minicomics live 5– post 24 (inking, inking, inking)

RL concerns and efforts toward solving long term problems, plus a rare chance to do some serious photography away from home, cut today’s planned full day to less than half, but I did get ink on 4 pages– it’s a start.  There’s nothing much to look at yet, so I thought I’d take the opportunity to talk about the platoon method of inking. This is pretty long, so I’m putting the text under this cut.  Click to read about the ever fascinating topic of ink on paper!Comics inking itself is getting to be a lost art.  More and more people are working digitally on tablets from first concept, and even people who like to pencil on actually paper are scanning their work and inking digitally.  This has lots of advantages, primarily having to do with saving the pencils in one layer and inking in another so mistakes and poor choices are easy and painless to correct.  But some of us still like putting tools to paper and slapping the wet black stuff around a bit.  It’s tough, and it’s risky, but that’s part of the fun.

Most standard advice on comics inking assumes one thing: that you are working with India ink, using either a brush or some kind of dip pen or technical pen.  India is a lot of things, and a few of them are good: it is a dense black, it is waterproof and it dries quickly.  Those are some Big Good Things and most people determined to ink by hand stop there, say it’s the best, buy a jug of it and ink away.

I say no to India ink.  I say it’s gummy (of course it is– gum arabic is what makes it fast drying and waterproof) a nasty mess to clean up, and grossly limiting in terms of tools.  It destroys brushes and clogs pens.  You’d never risk a good fountain pen with a reservoir full of black India, and if you’ve never drawn with a really good fountain pen, you’re missing a treat.

So a lot of my work is inked with black fountain pen ink, primarily Aurora, and I accept that it is both not quite waterproof (no sneezing at the drawing board!) and slow drying.  Since I’m not using India in the pens, I don’t need to have it around for the brushes, and I can use Japanese brush pens instead, which are self loading and never need cleaning, and are cheap enough that if one happens to dry out you can throw it away.  Japanese brush pen ink is lovely to work with, all soft and lush, and dries to a nice deep black that is closer to waterproof than anything that isn’t gum based, but it dries even more slowly than the black fountain pen ink.

When you are inking a page of comics, you tend to go in and do the heaviest lines first.  For me that means brushwork– it’s fast, elegant, and gives a nice range of thick and thin lines.  Then you usually go back and add all the little details with either a smaller brush, or for me, with a pen.  Or pens.  I have pens for every purpose.  I love pens. When you are working with India ink, you can do this pretty much all at once if you work from top to bottom and right to left, particularly if you are working on a large page. By the time you finish one step at the lower left, the upper right corner is dry.  As long as you keep your elbow up, you are unlikely to smear, since your fingers aren’t going to encounter anything wet in the immediate area where you are working.

But when you work on a small page with slow drying inks the finger drag is a way of life, unless you platoon your pages.  Do the lettering on every page or every one of a handful of pages if you are working on a large project.  By the time the last page is lettered, the first page you touched is dry enough for the brushwork.  Then when the brushwork is done on the last page, the first page is dry enough for the detail work.  Let everything dry overnight, erase out the pencils, fill in the solid blacks, add in the fills and patterns, let everything dry again, and start platooning the corrections.  This method isn’t foolproof, but if it works, you will never put your fingers in wet ink or smear a correction before it dries.

But it’s an ugly, ugly process, and there’s nothing much to see for a long time. Pretty long excuse, that.  But the decks are cleared for tomorrow, so expect scans of actual progress.  We’ll be counting down by early afternoon, I hope.

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4 Responses to minicomics live 5– post 24 (inking, inking, inking)

  1. Layla Lawlor says:

    “… work from top to bottom and right to left, particularly if you are working on a large page. By the time you finish one step at the lower left, the upper right corner is dry.”

    I … think you might mean the other way around? Maybe? Or perhaps it’s my left-right confusion that’s making this difficult for me to visualize. 😀 I start inking on the left side and work my way over to the right.

    I remember someone on the Tart boards — I don’t remember who this was — talked about building himself a wooden support for his hand, with a long center bar and two blocks of wood on either end to prop it up off the page. I thought that seemed like a good idea, but have never tried it.

    • Pam Bliss says:

      My left/right confusion meets your left/right confusion, and the result is chaos! You’re right, of course. I work from top to bottom, left to right, like a conventional person with an English language background. Or I do when I’m being organized.

      I’ve tried various improvised bridges and sticks to keep the paws out of the wet ink, and none of them have worked well enough to try to develop them into a working system. Luckily you don’t need a gadget to just let it dry!

  2. Tom Cherry says:

    I mainly use the “platoon method of inking”, but I never knew it had an actual name. Thanks for adding a new term to my vocabulary, Pam!

  3. Pam Bliss says:

    You’re very welcome, but I won’t take credit for the term. I picked it up somewhere– no idea where.

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