Out of all the people who work together to create comics, the colorist is the most underappreciated and the inker is the most misunderstood. To casual fans, inking sounds like a pretty easy job–you just trace the pencils with a pen, right? Actually, that’s far from the truth.
When the pencilers page is handed off to the inker, that individual now has a lot of responsibility. To simply trace the pencilers every line would typically be a mess. Pencilers are often expected to draw three pages a day, and with a schedule like that, it’s easy to make mistakes, plus, a lot of pencilers work in a very loose way, and often don’t use an eraser for fear of smudging the whole image. So part of what inking is fixing small imperfections in the original work.
More than that, inking is where style comes in. The inker has a lot of choices. First off, they have to choose how broad their strokes will be, that is, will they use a brush, a felt pen, or a calligraphy pen? This is more complex than it sounds since all of these tools come in different sizes.
To give an example of this, here’s an illustration I recently made for my book A Rapturous Occasion. I’m pretty new to this, so I wasn’t sure how to go about inking what I’d already penciled. I ended up inking the exact same image three times with different results.
In the first image, I tried to use a loose style. I did this by using a brush for some of it, and I avoided using a ruler. For the second, I tried to combine loose character designs with a more detailed and realistic background. With the third, I went ahead and abandoned the brush, took up the ruler, and tried for a smooth, clear line approach.
As you can see, the problem with the first two is that the width of the lines vary too much, especially in the second image. With the third, the pens I used were all about the same size. The third image is the one I ended up using. I added some shadows later with a brush and called it good.
What I’m doing is illustrating at an amateur level, so you can imagine how much more difficult inking can be for professionals.