Comic Art

Tool Talk

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Updated September 21, 1997

  • Some of us actually don't fall asleep when a comic artist starts talking about what kind of ink he uses, or how he gets those fine lines, or how he plans his page breakdowns. If you're one of those, who actually enjoys such sutff, then this page is for you.
  • Let's talk tools!

  • My section on books of use to the creator of comics was getting unwieldy, so I moved it. C'mon back when you're done!


  • The best advice I ever got on pencilling seems to be little-used by the industry as a whole, and I have no idea why:
    use blue pencil for everything. I use Col-Erase brand erasable 1298 non-photo blue pencil for my rough sketches, and for tight final pencils I use Illustrator brand blue Mirage 1360 XX-Fine Pt non-repro blue marker. That way, you can erase the rough if you wish, or not... but by the time you're ready to ink, you never need to erase anything! No more worrying about ink smearing or graying down. I never use a black pencil or an eraser anymore: what a relief!
  • Another great thing about Illustrator Mirage XX-Fine Pt markers is that they fit into the holes of an Ames lettering guide! So you can rule your lettering lines in non-repro blue and not have to erase them either!
    Note: I've heard unconfirmed rumours that the Illustrator Mirage 1360 is no longer being made. [Yikes!!] And my supply is getting dangerously low, too... if you see some, grab 'em!

    Update: I've found a workable substitute for the Illustrator Mirage 1360! [Go me!!] I have to credit the good folks at Wyndham Art Supplies for not only keeping Strathmore pads in stock for me , but also hipping me to Staedtler Mars Special 12 #0.5 non-photo blue technical pencil leads! These leads are even finer than the Mirage, so they fit into an Ames guide with ease! And, while not all non-photo blues are created equal, I'm pleased to report that the Staedtler leads are especially non-repro.
    However, you do have to buy a mechanical pencil that can hold fine #0.5 leads (I'm using a Staedtler GT 0.5), but this is a one-time expense of two or three bux, so not a huge problem... I still recommend the Mirage, though, if you can find it, cuz its point doesn't break -- the potential downside of mechanical pencils.

    Pens and Ink

  • Inking with a brush is still the mark of a real pro... (guess that counts me out!). There are pens that will get you that same smooth, flexible line that you get from a brush: a lot of guys use the Gillott 170, 290, or 1290 nibs. All of them are tough nibs to control, but easier than a brush and well worth the effort. I, however, am still working on them.
    Furthermore, word has it that the Gillott nibs are less well-distributed in North America than they used to be: many stores no longer carry them, even if they want to. But the good folks at Pen Dragon run an efficient and friendly mail-order business that provides Gillotts as well as tons o' other sutff. Tell 'em I sent ya!
  • I picked up something else highly recommended for those of us who "aren't man enough to handle a brush" but still want that fluid line: check out the amazing Staedtler Mars Graphic 3000 Duo marker! This is a two-headed jobbie: one end is a regular, firm-tip, fine-ish-but-not-too, fibre tip marker, the other is a long, sharp, incredibly flexible marker tip that makes a line indistinguishable from a brush! Micro-thin hairlines, half-inch fat swatches, and everything in between! It's like a brush whose point can't split on ya, and never needs dipping or cleaning.
    I've tried other faux-brush-tip markers, but nothing that compares to this one. Too soon for me to say how long the tip holds up before wearing out, and granted you are kinda stuck using Staedtler's ink [like it or not], but at three bucks or less for one o' these babies, it's worth a look...
  • Everything I've ever had published was inked with yer basic crowquill: in my case, a Hunt 102. When it's new, the 102 is a bit scratchy and can make lines too fine for repro. However, they break in quickly and thereafter are smooth to work with, and more flexible than you might think at first. Really easy to control, too.
  • Jaime Hernandez has said in an interview that he uses a Hunt 22EF nib. I've tried it, and found it so stiff it was like inking with a stick. Maybe I didn't break it in long enough? Anyway, if you admire Jaime's inking, you might wanna try it....
  • Like Jaime, I tend to use Hunt Speedball Super Black ink, but have also found Higgins and Pelikan to be perfectly acceptable.

