While searching for Sketch Up candidates, I ran across this post by Sean Murphy (Joe the Barbarian, American Vampire: Survival of the Fittest), talking about the changing role of the inker. He thinks it might not even be a real job in comics for too much longer.
Really interesting reading, in terms of the business of producing comics.
How long will inkers be needed?
In the old days they needed inkers because computers weren’t yet being used in print. I forget the name of the machine that preceded the scanner (process cameras?), but it was low-tech enough that inking was REQUIRED because the pencil lines weren’t dark enough to pick up. A side effect of this lumbering technology was that it created “inking” as an art form exclusive to print and to comics.
Imagine you’re an artist working for Ben Franklin at one of his printing presses. Ben loves your comic strip ideas and wants to publish it. But there’s a problem: scanners haven’t been invented yet so your pencils won’t translate. He hands you a pen and brush and a bottle of ink and tells you to go over your pencils to make it darker. You frown–your pencils have nice shades of gray that ink will ruin! Surely Ben will understand that. ”Too bad!” he says while staring at some chicks walking past the window, “Take this ink and find a way to make it work. Or you’re fired.” And off he goes to get laid.
Demands like this are what gave birth to hatching, cross hatching, feathering, and other tricks to give the impression of “gray” even though there’s only black and white. Before Ben Franklin, it was the lithograph invented by some Bavarian guy in the late 1700s. Before him, it might have been the Greeks using stone blocks or something. Whatever the history, we have to acknowledge that it was the shortcoming of technology that gave birth to modern inking.
That’s why we’ve got inking. It’s just a style, but if a style costs more, will the bookkeepers continue to foot the bill?
The 90s is when many publishers switched over to scanners and modern printing technology. While it helped give birth to better coloring via Photoshop, it also helped make inking obsolete. But inking survived because it was part of the identity of comic books. Many people working in publishing still had a soft spot for the writer/penciller/INKER/colorist/letterer dynamic. We had the technology to print pencils and colors without needed it inked, but it wasn’t enough to kill off inking. Would readers even buy books that were just pencils? Thus, Marvel and DC continued including inking rates.
With Wacoms and Cintiques coming of age, traditional inking is completely unnecessary. We no longer need comics to have that “comic book style” because readers have adapted to variety of styles that Cintiques easily create. And if it’s an old fashion “comic book style” you want, Cintiques can do that too!
Obviously, most of comics is now digital. I write to my editors digitally–phone calls aren’t needed anymore. Even though I create my art traditionally, it’s scanned into digital files which is exactly where digitally created artwork ends up–there IS no distinction at the end of the day. Comics are colored and lettered digitally, the graphics are added digitally. The printers are digital. And if we could find a way to automate the writing and artwork at a lower cost, you’d better believe it would happen. Cost of iArtist (the computer program designed to create art based off the script create by iWriter)–a one time fee of $500. Cost of hiring Sean Murphy for one 22 page issue–$10,000.
So there I am, cashing my paycheck from DC. My inking rate still included. But for how long? In a few years, I wouldn’t be surprised if the publishers cut out inking rates altogether in order to save money. You can still ink if you want to, they just won’t pay for it.
There’s a bit more from the very candid Murphy on the issue, and predictions of what could happen. Obviously, this isn’t set in stone, but he makes a convincing case, and we’ve already seen it happen in some comics. I remember this technique being lauded in the early part of the last decade with Richard Isanove and the Marvel books he was digitally “painting”. I think some readers will say they want inkers, and prefer that style, as will some artists certainly. But when taking the “Pepsi Challenge”, I doubt your average comic book reader can tell the difference between digitally produced work and traditional work, nor would they care. I certainly wouldn’t want to lose traditional inking, but I could see it happening in most but a few cases. While Neal Stephenson might have written out his latest book in long hand with a quill, in the old way, someone had to type that into a word processor. The question is who is going to foot the bill.
While, I’m at it, there’s a big matzo ball sitting out there. Sean gives us a pretty good idea of his page rate, which works out to about $450 a page, inking included. We’re not talking about a big name star in comics (yet), but that’s a lot of cost for talent, especially, when you’re talking about a guy whose known work was on moderate selling Vertigo books. I am in no way saying he doesn’t deserve that fee. The guy is as good as they get as far as I’m concerned. But it does give you an inkling of what it costs to produce comics, and when you compare that to the other talent costs and overhead, then look at circulation, it’s no wonder comics are so expensive. We’re already seeing a cost contraction happening. We’re down to 20 pages in some books. Editorial staff are being cut. Page rates are falling for some from what I’ve heard, and it will continue to go on, until they sort out a way to make it more profitable.