Welcome to the final installment, the season finale, of season one of #Tweetfolio Reviews!
To catch-up, please check out the links below this column, and as always you can follow me on twitter @karma_thief.
I’ll be reviewing the inking work of Julien Hugonnard-Bert, specifically the work available here and here with an emphasis on his recent work on various Conan, The Darkness and Star Wars series. Just like my previous column on coloring, I’ll conclude with my thoughts on the current state of inking in comic books, a field that’s getting squeezed more than any other in the industry right now, along with a look on how to tackle this problem. Then I’ll wrap this season finale with, what else, a “cliffhanger.”
Julien’s an inker I first encountered while at Marvel though I can’t remember at this point how we met. Just to level-set how difficult it was to break a new inker in, I recall helping to get him exactly one page worth of work in my entire time at Marvel, a Mockingbird profile page penciled by his long-time collaborator Stéphane Roux. As you’ll see, I think Julien’s certainly capable of inking at the highest levels and I lay out the unique challenges he and other inkers confront now to get more work at the Big Two (and really all over the industry).
Bon Alimagno: How do you describe what an inker adds to comic art to someone who doesn’t regularly read comics? Basically, how do you describe your job when you introduce yourself?
Julien Hugonnard-Bert: I usually say the page is done by two specialists: the pencil artist and the inker artist. It’s a work done by two people. The first one explains how the drawing is to be finished and the second one finishes it.
BA: How difficult or easy has it been to get regular inking work?
JH: Not so easy. Except the Crossed mini series, I only got jobs because the pencilers wanted me to ink them and the editor agreed. But sending portfolios to editors hasn’t been very successful, so far. Most editors are looking for “complete” artists who ink themselves or who already have inkers. Since I finished with the Star Wars miniseries, I haven’t worked for American publishers, just for French editors when I usually have been working with both at the same time.
BA: Who are your influences?
JH: Many great artists such as Barry Windsor-Smith, Alex Raymond, Al Williamson. Concerning inkers, the first name that comes to my mind is Drew Geraci. He’s not a rock star, of course, but his work is always clean and it serves perfectly all the pencillers he was paired with. He’s the guy editors can rely on and he always gives his best technique.
BA: What do you think are the strengths and weaknesses of your work?
JH: I still have to improve the line quality. I’d like to be as smooth as possible and to be able to have a better variety of lines if it’s hair or strokes or wood texture or clouds. I’d like to give more depth to the drawings, too.
I would say that my strength is that I’m able to let the page go. Of course each page could be better, and I try to correct what was not perfect and learn from the last page when I ink a new one, but meeting deadlines is very important! And I’ve never jeopardized a release date.
BA: What work are you most proud of?
JH: Probably the Star Wars: Agent of the Empire miniseries. First of all, because the book rocks! Secondly, because we had to change the penciller for issues #3 and #4 and I had to try to unify the styles of both pencillers so you don’t see the differences from one issue to another, while respecting their own styles as well! From what I read on the Internet, people seem to think it went well and the transition was smooth. So I’m happy.
BA: Who are the pencilers you’ve been working with the most lately? I think one of them is Stéphane Roux, correct?
JH: Correct. I inked Stéphane Roux on the Star Wars mini-series. I also work with Stéphane Créty. We did several books for the French market during the last two years and he helped Stéphane Roux on the Star Wars mini-series as a fill-in penciler.
BA: Do you think that inkers are becoming more valued if they add something to the pencils that aren’t there? For instance, inkers like Danny Miki and Matt Banning tend to add extra flare to faces and other unique details to pencils that may not be explicit. I have this theory that inkers are being hired more for that, than if they follow closely to a penciler’s lines.
JH: I don’t know, actually. Of course Danny Miki and Batt [Matt Banning's nickname] are great inkers. They’re able to finish a drawing and you recognize their styles at first sight. But on the other hand, I don’t have the need to show I worked on a page. For example: Kevin Nowlan or Klaus Janson are wonderful artists. But when they ink someone, it’s not someone’s work anymore, from my point of view – it’s Kevin’s or Klaus’s. And the result is great! But maybe they’re not the most faithful to the original pencils.
Nowadays, most of the pencilers are very tight, but the lines are not clean and they still need inkers. Adding textures and details may not be the best thing for them, at least not all the time. I trust them as artists to decide what is enough and what is too much. But what they need is someone to finish their drawings with the same dynamism in the line – not tracing lines – and a better understanding of depth in a panel, with thicker and thiner outlines.
