Comics - How do I know good inking from bad

I know which writers and artists I like and don’t like. I don’t know many letterers names, but I can tell good from bad (in my opinion). Colors, I’m usually ambivalent about. Inking however… I know it’s more than just tracing and shadows, but I’m not sure what to look for when critiquing.

Can someone point out the difference between bad, good, and great inking. Give me some names and examples as well. I know Klaus Jansen gets a lot of accolades. He’s about the only name I know in inking.

FWIW, I’ve been reading comics for most of my 45 years, but inking has always alluded me.

Here’s an article I found very helpful in this regard:

Great article. Thank you very much.

I’d seen the Batman comparison pics before, but the Spiderman / Punisher page was new to me. I hadn’t realized how much of the detail was left up to the inker.

I think part of my problem is that I tend to look at the complete art of someone like Jim Lee and I think, “Wow, my drawings look like crap.” It’s really eye-opening to see how much each stage of the production depends on the other stages working together.

(Also explains why I fail at comicking, because I always try to do the work of like five or six people and then get depressed that mine doesn’t look as good.)

Put simply:

  • a good inker can make a good artist look even better
  • a good inker can make a mediocre artist look good
  • a bad inker can make a good artist look mediocre

If you’ve been reading comics for 45 years, then you have to have a sense of which artists you like. My favorite artist is (although his more recent stuff is not as good) Neal Adams. But it took some time to appreciate that it was teaming with Dick Giordano that really made their art “outstanding”.
Adams is one of those artists who an inker would have to go out of his way to mess up (but it’s been done !).

On the flipside, Gil Kane is one of my least favorite artists (yet always seemed to be so prolific in the titles I would follow !). Yet there were some comics that he drew that came out “decent”, and this could be directly attributed to the inker (sometimes the inker was creditted as “The Crusty Bunkers” - which was actually a Neal Adams group of inkers !).

You should check out Kirbys books for marvel in the 60s.

Joe Sinnott inked the FF and he was known as the best.
Vince Colletta inked Thor and he was less well regarded, and had a lighter touch.
and when Chic Stone was the inker, usually on Cap and Sgt Fury it looked horrific…

When he went to DC I think Colletta might have followed. IT was a lighter touch, but after Mike Royer became involved it began a really heavy handed and lined look.

Inkers tend to fall into two types: Illustrative (the ones who strive for photorealistic results; look at the Adams/Giordano collaborations, or the Colan/Palmer ones) and Graphic (fewer, thicker lines, more spot black, no attempt at photorealism. See: Alex Toth, Klaus Janson, Howard Chaykin, Walt Simonson, Alex Nino). Terry Austin, whose stuff was insanely popular from about 1978-90, had elements of both types.

It might be best to focus on the different inkers who have worked on a single penciller, like Jack Kirby or John Buscema.

Kirby has gotten all the major inkers, including several who were pretty strong pencillers in their own right (Wally Wood, Barry Windsor-Smith and Herb Trimpe, for example). He also got a lot of journeyman hacks who were fast but uninspiring (Vince Colletta was the most notorious, but I think Frank Giacoia has a lot to answer for). Probably the best were strong stylists who streamlined Kirby’s style and turned dozens of hash marks into a single, strong line, like Joe Sinnott. Sinnott also championed the use of Spot Blacks and Kirby Krackle, signature moves more often attributed to Kirby. When Kirby got to pick his own inkers, his preference was for Mike Royer, whose inks basically just traced the pencils without trying to enhance them.

Buscema got most of the same inkers Kirby got, with much of the same results. He also got more “illustrative” inkers like Tony deZuniga, George Klein and Tom Palmer. I’m not sure whether Buscema ever got to choose his own inkers or not. His work on Conan saw great variety in inking styles, and I think the best inking he ever got was from Alfredo Alcala, a strong illustrative stylist in his own right.

You might want to check out chapters 3 and 14 of the Famous Artists Cartooning Course for a better discussion of this than I can give you.

I’ve found that Trevor Von Eeden can get a bit ink-heavy (well, ink-slathering) for my taste.

I mentioned Vince Colletta earlier. Back in the 1950s he was known for drawing very pretty women in “romance” comics. He got paired with Jack Kirby a lot, over Kirby’s objections. He had a sketchy style, he erased a lot of detail from backgrounds, his characters often looked cross-eyed. He was very fast, but nobody’s favorite.

