Note From The President, Cerebus 169, May 1993Copyright 1993 Dave Sim
Okay. I hope that you all have found an art paper that you're comfortable with and a pencil that you're comfortable with. The next step is inking and the same thing holds true. There are a lot of different pen nibs, pen stocks and brushes out there for you to pick from. You really should buy a variety and try them out on the quick pencil sketches that you've done. It is definitely another variable in the equation and you will probably find that the art board or paper that you found to be the best for pencilling is not your favourite for inking. Alternate between pencilling heads and inking them and by process of elimination you should arrive at a paper or a board that you are happy with.
Pens and pen nibs. I'm not going to tell you not to use rapidographs and I'm not going to tell you not to use felt tips or ball point pens. It does not take a great deal of imagination for me to picture a style that would be possible with any of those. (footnote 1) But you really can't beat a crow quill nib (we use Hunt 102) for the simple reason that you can vary the thickness of the line with it. No matter how hard you press with a felt tip or a rapidograph or a ball point you are only going to get one line out of it. And that line is not going to give you the best reproduction. Eddie Campbell is a very good example of someone who resisted using crow-quill for years and inside of six months he swore by them, and as you can see from his work on From Hell he has become a crow quill master. Gerhard does not use rapidographs for his cross-hatching. Even the finest rapidograph will not give you that fine, reproducible and consistent a line. It's Hunt 102 all the way (other people use different Hunts; 103 and 104 I think). Most people get scared off of the crow quill because it catches the paper and splik! a nice drawing becomes a Rorschach test. You're holding it wrong. You have to hold the pen stock so that the nib is at a slight angle to the page; less than 45 degrees. You have to always pull the pen toward you, you can't push it against the grain. If you exert a little pressure (a LITTLE) while you are pulling it towards you, the two flanges which make up the point will separate a bit and the line will thicken up. As you get more skilled at pressing and releasing, you will be able to get a gentle curve into your outlines that show more 'weight' than you will ever get out of a standard pen. Same thing with 'feathering'; those lines along an arm or outlining a cheek. They are short pen strokes, starting at a point and then going a little thicker as they connect with the outline. All it takes is concentration, a light touch and a mental picture of anything Bernie Wrightson has ever inked. Pick a light source. Any light source. All of the pen lines should be thin on the side facing the light and thicker on the side facing away. A Hunt 102 is not forever. We buy 'em by the gross and use an average of two or three per page (some of 'em are duds; either they're too brittle, a little bent or rusty. We throw those out after four or five lines and put in a new one). Start with the fine lines in your drawing, moving on to the thicker lines as the point begins to lose tension. Each time you press down a bit to get a thicker line, the flanges spread a little further apart. Don't ink a thick line for the underside of the chin and then try to put in the eyelashes. Always keep the pen nib clean. After a few lines, dip it in water and clean all of the old ink off with a tissue. Pluck the end of the pen nib with your thumbnail and index finger nail to pull out any stray hairs or fibrous. Always test the nib after you've dipped it to make sure there's nothing in there. If the test line is too thick, there's something in the point that shouldn't be there. Always test the nib on the same kind of paper you're inking on; whether in an area that's going to be filled up with solid black or on a scrap piece of the board or paper.
India ink. It's a bitch for most beginners and here's why; the bottles they sell it in are the wrong shape and it's too watery. When you buy the ink, make sure to shake the bottle to mix it up. If it's been sitting on a shelf too long, most of the ink will have settled. Take a straw or something and push it through to the bottom. If you feel sediment, stir it around until the ink is completely mixed. The bottles are impossible; all of them have really narrow necks and when you go to dip your pen, it either comes up dry or you've got ink covering the whole nib and half of the pen stock. Yech. The solution we've come up with is shallow plastic ink wells with screw on tops; the mouth of the ink well/bottle is about an inch across, so when you go to dip your pen nib, you can see exactly how much is getting on there. Ideally, you should only get maybe an eighth of an inch of the pen nib into the ink. Same basis as the professional billiard player who chalks his cue after every shot. You want to ink a small area or a few lines and then you want to wash the residual ink off and dry the nib and dip it again. A lot of people (even many professionals) complain that the ink isn't dark enough, which is true. Even if you get it to come out black, when you erase over it, it fades to that horrible brownish gray that will fuck up reproduction. Your best bet is to leave the cap off of the ink and let it evaporate until it is dark enough. This is a balancing act as well. When enough of the water evaporates, the ink is going to be dark enough to do areas of solid black which won't fade to gray when you erase over it, but it will be just too thick for the pen nib to flow as easily as it should. Ger and I have two different solutions; I add fresh ink in trace amounts until I have a good balance between 'dark enough' and 'too thick'. I do my solid blacks either at the beginning of the day when the ink has evaporated more, or at the end of the day for the same reason. Ger keeps two ink wells; one with thick ink for solid black and one with thinner Ink for all those little pen lines. Turn your page to Ink it, so you are always pulling the nib toward you and make sure you avoid pulling your hand through a 'wet spot'.
Brushes. Brushes are two things; expensive and no good. Basically a good brush is Intended for water colours. India Ink eats them alive. On a percentage basis, one in ten brushes you will get some use out of. The other nine, the tip will split after a few hours use and it Is then only good for filling In areas of solid black or painting houses. Windsor-Newtons are the best brushes but at twenty dollars a pop, a very expensive crap-shoot. (footnote 2) We finally decided to buy nylon brushes which aren't as good, but at five dollars or so, we can afford to throw them away after a page or two. I need brushes for things like wavy black hair, the folds in Swoon's cloak, etc. But I try to limit It to that. If I can do it with a pen nib, I'll do it with a pen nib, although you can only get two or three thick lines out of a crow-quill before It's dead as a door-nail. It's still cheaper and more reliable than those damn brushes. Clean your brushes even more often than you clean your pen nib, and clean them carefully. Thoroughly rinse them with water and then lightly dry them with a tissue, always pulling the tissue In the direction of the bristles. if it doesn't come to a point, stick it in your mouth and pull it out through your puckered lips. If it still doesn't come to a point, it's a dead brush. Sorry. Inking with a brush Is the same as with the pen nib, hold it almost parallel to the page and always pull it towards you; never up or sideways against the grain. If you're inking a long thick line with a brush, practice your zen meditation first and then use your whole arm. Swoosh. it will not work to do the line a quarter inch at a time. Swoosh. If the curve is wrong or the brush went dry before you got to the bottom go out and drink heavily and try again tomorrow.
Footnote 1: For example, Howard Cruse (Wendel, Stuck Rubber Baby) uses rapidographs for most of his inking. Scott McCloud (Zot!, Understanding Comics) uses a variety of felt-tip markers. I can't think of anyone who's done good work in ball-point, but probably someone's done it.
Footnote 2: On the other hand, I generally get between one and three years use out of my Windsor-Neutons. Will Eisner has inking brushes he's been using for over a decade.
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