Like a sound engineer: you’re not here to add horns and brass and strings to a song, but to make sure it’s easy to listen to with the same energy the band can deliver on stage. (Even if sometimes you could propose to add horns and it’s actually a good idea and the band will like it.)
For example, what I tried to achieve with the pages penciled by Romano Molenaar is to keep the crisp lines and make sure you can understand what’s beneath Conan’s feet. It may not be impressive, but I think readers will appreciate without noticing it and the penciler will recognize his art.
I’d say that one of my models is Drew Geraci. He’s totally dedicated to the penciler he’s inking and he’s inked so many people! You can recognize his lines, but you have to be used to reading him.
BA: First, I admit that critiquing inking is not my strength. I spent most of my time at Marvel reviewing colorists and pencilers. There’s great difficulty finding work for inkers now, because a lot of publishers think readers won’t notice the difference between tight pencils digitally inked or colored over, and inked pencils. This is unfortunate as I have seen inkers again and again take penciled art to a higher level of quality. But this meant at Marvel that I didn’t have to spend too much time looking for new inkers as we didn’t need to use new ones often. We did start using a lot of finishers though, but that’s a different subject.
I think you certainly can and should be an inker working at the highest levels, including at Marvel and at DC Comics. And in your work, I can see how you’re already making a penciler like Stéphane Roux look better than ever.
But in my time at Marvel I saw a great demand for inkers like a Danny Miki or a Matt Banning who brought their own style, their own artistic sense, to the art. This didn’t mean they wiped out what the pencilers they inked over did, just that they added a unique flare to the work so that together they produced something greater than individual efforts alone. Miki and Banning’s expressive inks complimented the heavily crosshatched styles of artists like David Finch very well.
So I tended to see that these were the inkers who would get the most work, be most in demand and get signed to exclusive contracts by Marvel and DC.
I hate to suggest this, but if a goal of yours is to get more frequent work at the Big Two then you’d need to follow one of two paths: either bring your own distinct signature sense of flare to the work the way Miki and Banning do. Or really master what inkers like Morales do and be surgically precise with every mark on a page, using a much greater spectrum of line weights than I see you using now.
I think there’s a lot of things you excel in: your textures are great when you add them in, like in explosions or exhaust fumes. You have great attention to detail. And you mix up your lineweights well so that your foreground elements stand out from your background elements.
But I think there’s a few things you can work on so that your work becomes more distinguished and noticeable. First, with the lineweights, I think you can vary that up even more in your backgrounds. For example on this page the foreground characters stand out well, but the background lines are still a bit too similarly rendered. Greater differences in the lineweights between the ship, the ground, the dangling wires, the dust and debris would add a greater sense of depth of field than what is there now. On a page like this one I also notice how the organic, fluid feel of the pencils rendering the Darkness’s chest become a bit too stiff looking. Again, using a more delicate line on those details would maintain the more lively, organic feel of the pencils.
You do some interesting things with your blacks, which almost remind me of what Charles Burns would do over his work like in Black Hole. Your blacks can be very heavy, making deep shadows. You have those blacks blend in well into the rest of the page with a nice clean finish. But I think that you might be doing this too much on the page — sometimes such deep blacks draw too much attention on the page and make it harder for the viewer to read it properly. Again, I don’t think this is a bad thing, it’s just something you might want to consider pulling back on.
So I do think you can and should be working for the Big Two. These are just suggestions that might make your work more noticeable, but there are no guarantees as I see the industry unfortunately move further away from hiring separate inkers.
JH: Thanks a lot for your review! Comments and compliments are always appreciated!
Even if I have to admit it’s a bit discouraging sometimes. I’ve already noticed inkers are less and less employed, and sometimes I’m a bit worried. But I won’t give up. That’s what I do best!
I’ll try to improve in both directions: being sharper and more precise than ever (like Mark Morales) and practicing on looser pencils to become a finisher, too. I know I’m able to do it, I just need to make sure I’m fast enough as I never did it on a complete book.
Thank you very much for your time and effort!
I’d like to thank everyone for the great response to my column on coloring in the last #Tweetfolio Review. I neglected to mention that when I said I never worked with an inker who could draw more than two issues a month that I was mistaken. There actually were a few and one notable exception is Scott Hanna. He just like so many of Marvel’s colorists was thought of as an EMT who could get a book that was falling behind back on track, but through his finishing. For scheduling purposes, we would’ve sometimes asked a penciler to go “loose” with his or her lines, meaning to not go tight or too detailed, or to just go to layouts, essentially doing figures and setting up the camera shot selection but not what would be normally considered finished pencils. A finisher like Hanna would then come in and render the rest of the page out. There weren’t too many we could count on to do this as they would have to mimic the penciler’s style when inking over loose pencils or probably also draw in original linework where there was none in such a way that did not clash with the linework already there.
