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Heroes Never Rust #78 by Sean Ironman


When discussing comics, many people, including myself, usually refer to the writer and the artist as the creators of the comic, but “artist” may not be the correct word. The term, to me, simplifies the process, as if the visual elements were the job of one person. Typically, three different positions affect the visual side of comics: penciller, inker, and colorist. One may argue (me again) that the letterer, the person who actually adds the dialogue and narration captions to the page, also adds to the visual side of a comic, but for the sake of this blog post, I’ll look at just the other three. We’ll save the art of lettering for another day. While the penciller, inker, and colorist may be separate people, sometimes in work from a major publisher (and usually in work from smaller, independent publishers) one person may fill multiple roles. In War Story: Nightingale, David Lloyd (V For Vendetta) fills the three roles. This helps each aspect of art work in sync with one another, giving a dark dread to the story’s proceedings.


The inks are so heavy, darkness seems ready to overtake the Navy men aboard the Nightingale as they help protect convoys against the Axis forces. There’s a scene at a comic book convention in Kevin Smith’s film Chasing Amy in which a fan accosts Jason Lee because he is an inker, or a “tracer” as the fan calls him.

But, the inking stage is much more complex than many people believe, including that so-called fan. The inker must interpret the penciller’s intent (almost like a translator of prose) and give form and dimension to an image. Like a screenplay is only an outline of a finished film, penciled artwork is only an early step toward the finished product. Without a strong inker, not only make the final image not be as strong, but the penciller’s work could be ruined. As an example of how much inked pencils add to an image, take the following images:



Not only is detail and shading added to the image to create more realistic and rounded characters, the image now has mood, has feeling. Even without color, the images become as close to real as they can. Because of the importance of an inker, pencillers tend to work with the same inkers throughout their career, having built a trusting relationship. Some people may say that since David Lloyd is penciling and inking in War Story: Nightingale, he has an easier time. I’m not entirely familiar with his process, and I haven’t been able to find details on it either, but sometimes, an artist who must do both chooses to combine the steps and draw entirely in ink. The work is not made easier by having one person do the job of two, just as any job is not made easier by giving one person two jobs. The only effect is that one person has more work to do. If I had to translate this blog from English to French, I would still have a hell of a time.

war_story_nightingaleMany of the pages are covered more with black ink than with anything else. The Nightingale ship seems to emerge from darkness on page one, as if the men are already in the afterlife, ghosts at sea. The ship looks dead, frozen in time. The sea is desolate and dangerous. There’s no hope for the men aboard. They are surrounded by darkness and it’s no surprise that the men are either torn apart onboard or drown in the dark waters. When one young sailor is sliced in half, his organs and blood are so dark, he looks as if he’s being pulled into some other place, some place far away, into the black inks.

warstory10Even in daylight, the men are drawn so thick with ink that they look weathered, old. The sky may be blue and bright, but the war has taken its toll. The wrinkles on men’s faces are as thick as their eyebrows. Their faces, especially their eyes, are typically shown in shadow. They are stressed, beaten, haggard. Yet, they fight. They fight against submarines, monsters deep in the black ocean in which they cannot see. The men know that it is hopeless, but they fight. And die. And are swallowed by the inks. Without David Lloyd’s heavy inks, the comic would be too simple. He adds so much style with his pen. Perhaps war stories have been told too much. Perhaps there’s little to add. But, we can say that about nearly every type of story, can’t we? Maybe we just need the story to be well-told, to be told with style. Hopefully, more readers understand the importance of an inker. An inker is as much of the artist of a comic as the penciller. No tracers here.


Photo by John King

Photo by John King

Sean Ironman (Episode 102earned his MFA at the University of Central Florida. Currently, he teaches creative nonfiction and digital media at the University of Central Arkansas as a visiting professor. His work can be read in The Writer’s ChronicleRedivider, and Breakers: A Comics Anthology, among others.