When I started drawing comics, everybody was like “You gotta use a Series 7 brush or Speedball nib for inking. That’s what the pros use!” Being an admirer of guys like Vaughn Bode and Wally Wood, how I could I not try to “ink like the pros”?
Well, even though some of my favourite comic creators have used this method with great success, I found that I spent far more time fussing with my tools than actually putting lines on paper.
For me, using a nib/brush was messy (Imagine ink on me, my art, the furniture, the cat…), limiting (Have you ever tried to ink anywhere but a solid desk? It’s impossible!), and demotivating (My inked lines look nothing like my pencil lines. Why is that?!). I struggled for a long time to use a nib/brush, but I was never happy with my raw lines. Because of this, I had to rely a lot on Photoshop to remove smudges, straighten lines, and fix key details. (You can see my full discussion on this lack of precision here.)
Of course, what I realized much later was that there are pros now who don’t use this method.
A lot has changed since Wood (1927-1981) and Bode (1941-1975) were making comics. Aside from many artists going fully or partially digital, there has also been a move towards technical pens. Sakura’s Pigma Microns, for example, weren’t developed until the early 80’s. As its name implies, the Micron was made possible after Sakura discovered “how to reduce pigment particles to submicron size so that the ink flows evenly through the narrowest of pen nibs.”
It was Steve Rolston who first turned me on to Microns. In fact, much of my method comes from what I learned in Steve’s class and by studying his original art. (You can see my full discussion on learning how to use Microns here.)
Here’s a process for one of Steve’s INKtober sketches.
Steve has a very precise style that requires a tool like the Micron, and I could really see the benefit of this tool when tackling drawings with bold lines and curves. However, I never thought Microns could work with a more organic style. That was until I saw Brandon Graham ink at Vancouver Comic Con in 2014.
I was preoccupied when Brandon sketched this for me, but I’m fairly sure he only used one pen, either an 03 or 05 Micron, for all of it.
While Steve lays down lines with care and forethought, Brandon has a very fluid, unreserved style. It was seeing the range of art that these guys could get using the Microns that ultimately motivated me to make the switch.
Now that I have said all that, don’t make the same mistake that I did. If you try an inking method and it just doesn’t work for you, try something else. Just because Microns work for some of us, that doesn’t mean that everyone can (or should!) use them. Heck, artists like Marian Churchland and Tony Cliff skip the inks completely and just use pencil lines in their comics.
A lot sure has changed since Wood and Bode were around. Take advantage of that! Find what works for you, and soon you’ll be laying down lines like a pro.