    Opaque White

  • Up until now, I haven't mentioned any particular brand of white-out for corrections, white lines on black ink, etc. Mainly because I couldn't find a brand I'd particularly recommend. Most opaque whites are either a) not opaque, requiring several layers -- which is pretty darn hard to do with a fine line! -- or b) fussy, messy, and hard to control -- too thick, won't co-operate with a pen or brush, requires thinning with special liquid, blah blah blah.
  • But now our lives have been blessed with the BIC Wite-Out correction pen! I just got this and can't believe it. This thing has a metal ball-nib for uniform line thickness, and a white fluid flows out like fresh Liquid Paper. Unlike Liquid Paper, though, this sutff comes out 100% opaque and stays that way when it dries!
    One small warning: the fluid flows a little faster than might be expected, so you get a line a bit thicker than the nib looks like. But that line is [as I said] truly opaque white, dries pretty quick, and it's as easy to control as a ballpoint!


  • Rule #1 with paper is: find something you like and stick with it.
  • Rule #2 is: a lotta the time you can't follow Rule #1. I tend to draw on cheap but perfectly acceptable white bristol you can find in office supply stores or even drugstores for 99 cents a sheet or less. Trouble is, office supply stores and drugstores are none too particular about always stocking the same brand of something as "irrelevant" as bristol. You can buy from the same place for ages, only to find that one day they suddenly have a new kind of bristol that clogs your pen with fibers and turns every line you draw into a blurry hairy mess. Well, what can ya do? Look elsewhere, and when you find a bristol you really like, buy up a big batch of it while they still have it!
  • Of course, the pros buy brand-name bristol (most often they mention Strathmore), so they always know what they're getting. I've used Strathmore bristol, and I personally find it a lot like renting a limo: it's obvious you're with top-of-the-line quality, and you feel pampered, and everything is smooth and perfect... but who can afford to do it all the time? It's important to bear in mind that you can buy bristol much cheaper than Strathmore that is every bit as good to draw on, and gives you finished art that's [here's that phrase again] perfectly acceptable. Whoever reads your printed comic will not be able to tell what kind of bristol you drew on, as long as you don't use hairy-line crap, okay?
    Update: A number of you have written in saying that Strathmore isn't all that expensive, but everywhere I ever saw it up here it was like seven bucks a sheet [22 by 28]. Well, recently a few stores in my region have started stocking Strathmore bristol in 11 by 14 pads, which I'd heard of but never seen -- 20 sheets for $10 and change. Do the math, that works out to about two bucks per 22 by 28 instead of seven bucks. Note, however, that the same store still sells a sheet of 22 by 28 Strathmore for seven bucks! [??!!??]
    So: depending on your luck, Strathmore may be an affordable and superb-quality bristol, or it may only be available at exorbitant prices, or both! Wotta nutty business, huh?


  • When I'm working on small originals, like for small press publications, I use an Ames guide set at 3.08 for the lettering guidelines, and do the actual lettering with a technical pen. Staedtler- Mars has been my personal technical pen of choice for over 20 years now, but I note they're getting harder to find. For me, a #1.5 nib is a good size for lettering on small pages.
  • However, on larger, "professional-size" art, (9 by 14, 10 by 15, whatever), the 3.08 setting is a bit too small, so I go up to 4 on the Ames. But as a result of this, the 1.5 nib is then a bit too fine; the lettering comes off weak and spidery when stretched to that height. One option is to use a larger technical nib, but I recently ran across a much cheaper (and equally effective) solution: the BIC Roller medium-point plastic-tip marker. This gives a great strong line for lettering even at 50% reduction, and it's a dawdle to work with. Warning: the BIC doesn't work equally well on all papers! Sometimes it'll give you a hairy bleeding line, so test it on scrap first! And the BIC is slower to dry than a technical pen, so watch for smudges and give it lots of time to air.
  • For bold lettering, emphasis and whatnot, I find a Speedball B5 or B6 works well on either size page!

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    John MacLeod