Making Comics Part 3-Inking

Alright, disclaimer: from here on out, we’re dealing with the underappreciated aspects of comics. The rest of this blog series will focus on stuff that most people don’t know or think about. So, if you do/want to do these things, you are a real hero.

I think inking is the hardest thing to explain to someone outside of comics because, as illustrated in the famous scene from Chasing Amy many people look at inking as simply tracing a picture. But this is wrong. Yes, you are going over penciled lines, but there is so much more to the art.

If I’m not mistaken, inking is a unique process in comics. While other forms of media deal with ink, I think comics is the only place where it is a separate process unto itself. It basically came about because in the early days of comics, they knew these things were going to be reprinted, so they couldn’t just stick with pencil lines. Well, then they decided they wanted to speed the comic making process up, so they had another person come in and do inks while the artist drew another strip or book.

So, what is the actual job of an inker? As I said, the inker goes over the lines of pencil with ink. Sounds pretty simple right? But it’s much more complex than that. The inker is responsible for giving the pages depth. Without ink, a page can look very flat. Sure, it might still look very good, but the inks are what give that page dimension. It’s what really helps with immersion in the fact that inks can trick our eyes. Good inks can convince us that something is closer or further away, even though we are looking at something that is only two dimensional. They also help with textures. Most pencils do a guide for what textures are on objects in the panel, but the inks are where those textures come to life. Rocks int the background, clothing, houses, these things may all have textures that are represented visually, so that our brain can look at them and understand what they feel like, or what material they are made of, or even simply, but MOST importantly, just what they are. Like everything thus far, and everything to come, the inker’s job is CLARITY.

It is important for me to note that there are quite a lot of tools for inking. You can ink with a pen (there are many, many pens out there to choose from. When I do this, I use Micron). You can use a nib (which looks a bit like a fountain pen) or a brush, both with India ink. Or you can ink digitally. I have done all of these methods, and they are all swell. Just see what works best for you. For a way better look at this, look at The DC Guide to Inking Comics by Klaus Janson, because he knows what he is doing one million times more than me.

So, remember last time when I posted the pencils of a drawing? Let’s see what it looks like inked.


These inks were added by Bob McLeod. To me, the inks supply a little more emotion and help set the tone. Look at Punisher’s eyes in the fifth panel. The darkness around them is menacing and we know he means business. McLeod was pretty faithful to the original drawing, and that’s good. An inker’s job isn’t to stand out and be the loudest thing on the page. Like everything left in this series of blogs, you want inks to blend in so that they don’t over power the story telling. Of course people will notice them, because everything is in ink, but don’t let that ego try and make it so the inks are explosive. A bad ink job can ruin good art. However, a great ink job can save bad art. Realize that, when it comes to inking, it’s a powerful tool with the ability to make or break a comic.

Now, earlier I said that inking could trick the human mind, and often times it does. Next time you read a comic pay attention and see if you notice what I mean. The best example (I think) I can give you is line weight. Imagine if you had a man standing in front of a house. With similar line weights, those two things could be pretty close. However, if you give the man thicker line weight, and the house thinner, it might just look like the house if further away than the man. Or, perhaps the reverse is true of the above scenario. Maybe the house has thick lines, and the man thin. This will draw your eye to the house and make you ask “what is important about this house?” It’s all about perspective and perception. Both scenarios above creates an illusion of separation, even though those two things are on the same plane. You might have to read a lot of comics before you can train your eye to look at such things, but once you start to see it, you notice it everywhere. Inkers are working hard to direct your eyes. Background can just be backgrounds sometimes, so they don’t stick out. If an inker is doing their best, you will be aware of everything, but only really take note of what they want you to notice.

I also talked about texture earlier for a bit. I think the perfect example to demonstrate this is Stan Sakai’s Usagi Yojimbo. 


Have a look at this image. There’s a lot to see. We can tell that the trees and ground and shrubbery are all different, not to mention the clothes and the characters themselves. Sakai is a master of making comics, so he really knows what he’s doing. When you look at the ground, you can tell that they are standing on dirt. When you look at the trees, they are inked in such a way that evokes bark into your mind. And then the shrubs in the background are clearly bushes. He also uses inking to indicate shadow, as we see some spots on the trees are darker than others. But then, to make sure that the characters stands out from all this, he adds details, like the lines on Usagi’s shirt, or the, uh…jellyfish? on the woman’s gown. At first glance it all looks very natural and not at all flashy, but he could have very easily left out all these details and given us an extremely flat image.

As a side note to this, you should definitely read Usagi Yojimbo. It is one of the greats. And I took a lot of what I learned about inking from there. My earliest comics are devoid of much inking, but now I’m taking a course through Stan Sakai, and they look better (to me at least).

So keep practicing inking. It can be a little tough at first, but if you persist, you’ll get the hang of it. Study people like Sakai, Brian Bolland, or Klaus Janson and see how they use ink to make the page come to life. Black and white comics are extremely helpful for this, because ink is their primary tool for “color.” And, speaking of which, look for the next topic: color.

