I’ve been reading comics pretty heavily for the last seven years and only recently have I started to truly appreciate the subtle art form that is inking. Now you may be asking yourself, what is inking? Aside from the answer given to us by Chasing Amy, inking is the intermediate process that takes a comic page from pencils to full colored pages. Back in the old days this actually involved an artist, usually a different artist than the one who drew the pages in pencil, going over the original pencil images in ink, providing additional definition and shading to the image. After being inked the image would then be colored—sometimes by the inker, sometimes by a third artist. These days, artists usually do ink digitally.
What had never really occurred to me was how important inkers actually are to the visual appeal of comics. My New Year’s Resolution this past year was to read more X-Men comics and I figured there was no better place to start than the beginning: X-Men #1 by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. In the world of comics it is well known that Jack Kirby is a big deal, to say the least, but in early X-Men issues I was very unimpressed with his art. At some point around issue six however, something changed. The art was considerably better than in the previous issue. It took me longer than I care to admit to realize that the difference was a new inker on the book.
After this realization I sat down and started doing a comparison between the different inking styles. Flipping back and forth between different pages, I found that the difference was like night and day. The first several issues had very heavy lines with excessive amounts of black throughout the page. Details were barely visible and the overall aesthetic was rather unimpressive. The subsequent issues were amazing. The lines were light and clean with wonderful little details hidden all over the page. Not only did this change my opinion of Jack Kirby (which is probably more important) but it also made me realize how much the inker had to contribute to the final comic product. Jack Kirby is recognized as one of the finest comic artists that has ever lived and if a bad inker can seriously detract from Kirby’s work, then one cannot underestimate the importance of an inker.
This is evident even in modern comics. Snyder and Capullo’s run on Batman has been the shining star of DC’s New 52 and it is in no small part due to Greg Capullo’s art. Even with this stand out art, with each change of inker (and there have been several) the art changes slightly, but noticeably. None of the inkers have done a bad job, and there is something to be said for every artist giving the work their own personal touch, but it would also be nice to maintain a certain level of consistency throughout a run, and especially through individual story lines.
I am far from completing my exploration of inkers. I have only just scratched the surface and I intend to continue learning until I have a much greater understanding of inkers, how they do what they do, and its importance to the comic industry.