Finishers, especially as Marvel moved toward double-shipping more titles on a monthly basis, became talents I would come to look for, track, schedule and value just as I would colorists.
Meanwhile, the comic book industry as a whole is hiring fewer inkers who aren’t finishers. There’s lots of reasons but the ones I want to focus on are economic. As Julien and I discussed above, most comic readers do not notice the difference an inker makes to a book. And publishers looking to cut costs will take advantage of this. The first casualty of a book’s budget will almost always be the inking, whether a rate cut, finding a cheaper inker or dropping inking altogether in favor of cheaper and faster digital inking or coloring over enhanced pencils. With a few inkers making rates almost as high as some pencilers, just due to being in the business for so long that they actually deserve it, the cost savings per book could be substantial and, with a title’s cancelation or a staffer’s job on the line, difference making.
At one point, I did a census of how many books per month at Marvel actually had their own separate inkers, instead of pencilers inking themselves or being digitally inked or colored directly over pencils. It tended to around a third of the line. This fluctuated of course, but it was always a lower number than most would expect.
Yet, there are many pencilers who I can’t think of without also thinking of their usual inkers. Again as Julien brought up above there’s a chemistry between a penciler and an inker that when found becomes invaluable — almost like an artistic marriage. Ed McGuinness and Dexter Vines. Stuart Immomen and Wade Von Grawbadger. Yanick Paquette and Michel Lacombe. Olivier Coipel and Mark Morales. Greg Capullo and Jonathan Glapion. There’s something special that happens when matches like this come together, and the result is art greater than the sum of its parts. This is what comics is losing, and at an accelerated rate. It’s not that we’re seeing bad art. But we’re not seeing art as good as it could be. And the cost savings will eventually catch up to the industry as a gradually accumulating debt of artistry and a fundamental undermining of the medium.
Now: I’d like to see more inkers working. I think the comic industry needs it. The ridiculous number of talented, veteran inkers not working on a regular basis would shock most people reading this. I want to say that the solution is giving more inkers a chance to find their artistic match but the opportunities for making that match on active series now are getting fewer and far between. And with tightening budgets the room for error is so slight, and those opportunities will only lessen going forward — unless something changes.
I’d pointed to what Dean White has been doing on Uncanny X-Force as an example of how out of the box coloring can electrify a title and build a new surprise franchise for a publisher. I don’t want to suggest inkers do the same though, as creating out of the box inking styles and techniques may undermine pencils too much to be useful.
But perhaps, what there needs to be is a kind of inkers marketplace where pencilers can post a panel or two or three that can be printed with permission and inked as a sample. (Posting an entire page may be too much, as unscrupulous art dealers can print those and sell them as originals. I had never sent pencil samples out to inkers for this reason.) That sample could then be reposted to the marketplace and pencilers can choose which inking style fits the look they’re going for on a project. This doesn’t mean the match is permanent either. A marketplace like this could serve as the bench for pencilers (and publishers too) to find just the right inking voice for a particular project. (And for readers who don’t quite know what I mean, check out the results of this charity inking event where inkers with very different voices covered the same Batman pencils by Jim Lee. The results show just how wide a spectrum of possible takes inkers may have on the same pencils.)
And with that, it’s time to put a wrap to season one of #Tweetfolio Reviews. I’ve probably said a lot more in these columns than I ever intended to, and even then it still doesn’t feel enough. Comics fuels the engine of our entertainment industries to new box office records and merchandise sales, but the rank and file of the comic industry itself barely shares in that success. So meanwhile the best creators go off to other mediums and industries, to make a living commensurate with their talents.
The old ways of doing things won’t work much longer. Creators are breaking bonds they don’t need, not when there’s new online means for those creators to connect with their readers without publishers and middlemen. And not when the tools exist for those creators to finally make a satisfying living for themselves and their families from their ideas and work. People with great vision are out there now working to make this happen, and a few of them will change how you and I consume comics for the better forever.
And at the same time, there’ll be more responsive and more personal ways to not just scout but develop the next wave of comics talent. I’ve been thinking a lot about how this column fell short and how it can evolve to truly take advantage of the net. Just as digital is the future of comics, it ought to be the future of talent development as well.
So how do we get there?
See you in #Tweetfolio Reviews… SEASON TWO!