Suggested Reading

The DC Guide to Inking Comics by Klaus Janson
The Complete Guide to Self-Publishing Comics by Comfort Love and Adam Withers

(There are not as many books on this subject, so study Usagi Yojimbo, Tintin, Klaus Janson’s work on Daredevil and Batman, and really anything you can get your hands on.)


Making Comics Part 2-Pencils

Last blog post talked all about writing, so now it’s time to move on to art. And, let me tell you truthfully, this is the heavy lifting of the comics process. This is not to say that all parts are not hard, they are, but this one will take you the longest. Before I started drawing my own stuff, I did not understand this, but I do now, oh boy do I.

The first thing that you have to think about when you pick up a pencil (or a tablet pen) to draw is the layout. That’s a fancy word for panels. Which, in itself, is a fancy word for squares. However, I can not exaggerate how important this step is. When you read comics, you probably don’t think too much about layout, and that’s normal. But if you don’t give yourself the proper amount of space for each scene on a page, it’s not going to work. You have to look at the script you wrote (remember, we did that last time!) and decide which scenes need the most space. Which ones have more dialogue? More action? Just as you should consider these things while writing, you need to consider them while doing layouts. You don’t want everything to feel cramped, or far to spacious, because you didn’t do proper layout.

Once you’ve done that, you can start drawing the actual art inside the panels. And let me give you a little peek behind the curtain here: drawing comics may not be as glamorous as you thought. Before I started drawing these things, I didn’t realize just how much work went into a single page. Comics are unique because the artist is required to draw the same thing a plethora of times. Two panels of people punching each other means you have to draw those same people twice each. Now, I’m not complaining, I actually like this process. But I think once you start to grasp this concept is when you begin to figure out if comics are for you or not. While I’m certainly no Jack Kirby, I get a lot out of drawing. I find that the repetition of drawing gets more practice in a more concentrated amount of time, thus I have made improvements.

So, you know what a finished page might look like, here are the pencils:


These particular pencils were done by Lee Weeks. I would show an example of my own, like I did with the scripts, but to be honest my pencils are very messy! I clean up a lot in ink, which is really a privilege you only have when you are doing everything yourself. If you are drawing for someone else to ink, you have to be more considerate and make sure everything is clear. Also, as an added bonus, there is an inked version of this page that I’ll put up in part three. Consistency.

While the script is the beginning of the story, the skeleton, perhaps, the art is the muscle. This is what people will see. Because comics are a visual medium, you want to make sure that everyone knows what’s going on in each panel. Do you have to be the greatest artist that ever lived? Certainly not. You just have to clear. I think that’s probably the biggest rule when it comes to drawing comics. If you have any doubt about your ability, try and breath easy, I make comics all the time, and look at my stuff!

You’ll notice that in the above drawing, somethings are outside of the panel. That’s normal. It’s easier to draw a whole image, and have some of it cut off, than to try and guess how being cut off will effect the drawing. Getting the whole picture is just easier in general.

Another thing you have to consider when trying to draw comics is this: the background. Many people dive into comics ready to draw cool super heroes, which is part of the job, sure. But you are just as responsible for the background of every panel. While white backgrounds can work sometimes, more often than not your characters will be in cities or in the sky or something. When beginning to draw, I didn’t factor in how much the background would figure into things. Even though I’ve read comics for many years, the background was, well, the background. But, just because it’s the background doesn’t mean you can skimp out on the drawing. The background helps with immersion. It makes us feel like we are really in Gotham, or space, or what have you. That being said, don’t draw the stuff you hate last, because then you’ll just have hours of drawing stuff you don’t want to draw! That’s a fast way to kill your love for making comics.

In a similar vain, realize that you will be drawing A LOT of, well, stuff. You will have your characters, sure. And you will have your background, I did just say that, true. But you will also have to draw tables, bookshelves, milkshakes, trees, computers, TVs, furniture, and who knows what else. Honestly, that’s just stuff that I’ve had to draw in my webcomics. And when I started doing them, I didn’t think I’d have to, but everyday life is full of stuff that’s depicted in comics. Again, it’s immersion, it’s making a full and total image. If a character is in an office and there’s desk or phone or copy machine in said office, people aren’t going to buy it. That, I think, is what will make or make break comic book artists. If you can focus on drawing the everyday as much as you can the extraordinary, then you are gold. But trust me, it gets easier. I’ve even got to the point where I look forward to these objects, the ones I haven’t drawn before, anyway, because it’s just another challenge for me to meet.

Sure, it sounds a little tough. But if you keep drawing you’ll get the hang of it. And once you do that, you’ll be motivated to keep going. Like everything else, there’s always room for improvement, but you’ll at least get to a point where you think you can put your stuff out there.

But jeeze, that’s only step two! Next time we’ll move on to the unappreciated inkers of the comic book world.

Suggested Reading

Making Comics by Scott McCloud
Stan Lee’s How to Draw Comics by Stan Lee (of course)
The DC Comics Guide to Digitally Drawing Comics by Freddie Williams II
Drawing Words and Writing Pictures by Jessica Abel