How To Be A Comic Book Inker

Essentials Needed To Be A Comic Book Inker

Dark Knight III: The Master Race Signing At Midtown Comics
Klaus Jansen, a well-known comics inker, on the far right. Ilya S. Savenok / Stringer / Getty

The inker takes an artist's pencils and goes over them in ink, turning the image into a finished piece of work. The dark ink lines makes the art jump off the page and adds depth and dimension. At one time, inking was mostly used to prepare the comic page for printing, as the printer would pick up the light pencils, but today, the inker is a vital part of the comic creation process.

Skills Needed

  • Artistic Skills: – One of the misconceptions about inkers is that they are glorified tracers. This simply isn’t true. An inker needs to be an accomplished artist in their own right. The reason for this is that the inker takes the artists pencils and makes a new piece of art out of it. Some pencillers will even do very rough sketches so the inker can then go over and embellish them later.
  • Strong Sense Of Light: – The inker works with two colors, black and white. It is very important that the inker understands how light is represented so as to add that to the pencils. This will help give it the three-dimensional appearance it needs.
  • Speed: – An inker typically doesn’t have as much time to work as the penciller does. A good inker will need be able to work fast, but keep up the consistent work.
  • Flexibility: – A comic book inker needs to be flexible in many ways. They never know when a job might come up, so they need a flexible schedule. They also may need to take feedback from the penciller or writer about how things should look. If they are just beginning, they won’t have as much clout for suggestions and will need to follow the directions laid out by the editor, writer and artist.

Equipment Needed

Basic Equipment

  • India Ink: – This ink is a black carbon-based ink that is used because it retains its color when put to the page. This is used primarily in the inking of comic books.
  • Inking Utensils: – The most common inking utensils are the crow-quill pen and brushes. The trick here is that almost anything that can put ink on paper can be used from mechanical pens, to sharpies, to q-tips or sponges.
  • White Out: – You will make mistakes, so how do you go about fixing it? Just about any kind of white out will do, but many use what is called a gauche water based paint.
  • Ruler: – To make those perfect straight lines, such as panel borders, you need some kind of straight edge. You might also consider a triangle and other straight edge devices as well.
  • Workspace: – An inker will need a dedicated space to work so that they can focus on the task at hand. Most artists will have an adjustable drawing table that will allow them to work comfortably. Most artists will also have a good adjustable lamp to shine the light where they need it.

Optional Equipment

  • Computer with Photoshop: – Although most comics are still done the “old fashioned way,” some comics are being inked digitally. This is the premiere program for doing that.
  • Website: – Since an inker's work is so visual in its own right, it is important to have a website to showcase your work. 

Some Comic Book Inkers:

Klaus Janson
Bob McLeod
Vince Colletta
Jimmy Palmiotti
Mark Farmer

So You Want To Be A Comic Book Inker

Doug Tenapel, the artist and filmmaker who created the character Earthworm Jim, suggests that you take and enlarge some comic strips and trace them with pencil. With that done, you can go over them and ink them, practicing your skills. 

Quotes From Comic Book Inker

From Cliff Chiang – Cliff is an artist that has worked on Batman, Transmetropolitan, Grendel, Swamp Thing, and much more.

About being inked and inking his own work – “I've been inked by others in the past, and they've all done an outstanding job. Different from how I may have imagined the final artwork, but that's the nature of collaboration, isn't it? The thing is, I really enjoy inking, and having control over the final look of the artwork. For me, the ink IS the drawing, so I prefer to do that myself.”

From Bob McLeod – A classic inker, Bob has worked on The X-Men, The New Mutants, Spider-Man, Captain America, Wonder Woman, Aquaman, and many others. From an interview on Adelaide Comics and Books.

About becoming an inker – “Well I really started inking because even though my drawing was advanced, it wasn’t super hero dynamically ready. They thought my story telling wasn’t there yet and my poses were a little too tame.

They weren’t the John Buscema/Jack Kirby dynamics that they were looking for. So that’s why I started inking, but the whole time I was inking I was also working on making my pencils look more dynamic for super heroes. Eventually I started pencilling the super heroes as well. I basically started inking because my pencilling wasn’t quite ready and then I really felt like I had an aptitude for inking, and they seemed to like my inking so I did a lot more of it.

Basically, what I want out of an inker is someone who draws well and won’t lose the subtleties in the figure drawing that I enjoy. I don’t think my strength is my storytelling, it’s more my figure drawing. So I want an inker who can maintain that.”

From Tim Townsend – An inker that has worked on The X-Men, House of M, Captain America and others. From an interview on Adelaide Comics and Books.

About starting inking and having a backup plan – “Go to college, get an education, and learn how to draw. Don't put all your eggs in this basket because, chances are, you wont make it. That's the cold, hard fact of the matter. Have an education to fall back on, a Plan B if-you-will. If you're insane enough to pursue it further, be prepared for a lot of criticism and LISTEN TO IT! Keep your ego in check and realize that no one cares who you are, only what you can do. This market has a surplus of talent and a shortage of projects. You're going to be competing with seasoned pros', some who have been doing this for decades, for the same jobs.

You must be better or at least more marketable."

"Inkers especially need to be on their toes. Learn what the heck inking is. Learn how to draw. Anyone who thinks inking is a job for failed pencillers or an easier route to go hasn't got a clue and probably won't have a prayer.”