In this simple drawing of Superman, inker Scott Williams has made a series of strategic decisions. Screencap via
Though often derided as “tracers” or “shaders,” comic book inkers are a vital part of the process. Almost every great comic out on shelves today has been lovingly inked by an artist working off the pencil foundations of another, and this week’s mini-comic masterclass, Strip Panel Naked, breaks down the role of the inker. Host Hass Otsmane-Elhaou’s video essay shows off the work of Scott Williams as he inks the work of famed comic artist Jim Lee. Focusing on Superman Unchained #1, the video illustrates all the important choices an inker has to make and shows how hard it must be to ink the frenzied lines of Lee.
A preliminary drawing of dense linework—waiting for an expert inker. From Superman Unchained #1. Pencils by Jim Lee
Lee’s pencil work is known to be highly detailed and rough, which creates a choice for Scott Williams: Does he smooth over the lines, or keep the rough spirit of the original illustration in his inking? “We’re told inkers are there for neatening up work, but what Williams does is heighten what Lee brings to the work, not arbitrarily try to clean it up. It’s a beautiful decision that adds so much to the style and feel people get when they think of Jim Lee.”
A side-by-side comparison of an uninked pencil and an inking (color removed)
“Inkers,” explains Otsmane-Elhaou, “are an unseen and underappreciated part of the process of creating comic books.” He adds, “Underappreciated by readers, because pencillers know exactly what sort of magic a good inker can bring to their work.”
Just one look at the work of Scott Williams—one of the best inkers in the business—it’s clear to see what a huge difference his work makes.
See the power of the pen for yourself in this week’s Strip Panel Naked: