Layouts, Pencils, Inks, Synergy

by clementinepumpernickel

I: A Good Inker Is More Than A Tracer

Rob Liefeld has been in the headlines again. This time, Rob has taken to his messageboard to publicly air his frustrations in regards to his creator-owned series, The Infinite, co-created by Image wunder-kid Robert Kirkman. It seems like Mr Kirkman has objected to Rob’s choice of inker, and a stalemate has developed, as Kirkman is a self-professed fan of Liefeld’s unique idiosyncracies (y’know, shoulder pads and gritted teeth and loads of linework and so on) and seems to have inferred that Liefeld’s inkers are making the art, well, just not ‘Liefeldy’ enough.

As a point of comparison, here’s a banner that is very ‘Liefeldy’:

If we assume that the above image is what Kirkman envisaged on creating The Infinite, then perhaps it is understandable that the Walking Dead creator was a little resistant to the following art.

Now, according to Liefeld, what follows is his pencils and MAC’s/Caanan’s inks, but other industry pros maintain that Liefeld has done little more than thumbnails, with the inker providing ‘finishes’, and doing the heavy lifting:

Personally, I really like this, and think that these inks/finishes work very well over Liefeld’s thumbnails/pencils, although I can understand why Kirkman feels shortchanged, especially as Liefeld is potentially juggling more lucrative art jobs for DC.

Nevertheless, Liefeld’s art often works well with very dominant inkers, such as Todd McFarlane:

I have written a big defence of Rob Liefeld’s art, which I’ll hopefully get round to posting sometime in future, but I think his art works very well with collaborators. Case in point: while many have sneered about Liefeld providing ‘pencils’ for The Infinite, we can see him providing actual thumbnails for Mike Mignola to finish on X-Force (more of which you can see on Rob’s own site here).

Two things of note are that these thumbnails are less detailed than the pencils provided for Kirkman’s book above (which suggest to me that whether or not we feel that Liefeld was cutting corners with his art chores, he has a clear distinction between what counts as layouts and what counts as pencils), and also that Mike Mignola drew from Rob Liefeld’s thumbnails, which is something akin to Kevin Nowlan inking Mike Allred, in terms of style difference:

This segues nicely into the real point of this post, which is really just an excuse for me to write about artists “jammin'”. I’m a big fan of artists working together and really changing the finished product beyond the sum of its parts. The artist Kevin Nowlan sometimes gets a hard wrap for making all the artists he works with look like, well, Kevin Nowlan, but I adore his inking, and as the man himself states, when the pencils are very tight, the finish product is less Nowlan-esque. Witness his inks over José Luis García-López:

You can see a little of the ‘Nowlan’ coming out in his inking of David Finch:

Indeed, someone who has really benefited from working with others is Alex Ross. Painting over Doug Braithwaite added a fluidity to Ross’s work absent from his solo fully-painted endeavors, such as Kingdom Come:

And here’s Jackson Herbert‘s pencils based on Alex Ross’s layouts (with colours by Vinicius Andrade):

II: Co-Pencilled Funny Books

Of course, the stage past this is when artists actually co-pencil books together. When we read comics I would suggest that we accept the artist’s vision of the book as the world as it exists within the confines of the issue we are reading. If an artist changes between issues during an arc, it’s irritating, but not as irritating as changing artist midway through an issue, which breaks the reality of the story we are engaging with.

The flip-side of this is the fracturing of this reality deliberately when two artists co-pencil books together, which creates novelty at the expense of self-awareness, which is why I think the majority of books that have done this have tended to do it for comic effect. Case in point: one of my own personal favourites, Erik Larsen and Don Simpson’s Savage Dragon vs The Savage Megaton Man:

One of the funniest examples of completely disparate art styles being thrown together on the same page is Archie Meets The Punisher,  a truly WTF creation from the 90s, drawn by John Buscema and Stan Godberg. Awesome does not begin to describe this:

If you so desire, there are more scans available for your perusal over at scans daily.

On a similar note, the long awaited Conan vs Groo:

The most recent published example of artists jamming is, of course, Image United, a fitting epitaph to the professionalism of the founders of Image Comics, who have left this project unfinished (but very pretty). In their defence, the three finished issues must have been a nightmare to coordinate, as you can see from the various stages that have been released online:

Liefeld, Larsen, McFarlane, Portacio

Liefeld, Larsen, Portacio

Liefeld, Silvestri

Liefeld, Silvestri, Larsen

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