Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Val Talks To Bob Almond About The Inkwell Awards

The unsung heroes of the comics industry -- the inkers -- finally have their own awards.

The Inkwell Awards is the brainchild of inker and columnist Bob Almond, and I had a chance to speak to him about how they began, how you can vote in them, and the sometimes underappreciated role of inkers in the industry.

OS: What made you come up with the idea for the Inkwell Awards?
BA: I started noticing a diminishing recognition of ink artists in general about five years ago, when they were dropped from some of the solicitation credits in Previews. There were other dropped credits that concerned me -- on the covers of trade paperbacks, on other types of reprinted comic art, etc. And later when I was writing my column 'Ink Blots' for Sketch Magazine, an effort I began to bring more info to the public about the craft of inking, I had an idea for a column topic -- what if there were comic awards just for appreciating the work of the misunderstood inkers?

OS: Why do you think inkers have received this lack of recognition in the comics industry?
BA: I think the problem with inkers is that they are, in a sense, a comic industry-created by-product. They were created to fill a quantity-based need in the medium -- to give the penciller more time to draw. Everyone knows who a penciller or a writer is. But take a person off the street and ask them what an inker does -- a lot of them don't know. And if they had to take a guess, they might think an inker is a "tracer," or someone who just fills in blacks. And of course it's more than that. Unfortunately, the "inker" title is a bit hazy to the layperson since they don't have a reference or precedent to draw upon like with the other job titles.

OS: How was the Inkwell awards put together?
BA: Well, in the beginning the project was a lot smaller in scale than what it eventually became. My editor at Sketch, Bill Nichols, convinced me to seek out more input from my peers. Before long I brought together fan-favorite ink artist Tim Townsend, who has become in a way our ambassador, to bridge the gap between the veteran inkers and the younger generation, Jimmy Tournas, the moderator of the Yahoo Inkwell mailing list, fellow inker, and our site designer, and our resident writer/columnist Daniel Best to make us all sound good, to help out along with Bill. Once the committee was organized we brain stormed and three weeks later everything fell into place and became a reality.

OS: I see that Adam Hughes & DC Editor Mike Marts are on the Inkwell Awards committee. How did they get involved?
BA: I knew Mike Marts from Marvel & Acclaim; he was one of my editors on Black Panther. We contacted Adam through Tim. As committee members they oversee things we're doing, and have roles like being the tiebreaker on a vote. But, just them being there alone adds so much to the message and process.

OS: What is the awards schedule like?
BA: The call for write-in ballots starts April 1st and it runs about two months ending May 30th. Subsequently, tabulation of the votes will begin and we hope to have the results about a month later.

OS: Tell me about the Joe Sinnott Hall of Fame award.
BA: We named this award after Joe with his blessing, and we have 5 nominees, including him: Tom Palmer, Wally Wood, Dick Giordano, and Al Williamson.

OS: Who can vote in the Inkwell Awards?
BA: Both the public and the professional community, though some of the categories might be a little more "shop"-centric than others. But you can vote for only one category or all of them. And if anybody needs help with the voting, there will be links on on our site to online databases where you can find an inker by story or issue.

OS: What will the winners receive?
BA: There will be trophies in the shape of a brush head with the winners' names engraved on it -- 10 awards in all.

OS: Just to talk shop for a moment, what do you have to answer people who say that with the advent of digital inking, actual inking itself might be a dying art form.
BA: I think people who think that really don't have an appreciation for what a good inker brings to the table in a comic. I think without that quality inker, you are really missing the power, the pizzazz, of the inking linework. Certainly, the 'digital inking' option is there, usually as a cost-cutting measure, but the term is a misnomer. In digital inking you're really just using Photoshop to make the pencils stand out more. Of course, there is an actual technique of using the computer to actually "ink" on screen, but that is not what most people refer to when they say "digital inking." And this option is rarely used. The role of the traditional ink artist has somewhat diminished but I don't feel that it's dying. Hopefully our efforts can help keep that role alive.

OS: Does the Inkwell Awards accept donations?
BA: Yes, we have a Paypal button for donating, and also we sell ad space on the site to raise revenue to assist in covering our expenses. But, any money we raise above the costs of the site and awards we are giving to the Heroes Initiative. We believe that giving back to the community further exemplifies our goal.

Thanks, Bob!


  1. Interesting interview!
    Marco M.

  2. It's sadly ironic that he'd be so dismissive of digital inking (though I would agree that darkening pencils is hardly the same thing). The principles of inking in Photoshop/Illustrator/Manga Studio are no different than traditional inking with a brush or pen, though the tools and techniques differ.

    If the point is to recognize the skill and contribution of professional inkers in an effort to be more inclusive of them in the industry, then why not add a category specifically for digital inkers? Overlooking them just comes across as so much snobbery.

  3. Hi Steven,
    I don't think it has anything to do with being a snob.

    Inking (actually using Ink and tools to apply ink) and Digital inking(using a pressure stylus, (trying to achieve the same goal) is completely different.

    Using a quill or brush over original inks takes a lot more skill then using the stylus and tracing or affecting line changes.

