Image Comics recently launched a campaign titled #WeBelieveInArtists. Its basic mission is to bring the artist, whether it be the penciler, inker, colorist, or letterer into the spotlight, and recognize the overwhelming hard work and effort that they put into comics that we enjoy. It’s a valiant idea, since so often in comics the writer gets all the credit for making a book great, when in actuality they only do half (sometimes even less) of the work toward making the book what it is. Comics are, more often than not, a collaborative effort, not just between the writer and the penciler, but among an entire team of creators all working just as hard as the others to make the comic the best it can be.
A lot of newer or more casual fans don’t always know what the difference between all these jobs is, and what each of them bring to the comics that we love. Here, we’ll outline the main components of an art team, so next time you read a comic, you can know who did what, and how it affected the outcome of the final product.
While earlier it was stated that none of the creators are more important than any of the others, if you were forced to choose the most important component of an art team, it would be the penciler. Pencilers do what their name suggests: they use pencil drawings to lay down the very groundwork the rest of the team will work around to make the final product. They’re usually credited second on the cover, after the writer, and are almost always referred to as the “artist” of the book. It’s an essential job and it takes a lot of stamina to keep work consistent, especially if the book is on a monthly or biweekly basis. That’s why independent comics will take breaks in between arcs, so that the penciler doesn’t get worn out and they don’t have to get another penciler to fill in when the main one can’t hit the deadline. A lot of Marvel and DC books will have multiple pencilers on one book from arc to arc or issue to issue to avoid this.
Below are some examples of solely pencilling work, without inks or colors. Some notable pencilers include: Fiona Staples (Saga), Jim Lee (X-Men, Justice League, Action Comics), Bryan Hitch (JLA, The Authority, Ultimate Avengers), and Alex Maleev (Daredevil, Spider-Woman, Iron Man).
The inker sets the tone and mood of the comic. By using a brush or pen and black ink, they outline or trace the pencils to add definition and depth. Originally this job came to be because traditionally, printing practices could not transfer pencils, therefore there needed to be an inker so the printing press could replicate it. Sometimes the penciler will also ink their own work, and there won’t be a separate inker on the book. This is often the case in independent comics, but with Marvel and DC, the penciler is on such a tight schedule that a separate person has to ink to keep the book from falling behind schedule. Inkers can have a profound effect on the comic, from setting tone, adding a third dimension to the art, and even sometimes clarifying storytelling from a less adept penciler.
Below are two gifs that show one penciled drawing and a variety of different inker’s inks on that one drawing so you can get a feel for how much the inking effects the mood of the page. Some notable inkers include Klaus Janson (with Frank Miller on Daredevil), Jimmy Palmiotti (with Joe Quesada on Daredevil), Paul Neary (with Brian Hitch on The Ultimates), and Scott Williams (with Jim Lee on several projects).
The title is pretty self explanatory in this case: colorists add colors to the black and white pencils and inks, and often add shadows and other touches as well. This used to be done with brushes and dyes, but in the last 20 years it’s mostly been done digitally by way of computer programs. Like with inks, colors can drastically change the mood and tone of a page and comic as a whole. No two colorists are the same, and most employ different unique techniques from book to book to get the right look. Also like inks, sometimes the penciler will do the colors as well, but recently colorists have become much more high profile and have championed to make colorist work on comics more visible. Colorists work on many books at once and can often be seen across multiple publishers’ outputs.
Below are a couple of pages with just pencils and inks and beside them the same page with colors, so you can get a feel for just how much life colors can bring to the art. Some notable colorists include: Jordie Bellaire (They’re Not Like Us, Pretty Deadly, Hawkeye, Batman: Rebirth, Deadpool and many many more), Matt Wilson (The Wicked + The Divine, Mighty Thor, Runaways, Paper Girls, Wonder Woman and many many more), Laura Allred (Pretty much anything Michale Allred pencils like iZombie, FF, Madman, Silver Surfer, Batman ’66, and Lady Killer as well,) and Tamra Bonvillain (Doom Patrol, Wayward, Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur, The Unbelievable Gwenpool, and Rat Queens).
The last person to get the art in this assembly line is the letterer. The letterer’s title is also pretty self explanatory — they add the bubbles and words into the art. It’s an important job that gets overlooked more than any of the others this article has talked about. The letterer has to make a lot of hard decisions about bubble placement, font choice, and making sure everything reads correctly and naturally. They also usually add the sound effect bubbles. A lot of lettering is done digitally now, but there are still some examples of hand lettering to this day. Some letterers think that if a reader doesn’t notice the lettering then they’ve done their job well, but recently the job has become more recognized in the comics industry. Like colorists, letterers work on many books at once and often have to make up for late pencils and inks and work quicker and harder to keep the book on time.
Below are some pages that use lettering espically well. Some notable letterers include Steven Finch/Fonografiks (Saga, They’re Not Like Us, Nowhere Men), Clayton Cowles (The Wicked + The Divine, Batman: Rebirth, Mister Miracle), Joe Caramagna (Black Widow, Ms. Marvel), and Jim Campbell (Goldie Vance, Joyride, The Backstagers).