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:
Here\’s inker Joe Weems about his need for an inking job:
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
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.
Go, Read: Gerry Alanguilan On The Decline In Comics Inking
The changing nature of comics work