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when i started drawing my first serious attempt at a comic, i had pretty much no experience with making drawings in ink.  i’d had a lot of practice drawing, both from doodling superheroes in pencil all through my teens and from “serious” dry-media life drawings in art school.  but when it was time to sit down and put a fully written story into drawings, i confidently penciled my first page–and was then absolutely terrified.

ink and pencil are just absolutely nothing alike.  whether you use pencil heavily or not when you’re drawing comics, as a tool it feels and acts nothing like the pen or brush.  and this difference doesn’t lie with which specific ones you’re using.  everyone’s got the tools they swear by.  an ink mark just happens differently, and when it’s made, it LOOKS different.  you could make a drawing with a pencil of a certain size and then ink that drawing with a pen made to be the same size and there would be BIG differences in the marks. part of this is that the materials offer a different kind of resistance to the tooth of the paper.  ink with a brush and you enter an entire other UNIVERSE of mark-making than the pencil’s.

but the truth, if you ask me, is that ink marks have a different psychological effect from pencil marks.  not so much on the viewer but on the artist. a pencil mark is a fuzzy line.  it’s rounder, less precise, smudgeable.  but most importantly, if a pencil drawing is made to be inked, as it is in comics, that pencil line is TEMPORARY.  it even needs to be removed for a page to become print-ready.  the ink mark is what people are going to see.  it’s the one that counts.  big shift.  this shift is what was messing with my head when i was looking at my first penciled page trying figure out what scared me.  before you put ink to a pencil drawing, it can still change.  it can be retooled and corrected.  you can eventually find ways to cheat with ink, too,  and get an extra crack at getting lines right and images right.  but for me that doesn’t change much.  that ink line is still oppressive.  that line is the statement of my craft.  the lines that no one’ll see, fuck those lines.  but my ink lines will tell you where my game is really at.  there’s no hiding.

and it’s more than just lines.  big passages of black ink weight the page in a way that pencil just cannot.  i fucking obsess over this.  a page can be ruined by making a big shape (a figure or object or whatever) black.  it’ll look fine in pencil and then you ink it and suddenly everything’s wrong.  and likewise, a page can just sing with the right structure of blacks, even if you couldn’t see it in pencil.

sometimes you’ll see artists who are just starting to draw black and white, and they’ll put very little black on the page, maybe even no black besides the lines. some of these dudes’ll be SO GOOD at dialing in a tight drawing and totally unable to bring the page to life with black.  they just don’t know what to do with it and they don’t wanna mess up their drawings.  you don’t know what ink will look like until it’s down.

it’ll mess with you.

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2 Comments

  1. “and they’ll put very little black on the page, maybe even no black besides the lines”

    A good exercise is to start a drawing with the shadow, and build it out (rather than outline & shade, which is what I, as a hobbyist, and I’d imagine other dabblers, tend to be comfortable with).

    It’s the permanence of ink that gets me – a bit like first page fear in a new sketchbook – permanently laying down something that shows how good or bad you are right there. It’s weird, because as a kid, I drew in ink all the time, and never gave it a second thought – lack of self consciousness I guess.

    “big passages of black ink weight the page in a way that pencil just cannot.”

    Absolutely true – “weight” is a great way to put it – the panel with the riot cop looking chaps you posted earlier is a good example.

  2. This is a lovely piece… so often we don’t know how to balance the darkness and the light.. sounds like the work I do with words.


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