Thinkin’ bout inkin’
Sunday, September 5, 2010
Manuele Fior’s 5000 Kilometres per Second was one of the most interesting comics that I found at last year’s Angouleme festival. I don’t know much about Mr. Fior and I think I’ll let him stay mysterious to me for awhile. Feel free to google him. Personally, I like to think of him as one of the artists whom I “discovered” while in France. I had never heard of him, no one had told me to check him out, he was completely off my radar. I searched and searched at Angouleme to try and find some artists that didn’t subscribe to what I call the dominant “Canniffer” style of European comics. It took days. I swear. There are so many books (they call them albums) to look through at Angouleme that it can be depressing when they all start to look alike. I’d search all day and not really find anything I really liked. I swear. Then one day I found Brecht Evens. The next day I found Bastien Vives. And on the last day I found Manuele Fior. These three artists – for my own personal taste – provided an oasis of sorts. They all felt, feel, current and conversant in a living language whereas many of their peers seem occupied with speaking in an older, distant language. Simply put, they aren’t “Canniffers” or “Blutchies” or “Girs” and I found that interesting. Still do.
Manuele Fior’s 5000 Kilometres per Second is also in French (at least the edition I found is – maybe it was published first in Italian?) so I couldn’t really read it. But that didn’t stop me from deciphering the images and the story and stringing it all together for a quite enjoyable read. Having said that, I don’t know if I could explain it other than a love story. A very beautifully drawn love story. Also, I don’t really have anything insightful to say about his work. I just want to spread the word.
The other reason I’m writing about Mr. Fior this week is that I think his “naturalistic” approach to comics is something that I could use talk about how one’s choice of media is important. Fior uses watercolor for this book, not pen and ink. So that means he is composing directly in color, not in black and white first and then adding color. Also he is creating lights and darks with tone not with hatching lines. Watercolor is also a very immediate and direct medium where it it is difficult to go back and correct one’s mistakes. All of these things influence the feel of the story and how one “reads” the characters.
The choice of media got me thinking about how reproducing full color original art has been a fairly recent development in comics. For the most of its history comics has had to be drawn in black & white and in ink. The stat camera that all printers in the old days could not reproduce pencil lines because they were too faint. So those pencil lines had to be “inked,” or made darker somehow so that the camera could see it. Cartoonists would draw it pencil first, ink the lines and then color it all on a separate layer. So the assembly line process makes sense in this way, right? And you can see how composing in black and white has become the norm, right? And you can see how cartoonists have had to figure out a way of rendering with a pen or how to ink lines with a brush, right? It was a necessary part of the craft. So, maybe, if you follow me, you can see how a “mannerist” style sets in and refers to older styles of drawing. All those little hatching and shading lines are a result of composing in black and white for inking. Composing in pencil only would mean one could use the side of the pencil to create subtle gradients. Do you see many pencil drawings with mannered hatching lines? No. You see them in etchings; in pen drawings. When a brush is used then a “wash” approach is possible, but, again the stat camera couldn’t pick that up the wash’s subtle gradients without a halftone screen to turn it all into dots. So, really, if you were inking with a brush you were still limited to using the brush to create lines, not tone. Think about it, most cartoonists are drawing with a pen because that’s how it’s been done; how it had to be done.
Funny how now that pencil lines can be reproduced with scanners that we see more cartoonists drawing in pencil. Inking is going the way of the Dodo because now the colorists add all the gradients and tone that the inker used to create. Colorists are sort of the new inkers, no? Also funny how it seems like those artists who draw in pencil and digitally ink and color their work are using less mannered, hatching lines.
Stay with me, True Believer, I’m almost at the payoff. Thinking about all this stuff made me wonder why most cartoonists are still only composing in black and white. How many painters do you know who only paint in black and white? I know, I know, lots of folks do black and white comics because it’s cheaper to print black and white comics than color comics. But we all have color computer monitors, right? Webcomics are here to stay, right? Well, maybe we should all get with this “color thing,” eh? Seems to me that only composing comics in black and white (where everything has a black line around it) is still the norm when composing comics. Even if the artist, the penciller, is inking and coloring the comic his or herself that still reinforces this assembly line attitude that has dominated comics. It’s a choice, sure, but I think sometimes we don’t really look at why comics still demands these antiquated methods. Is it tradition or just simply a preference to create works that “look like comics”? Just askin’.