    There is more to Inking then setting down inks. A lot of pencilers do not indicate line weight, and may draw things representative of textures but not the actual texture. They also may be very loose or have a leg or some part of the drawing off a tad. Forget that a shirt was ripped or some other item that may be overlooked. It happens a lot. No one is 100% all the time.

    Just tracing with a stylus can't help. someone good with a stylus would be faster with traditional tools ( faster Job means more money and less time).

    The handicap of not being able to handle the techniques of traditional inking with the technology we have today is a huge drawback.

    I don't know what your reference is for them to be the same is, but a lot of effects to pop a page properly can not be done by stylus and tablets that we have today.
    You can come close if you are exceptional, but that requires a lot of time and I have not seen anything yet that worked out as good. There is still very few people donig it professionaly.

    I have used Wacoms since they came out for drafting projects and still embellish with pen for those jobs.

    That aside, here is a link to one of Norm Breyfogle's sketches I inked, side by side.

    To do this on a Wacom is not going to work out as slick ( I am not close to a Johnny Dell or Bob McLeod as an inker, sorry)

    So while it is always nice to try to discover things that are new, they don't always work out as well or economical.

    Now digitally darkening pencils to simulate ink is something altogether different. I know just in sales and a poll we did a year ago that artists who think darkening their pencils is good, falls flat on their face. There are many examples of that. The art is not cisp and defined. The reader is disturbed and the books read is not as good.

    So not snobbery just three distinctly different techniques.

    Personally, if in the future you cold ink with a tablet of some sort with the control of a Brush or pen and cotton Balls, wrap, sand, white ink, razor blades and all the others tools an inker uses to get really great effects, and we could do a page a day...Count me in.

    But at least you are thinking about it and if someone didn't try new things we won't progress. So good for you to at least post about it.

    I am the biggest fan of Photoshop for coloring though.


  4. Hello Steven,

    Thank you for your comments. The committee actually has discussed the matter of including Digital Inking (with wand tool) for eligibility for any of the modern award designations or as a separate category. But at this time there's almost no one using this process to ink comic books as to make the distinction (only two names come to mind) but we will keep keep that option under consideration for award inclusion in the future.

    As for 'digital inking', a term any traditional inker would respectfully agree to be a misnomer, we feel that this process is, as you stated, "hardly the same thing". I would liken it to the post-production work done by the office stuff (like Marvel's legendary 'bullpen')...a necessary skill in production but not one that brings enough of a distinctive hand or voice to the artwork. Some of the the general public often cannot disseminate traditional inking contributions and styles so they surely would not be able to distinguish the work of someone darkening and cleaning up the pencil files on a computer, especially being that pencilers do tighter pencils than normal. I would imagine that this job does not utilize the redistributing of line weights whenever necessary to add weight, depth, or definition, etc. I would presume that they are not fixing anatomy, redrawing, enhancing textures, elaborating on the visual contrasts and clarity of an image and the storytelling? These are but some of the skills that are involved with the craft of traditional inking and they are much harder to master over time.

    I suppose someone could create a separate technical awards (like the Academy Awards do) for the comic book community, although I would imagine that that would be exclusively for the professional staff community (editors & office personnel or the artists who've had this 'inking' done over their work), the only folks to have any knowledge of these skills and know who to vote for.

    I'm sorry we can't be all things to all folks. And I regret that we come off as snobs to you. We are trying to do a good thing here and regrettable there will always be some who feel left out. The technology is changing radically all the time and who's to say that the role of inking won't be altered in some unforeseen fashion to change voting considerations in the future and perhaps include more technical positions. We will do our best to be resilient with the times when necessary.

    Bob Almond

  5. “Just tracing with a stylus can't help”
    You're right, it won't. No more than just tracing with ink will help. Good digital inkers strive to bring all the things that a traditional inker would bring: form, depth, texture, clarity.

    Darkening pencils is NOT digital inking, and I don't know anyone who refers to it as such. Digital inking is most commonly using the brush tool in Photoshop, Illustrator or Manga Studio with settings to simulate the look of a traditional ink line. I've also seen the Pen tool used to create paths which are then given a stroke with a particular brush setting meant to again simulate analog ink.

    I understand you're trying to increase awareness of an under-appreciated role in the comics creation process, and I applaud it. However, I think you could stand to be a little better informed on what the current technology is capable of, especially in the right hands. Take a look at the work of Brian Bolland, Freddie E. Williams II, or Brian Denham, all artists who draw from scratch digitally, and keep a traditional feel to their finished “inks”. The difference is in the creator, not the tools they use.

  6. Just wanted to pass along some demo videos of digital inking in a few different programs. Hopefully it'll help you see that while the methods of application may vary, the fundamentals of digital inking and traditional inking—what the inking process and the inker themselves should bring to the art—are not so different.

  7. Thank you for the links, Steven.

    But, as I said in my first paragraph, we are not ruling out allowing digital inking to be eligible or even getting it's own category in the future. I mentioned only being aware of two artists using it and they are Bolland and Alex Maleev. You mentioned a couple of others. We weren't ruling this process out as not being legitimate (like digital darkening, something many of us have heard referred to as digital 'inking') as much as that very few are using it. Incidentally, we've had a link or two posted on the process in our site's Inkers Links page.

    Bob Almond