to full effect someone else’s tune. A tip of the hat to all who love this craft; while jobs will be lost, its inherent value will always be clear.

  10. WILLIAM on December 13th, 2011 12:54 am

    Although like ko po yun raw pencils treatment ng ilang idols ko sa kanilang illustrations(kasi kita hagod nila),ayoko naman pong mag-die out yun inking.May mga styles nga pong mas maganda kapag nka-inked…LONG LIVE THE INKERS!!!

  11. frbarba on December 14th, 2011 5:57 am

    …and heres another bad news, since everything else is being turned to digital/electronic, i strongly feel that in the very near future, a hard copy comics will be gone and will be absolutely replaced with digital comics para maka-save ng kalikasan at walang ng papel na gagamitin, thats ok to conserve mother nature but not like those rich people who can afford iPads, i can only purchase hard copy comics =/ (i.e. kaya na abolish ung Wizard magazine)

  12. Gerry Alanguilan on December 14th, 2011 7:02 am

    Ferdie… as much as I hate to say it, as much as we think we’re conserving nature by going digital, we’re also contributing to war and death in the Congo, and I’m sure many other places in the world whenever we buy a digital device. Mining of coltan, a raw material used in the production of our digital devices, have resulted in the war and the death of millions of people, and that’s a number that’s not likely to diminish as long as we continue using our devices. It’s not surprising that this is not widespread knowledge, but it is happening. This is a rather difficult dilemma because we have come to need our devices (although we have lived most of our lives without one). I’m not advocating we stop using them, but rather I wish people wouldn’t change models every so often. Use a phone until it’s broken, and not because we just want a new one. It would help decrease the demand for it.

  13. Frans on December 14th, 2011 7:53 am

    This is a big bust in the comic industry indeed. The more I think about it though, it might just be a blessing in disguise? I don’t know… The traditional way of making comics look very much like an assembly line wherein each man does a single action and then the product moves on to the next. In a way, cost-cutting has its bad points, but also its good points in that artists are now going to be more well-rounded. And maybe since inkers won’t have any place to go, they’ll create their own comics, which might, in the end, help the comic industry to thrive? Wishful thinking, maybe, but hey, in a way, it empowers artists to think more creatively in terms of how they are going to earn money. It pushes them to think outside the box, which is really what artists are supposed to do, right? Come up with creative solutions to problems.

  14. The Future of Inking… | Hawkers Magazine on December 14th, 2011 8:39 am

    […] Then, I read Gerry Alanguilan’s journal. […]

  15. charles yoakum on December 14th, 2011 9:25 am

    as a former inker, i agree that we’re an endangered species, its why i walked away from the industry… before they put me in Jason’s position. Again. I’d already been thorugh that once in 1996 and i don’t want to do it again. I answered your post on my blog as well –

    http://inkdestroyedmybrush.blogspot.com/2011/12/obsolete-inkers-fading-away-jason.html

    best of luck on your art!

  16. adam? on December 17th, 2011 7:08 pm

    A bit late in the conversation, pero I just wanted to put this in here, haha.

    For my part, my understanding of Inking has evolved into it being an Art that is not necessarily dependent on the tools; instead, it is wholly dependent on the knowledge and craft of the inker/artist. I always return to Klaus Janson (and to a lesser extent, to Moebius and Brian Bolland and Dave Gibbons) when thinking about this: even if you use ink and brush and pen for your inking, if the love and mind for it is not there, it really won’t work for you, e; and by the same token, even if you only use pentabs for inking, if the love and mind for it is there, it’ll really work for you (like with Moebius and Bolland).

    One good example rin of an artist who has been doing digital inking for nearly 20 years now is Dave McKean – he makes it look like it’s not digital, but it actually has been for almost two decades. Same with Talbot! So there are ways for the art to evolve with the tech naman.