November 12, 2008

Take it slow baby, but don't stop

My favorite thing in recent years, in terms of the information available to someone trying to learn the craft of making comics, is creators posting videos showing themselves inking. It seems to be kind of a thing now, and my hope is that it's a meme that keeps spreading. When I look at a drawing by an artist with a very distinctive line, I always try to reverse-engineer it. What sort of tool did they use? How did they make those marks with it? How did they hold the tool? What did their hand-movements look like?

Through years of experimentation and research I've been able to either learn how the artists make their marks, or at least learned how to produce a reasonable facsimile. Seeing original art has helped a lot, and made me a more confident artist, by seeing how much white out people like Chris Ware and Charles Burns have to use to make their images look like they do. But nothing has been so useful to me as seeing footage of artists actually inking. The videos everyone has probably seen already are videos of Jeff Smith inking, like this one:

These are pretty cool, and certainly illuminate his working process in a way that I find wonderfully transparent and helpful, but what bugs me is all his videos are time-lapsed. It's great for showing every step he takes in a single drawing, but what we miss is the biggest thing I've learned from watching footage of cartoonists inking: SLOW DOWN, BUT DON'T STOP.

In the past, when I looked at art by people like Paul Pope or Becky Cloonan or Fabio Moon, who all have explosive, kinetic lines that seem to have been laid down by a speeding spaceship, I assumed that those marks were made quickly and violently, because they looked quick and violent. But I was totally stymied in my attempts to recreate such effects, because although I could make marks that looked liek theirs by being violent and swift with my brush, I couldn't control my line, and I didn't have enough time to make all the little decisions I needed to be making.

I've since had the pleasure of seeing all of these artists ink, either on film or in person, and what I learned is that that speed and violence is an illusion created by careful planning and great craft, and by moving slowly but steadily through the page, like an explosion happening in slow motion. Think of high-speed camera footage of an apple being shot with a gun. The explosions takes shape with a slow, deliberate pace, but the result is striking, and the still images suggest great speed and power.

The next time I sat down to ink a fight scene with lots of motion blurs, as I drew I made the sound of an explosion in slow motion. Instead of "P-KooM!" I went "Pppppppkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkooooooooooooooooooooo...", dragging the sound out into a modulating but sustained growling noise. I literally made the sound out loud, albeit quietly, for a good hour straight. It was the best page of motion lines I ever made. They look like they were laid down by twenty dozen hells-angels nibs all peeling off and leaving slashes of wet ink, but in fact they were all drawn with a steady, careful hand, and a mind thinking in slow motion.

Watch these two videos of Fabio Moon and Gabriel Bá inking. Watch how both men move from one task to the next steadily, slowly enough to give each line the consideration it deserves, but no longer. I hope you find them as helpful as I've found them.

(in this first one, look how at around 2:50 Fabio carefully allows just a touch of white space to separate his character's hair from his eyebrow. Just one of thousands of little decisions that make up a good page of inking.)


looka said...

Oh yeah, that is a good one - (don't get me wrong, like all of them are)!
I'm thinking Toth sitting there and letting his sharp sense do the drawing with the magic formula: "Think more, draw less!"... No no, he still had to sit down and do the thing!

matt said...

Paul Pope had a comment like that, where he was saying that an inker should be like a tiger- plan your move, but when you act, act decisively!