Stan Lee and Jim Shooter loved him for his ability to turn a job around in a couple of days (He was rumored to have his children ink a lot of backgrounds). Fans hated him. You knew a Marvel title stopped mattering to the editors when it was pencilled by George Tuska or Don Heck and inked by Vinnie Colletta. Another rumor: Like much of the comics industry in the 60s and 70s, he was more than casually acquainted with organized crime (in his case, he owed a lot of gambling debts) and “the boys” informally asked Martin Goodman to throw a lot of work his way so he could pay them. Of all the crappy inkers in the industry, Colletta was the one no penciller wanted on his pages. According to Gil Kane, “Colletta is my second choice. My forst choice? Any fucking body else!”

On the other hand, he gave Thor a distinctive look that differentiated it from the other titles Kirby drew, and deserves a measure of credit for the title’s success. But he’s kind of the face of bad inking.

That depends on the penciler. Some put in so much detail, the inker often ends up leaving stuff out - either to make the page easier to read, or to make their own job easier* - others just give the inker enough detail to figure out what it’s supposed to be and let them do the work (in extreme cases, this is usually credited as ‘breakdowns and finishes’, instead of ‘pencils and inks’)…then there’s the weird middle ground inhabited by jokers like Keith Giffen, who’ll throw in lots of detail that they expect the inkers to remove because they only put it in as jokes to amuse themselves (and the editors and inkers).

  • One of Kirby’s regular inkers was notorious for doing this. Wish I could remember who it was. Kirby was detail-heavy, but most inkers were able to deal with it, generally only removing the genuinely excessive or confusing stuff. The guy I’m thinking of would turn lovingly drawn crowd scenes into monoblobs, or even remove relevant details from the foreground.

This brings up another aspect of good and bad inking, actually - how well the inker and penciler’s styles line up.

There’s one penciler that I thought I hated, for a long time (Rags Morales), because he was regularly paired with an inker who didn’t suit him (Keith Champagne, IIRC). Morales has a detailed style, and Champagne’s inks tend to be heavy and dark - so Champagne would basically cover up Morales’s detailed work, leaving very dull, hard to read, finished art.

Seeing them both paired with other artists, whose styles work better with theirs (Champagne with a penciler with a cartoonier, cleaner style, Morales with a more delicate inker), it wasn’t a case of either of them actually being bad, per se, they were just bad for each other.

Reading Horatio’s post that came in while I was writing this, it must be Colletta I was thinking of.

Even so his work on Thor was great. And the early 4th world stuff worked. I can’t really get a sense of whether Kirby liked him or not from the chronology.

Sometimes the best inkers choke when paired with the wrong penciller. Wally Wood, the very definition of an “illustrative” artist/inker, was occasionally the inker with an artist whose style didn’t match his strengths. He inked Walt Simonson (king of the “graphic” artists) for several issues of Hercules Unbound in the mid 70s, and the result was a Godawful mess. These are two of the top artists of the medium’s history, but they just didn’t mix well. I had occasion to ask Walt Simonson about this once and he admitted the match was wrong, but how could he turn down a chance to work with Wally Wood?

One of Wood’s last published works–certainly his last for Marvel–was a Daredevil cover with Frank Miller.

I hated Colleta as much as anybody, but this seems a little extreme to me. Just because he was Italian doesn’t mean he was connected to the mob. Even if he did owe them money, why would they shake down the publisher? It’s not good business to involve more players than planned in potentially illegal schemes, especially if they’re public figures.

Colleta’s redeeming feature was that he worked fast and enabled deadlines to be met. Sal Buscema was the same way. Seemed like he drew half of Marvel’s comics in the 70’s and Colleta inked them.

On the Wiki it says he was born in Sicily and came to the US because his dad was a high level mafiosi who had to scram quick. The family settled and 'left all that behind them"

It’s coin toss for me. It might have been a concern to his coworkers in strange ways.

Well, Sal Buscema had fans and did some really amazing work at the end of his career. What he lacked in dynamism, he made up for in storytelling chops. Some of the best inkers in the business got their start making Buscema’s DEFENDERS pages look exciting, like Klaus Janson and Bob McLeod. Colletta on the other hand…

As for the mob “shaking down” a respectable comic book publisher, there’s this:

Most comic book publishers in the early days were begun with mob money. This isn’t a big secret. Marvel wasn’t always owned by Disney.