The Artists Behind Comics

As you all know, I want to be a comic book artist. But not everyone knows just how many different types of artists actually go into making a comic book. In general, there are four different types of artists who work on a book: penciler, inker, colorist, and letterer. Sometimes, especially with modern technology, the penciler and ink are one in the same, and is then usually billed simply as “artist”. There can be a few as two artists working on a comic, while some artists at the different stages has a team that works for them.


The penciler is the first artist to work on a book. The writer or editor will give them the script. Sometimes the penciler receives a full script, with lengthy outlines detailing how each page should be laid out, a method typically associated with DC Comics. On the other hand, sometimes they will only receive a loose outline with just the key plot points, giving the artist more freedom to help in the creation of the story. This is known as the Marvel Method. The penciler typically works on large paper that is later photographed and shrunk down digitally. Although, with the development of programs like Photoshop and Corel Painter, more and more artists are working digitally instead of on paper. Depending on the penciler, they will either create very loose lines, leaving the inker to interpret their intent and make the tight, finished lines, while other pencilers take the time to make very detailed pages with every clearly marked for the inker.

A page from Batgirl Vol. 4, Issue 12. Pencils by Ardian Syaf
A page from Batgirl Vol. 4, Issue 12. Pencils by Ardian Syaf

The inker is the next artist to work on the comic. Using a pen or brush, they apply the black lines to the pages that were sketched and/or drawn out by the penciler.   However, the inker does not simply go over the line work of the penciler. They also add depth and shading, giving the images shape. The inker has the ability to give tone and modify any mistakes made by the penciler. They have the final say on the art and lines before it goes off to the colorist. Just like pencilers, many inkers today are working digitally because it saves the company time and shipping costs.

Babs Tarr and Cameron Stewart are an artist/writer team. Cameron writes the story and creates breakdown sketches. Babs then draws gesture drawings before inking her own work.

After the line art is completed and approved by the inker, the work passes onto the colorist. During the 20th century, comics were colored using brushes and dyes as guides for printing plates. The colorist would work on photocopies of the inks to determine colors and then write down CMYK codes for the final printing. However, today most colorists work digitally. By the early 1990s, most of the large publishing companies were coloring digitally, using programs like Color Prep and Tint. Today, most colorists work in Adobe Photoshop.


Ed Benes Batgirl Cover, inks to colors


The final artist is the letterer. They are responsible for the drawing the comic’s text. The typefaces, font size, and layout all can affect the feel of the comic. They write in the text into speech bubbles, display lettering, draw sound effects, and other captions. Many will give different colors to the display lettering depending on the character narrating at the time. For example, in the first 34 issues of Batgirl volume 4, the display lettering is yellow in a black box, with half a purple Bat Symbol. Letterers also often will design the logos for the different titles being published.   In the past letters have worked handwriting, but as technology has advanced, artists have moved to working with Adobe Illustrator or Photoshop. Although some still working by hand using digital tablets.

Panel from Batigrl Vol. 4 Issue 12. Letters by Dave Sharpe
Panel from Batigrl Vol. 4 Issue 12. Letters by Dave Sharpe




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