Comic Inking Portfolio Critique

Now that I’m more well known for comic writing than art, most of the correspondence I get asking about breaking in or feedback is writing-based. People ask me to check out their comics, read their scripts or give them feedback on their pitches. With all the deadlines I have on my plate it’s almost impossible to do that, unfortunately, and I generally send a polite “no” form letter reply.

I was really surprised to be asked about inking. Comic art inking is one of those things that’s taken for granted by a lot of people, but when you see great inking you’re amazed at how much an inker can do to improve and clarify the pencil line work. I was asked if I could put an inker in touch with editors/art directors and I was actually curious about what their inking portfolio would look like. They sent along a gallery link, I checked it out and the small jpegs there made it very difficult to tell how much their inking was bringing to the work. I requested high/print resolution samples to check out and they obliged.

Figuring that other people might find the feedback helpful too, I’m reproducing my reply below:

Thanks for sending those files along.

Looking at the high resolution images gives me a much better idea of where your current inking skills are at.

In short- you still have quite a ways to go before you’re ready to apply for professional comic inking work. You’ll need a lot of careful practice, analysis and more practice before you could reasonably be considered for an inking job with a worthy page rate.

Inking is more than just following the penciler’s line work. It’s about enhancing, clarifying and strengthening the material that’s there. In many ways it requires the same kind of skills in drawing (perspective, anatomy and composition) that the penciler has, but with an extra eye for finished lines and storytelling clarity.

When you’re working over top of a good penciler your inks are noticeably better, but even then you’re not enhancing the lines or improving the sense of 3 dimensional form in the pencils. Where the anatomy or perspective is muddy you’re not able to fix or improve upon it. There’s no sense of depth created by using different thicknesses of lines or outlines, there isn’t a consistent sense of texture adapted to the penciler’s style and there’s still a lack of confidence in the final lines themselves. Your work currently feels more like tracing than inking, and there’s a big difference between the two. It’s absolutely natural to be missing these qualities at the start when you’re learning how this stuff works and building up your skills, but those qualities stand out as work in process, not finished professional samples.

I’d recommend analyzing the work of top-notch inkers like Tim Townsend. He has great samples on his deviantART page, quite a few with pencils and inks side-by-side so you can see how he enhanced and clarified the base pencils with his own subtle flare and substantial drawing ability. You can also see how he adapts his approach to different pencilers and brings out extra subtleties in the final work. Dig into his archive and look very closely at the quality he brings to the page:

http://timtownsend.deviantart.com/gallery/

Inking positions are becoming much harder to get in the industry as things go more digital and publishers cut corners by using pencil art for many books. Getting work as an inker means you have to really bring a fantastic quality to the page and your work has to be that much better than the people already getting what little work there is. It’s a very tough job to break into and it requires a very skilled hand and keen eye. Even then, the opportunities may be limited.

I hope you understand that I’m trying to give you feedback, not trash your hopes. Only through hard work, analysis and practice will you get where you want to be and along the way there are all kinds of twists and turns. I wish you the best of luck with your creative pursuits and hope you find what you’re looking for down the road.

Sincerely,
Jim

  1. Great feedback Jim, you’re a class act.

    I’m developing my inking skills and have built out a site to highlight it, though I’m a long way off from approaching publishers (or even letting people know about my efforts) I thought I’d share here first as your writing is bang on to what I’m working for. Also, the actual site is a pretty good portfolio display for inks. Larger the better, IMHO, as prospective employers could really evaluate your skills.

    Cheers,
    Rod Salm

  2. Cool post Jim. I think inking is like the Bass player of comics. Underappreciated but usually incredibly talented. I point to the work of Steve Leiloha on Fables for an example of what inking can do. I never appreciated the art of inking until really seeking out how his work has enhanced the work of others.

  3. Great post, of course.

    After a year of work to get an inker position, I can say that it’s more difficult than I thought at the begining. I’m glad that you’ve gave such advice to that person. I think it’s better show how hard would be to get this or that position, that filling a blog with posts with fairy-tales-about-comic-the-comic-industry. This post has useful info and I would thank you for it.

    Anyway, also I’d share my inkworks, here it is: http://mrsrone.deviantart.com/

    Regards.

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