Monday, September 3, 2012

From Sketches to Super-Heroes

Artist / Embellisher... Penciller / Inker... Layouts / Finishes... These designations are what you usually see on the first page of any comic book, describing who did the artwork for that issue. They indicate a two-person team: the one who sketches the story, followed by the one who inks that work.

It's funny how it's the first person who generally gets the lion's share of the credit for a comic's artwork--perhaps deservedly so, since he or she is responsible for the pacing and interpretation of the story, as well as the movement of a character and the way that character carries himself from panel to panel. Yet it's the inker who "finishes" those general sketches, adding dimension and turning them into something recognizable to the reader. The sketches become people and scenery. Without embellishing, the characters we've come to enjoy would literally be unfinished.

So the inker does a fair amount of work on a comic book, and their role is no less important when it comes to the final product. And in an important way, an inker's work and style are just as distinguished as the penciller's--because the penciller's work becomes something different to see, depending on who's finishing their work. Have a look at artist John Buscema's art on The Avengers, when embellished by two different inkers--respectively, Tom Palmer and Joe Sinnott. These inkers are two of Marvel's heaviest hitters--and while the work of each is excellent, each has his own unique style. Palmer excels more in shadows and contrast; you'll see a lot of attention given to the detailing of eyes, as well as giving added dimension to objects. Sinnott gives a very polished look to his work--very clean panels, with very little attention given to detailed background, letting the characters take front and center attention.

Penciller: John Buscema

Inked by: Tom Palmer (left) and Joe Sinnott (right)

There are also a select few pencillers who will go the extra mile and ink their own work, which is something of a treat--because you get to see the finished product solely through the penciller's eyes, as they intended it to look. Not many artists take on such a workload--or, if they do, it's probably because they have few other projects with their own deadlines to meet. To the best of my knowledge, artist Jack Kirby never inked his own work at Marvel; given the sheer volume of the work he produced, I can't say I'm surprised. (Though what a thrill it would have been to have seen the final product.) Yet on rare occasion, there have been artists who have attempted it.

One such artist was John Byrne, during his run on Fantastic Four. Byrne, inking his own work, takes a more gritty and dark approach, certainly moreso than when his work was inked by Joe Sinnott. Look at the difference:

Penciller: John Byrne

Inked by: Joe Sinnott (left) and John Byrne (right)

Besides Kirby, there are one or two other artists who I would have liked to have seen ink their own pencils. George Perez, certainly; Buscema (though the closest I've come to seeing it was when his brother, Sal, inked his art); John Romita Sr., who has inked other work (notably Gil Kane's); and Gene Colan, though I'm quite happy whenever his work is embellished by Tom Palmer. Al Milgrom is prodigious in both pencilling and inking, and I think I may have seen him finish his own work once or twice; but I tend to enjoy his work more when another inker handles it. (His work on Avengers with Joe Sinnott, for example, was excellent.) It's too bad we haven't seen more such work, from a variety of artists. To those of us who collect, these books are always true collectors' items--but in simpler terms, they're just great page-turners.

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