Posted by on Aug 17, 2011 in Artists, Comic Art and Comic Artists, Comics | 0 comments

One of the best parts of Comic Con is the hourly information presentations you can attend on all sorts of comic related subjects. One particular subject I wanted to learn more about is inking and D.C. Comics inker Tom Nguyen is one of the best in the industry. I got a chance to sit in on his session “Tom Nguyen’s Style of Inking” Friday afternoon at Chicago Comic Con 2011. Don’t know what an inker is? That’s the second person in the creative process of making a comic book or graphic novel. The penciler draws all the panels and then they hand it off to the inker who makes the dark outlines, shadows and backgrounds. The letterer handles the lettering including thought and speech bubbles along with effects lettering and the colorist finishes it off to bring the page to life.



D.C. Comics inker Tom Nguyen
Tom shared a lot including the tools he uses and his daily routine. One of the cool process things he taught us is the fact that comic artists never create at comic size. Everything is done on an 11 X 17 Bristol pad. When each artist has done their part the Brystol is reduced to comic page size for publishing. The Brystol page has a cardstock type of texture. That’s probably  because it’s going through so many artist’s hands before reaching the publishing stage.



Some inking tools include Micron pens which come in a few different sizes. He said Sharpies are good to use for concept art but not serious inking because you can encounter bleeding issues and the tips get blunted with use. He also noted that technical pens are good for drawing mechanical objects and borders.

Tom prefers to use brushes (size 1 or 2) with India ink though. Windsor and Newton is his favorite brand but he said it’s not necessary for a beginner to use a top of the line brush like that while learning the craft. He mentioned that some inkers like to use crow quill pens because they give you great control over line variation but they’re not for him as the tips wear out so quickly. He also uses brushes for black fill in. When working digitally he fills in the blacks with the Photoshop fill bucket. White-out pens or thinned white acrylic paint are commonly used to correct errors.

The final tool in the inking process is the prep work to pass it on. That requires a scanner and Tom uses a large format Epson scanner. After this point the pencilers and inkers usually work out personal agreements on how to split the original art. Sometimes they keep it for themselves and other times they sell it. Inks are actually some of the coolest for sale work in artist alley at the convention.

It was also good to learn about his daily routine and personal journey into the profession. He makes it his goal to complete one page a day and while he’s working he likes to listen to music or documentaries. Not watch documentaries, just listen to them (LOL).

Tom got into the field at the age of fifteen by working with D.C. artist Doug Mahnke in Minnesota. A few years of that was enough to get him started full time at the age of nineteen. His answer to the question “what if you don’t know anyone in the industry to get an internship” was to attend conventions and show your work there. You can ask for critiques from the pros on the spot or online. People asked lots of good questions and Tom made lots of other great points during the session.

He capped it off by giving us a demo of inking in Photoshop with a quick Batman sketch.  Using his digital tablet and stylus he mentioned that he uses the default brush settings. He doesn’t bother with creating his own. The most interesting technique pointer was that changing line width when you encounter a change in direction on the shape or character makes it look more dynamic (he said to think “thick-thin, thick-thin” while working) . Techniques like that are what makes the inker more than just a tracer of the penciler’s original work.

Another cool part of his Photoshop demo was the way he used the lasso tool to make corrections. Most of us who use the software only think to use the lasso to delete a section of a layer or to move the lassoed section to a new layer. He used it to reposition a couple of sections of the Batman face and edited it back together using the eraser or clone tool (I don’t remember which) and then redrew where he needed to reconnect the shifted parts of the face.

It was a great choice of a first session for me and I walked away with some ideas that I can immediately apply in animation school this fall and going forward in my career.

Tom isn’t a one dimensional artist. Among other things he’s an accomplished photographer as well. Check out his photography site here. Also keep up with Tom’s projects on social media via his tweets at @tomnguyenart.

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