Mark Morales is a comic book superstar. Having worked on many of the best-selling Marvel titles of the last few years, he’s worked as an inker alongside artists like Olivier Coipel, Jim Cheung, and Leinil Yu on comics like Infinity, Avengers Vs X-Men, Children’s Crusade, Fear Itself… if Marvel have a big storyline they want to sell? They bring it to Mark Morales.
And inking is a part of comics which isn’t discussed as much as it should, not at all. So when I had the chance to meet Mark – briefly, he was massively busy – at NYCC last year, I asked if he’d be interested in an interview. He very kindly agreed, and so ahead of the release of his latest project – the Wolverine relaunch from writer Paul Cornell and artist Ryan Stegman – he spoke about how he got into comics, inking as a career, and even offers advice for anyone looking to get into inking themselves.
On top of all that, he also shared some of his inking from various projects – including a look at his work for Wolverine #1, which is out today.
Inks from Infinity, with Jim Cheung
Steve: You studied at the New York School of Visual Arts, with teachers like Will Eisner and Gene Colan. What was that experience like?
Mark: It was a great learning experience actually. I was at SVA from 1987-1991. After the first year at SVA, which is just devoted to the basics of drawing, painting, sculpting, etc; you get to choose your major. I chose a double of animation and cartooning. So I got to study under Will Eisner and Gene Colan along with Harvey Kurtzman, Joe Orlando and Irwin Hasen.
All really good guys and teachers and legends in the industry. I learned a lot there and actually got to do one of my first jobs in comics for Eisner, re-inking parts of an old Spirit story where the originals were damaged. It was daunting, trying to match Will’s lush inking style, but fun. Didn’t pay much at all but was a great experience.
Steve: Were you working on inking back then, or pencilling? How did you first make the move into inking?
Mark: I was doing both. The plan was originally to become a penciller, but even back then I was way too slow. I was mostly just inking my own stuff, but I had a chance to collaborate with other students on some projects where I got to ink their pages. It turned out that it was a lot of fun doing that. Taking their drawings and adding my touch to it and coming out with a finished product that was a hybrid of both people was (and still is) interesting to me.
After graduating, I worked in an animation studio for a year and then a design studio for another year, but I hated both jobs. So in my spare time I kept working on getting my inks up to professional quality and would go to various conventions to show my work around and get critiques and stuff. I also assisted the great inker Joe Rubinstein for a bit back then and learned a lot. I did a few jobs here and there for small publishers, but still on a part time basis.
I finally started with comics full time back in 1993 when I inked the Evil Ernie miniseries from Chaos Comics, and have been doing it ever since.
Steve: Do you feel like studying at the school helped give you a sense of both sides of the penciller-inker collaboration? Does that inform how you go into inking a page?
Mark: I think studying at the school helped me artistically in every way. Just seeing how other artists work and approach things was very enlightening. And the constant emphasis on the basics of drawing was good. I think that historically all the best inkers could draw pretty well. One of the goals of inking is to take the pencils and add to the drawing and make it stronger. If something is off or misdrawn, having a working knowledge of how to fix it makes a big difference.
Inks from Infinity, with Jim Cheung
Steve: What would you say is the main role of an inker? Do you see it as amplifying the artist, establishing and emphasising their style – or as something else?
Mark: To me the main role of the inker is to take the pencils and make them clear and readable. When you’re done with the page it should be able to stand by itself in black and white before the colors are added. Part of making the pencils clear and readable is using your tools (in my case, mostly crowquill pens and brushes) to add depth, shadows, textures, etc. Something as simple as putting a heavier line around objects in the foreground of a panel and a thin line around background objects can help give the illusion of depth.
You always want to amplify what the penciller is putting down on the page. You try and find what the strengths of the penciller are and build on that and try to help smooth out the weaker parts. At the end of the day, the penciller is the star of the book. Even more than the writer, in my opinion.
I’ve bought plenty of books by an artist I like that had a weak writer. But I can’t say I’ve ever bought a comic that was wonderfully written but I hated the artwork. Your job as an inker is to help the penciller’s work look the best it can.
Steve: How are projects decided? Is this mostly done through the recommendation of an artist – I don’t believe I’ve ever seen Olivier Coipel inked by somebody else – or an editor?
Mark: It varies. Sometimes its the editor that puts the team together. Other times the penciller and inker express a desire to work together and it happens. The book I’m working on now (Wolverine) came together that way. Ryan Stegman and I wanted to work on something for awhile and this project came up.
As for Olivier, he had been working for a few years before we started working together. He had done some Legion of Superheroes stuff with Andy Lanning and various Marvel things, including House of M with Tim Townsend. I first inked him on a few pages of the New Avengers annual back in 2006.
We then worked on a few things here and there before doing the relaunch of Thor in 2007, which is one of the best things I’ve worked on. I feel very lucky to have worked with him this long. He’s one of the two or three best pencillers working today in my book.
Steve: Are you a freelancer, or working to a contract? In fact – do most inkers work freelance, going from job to job on word of mouth and past work?
Mark: For the last 8 years I’ve been under an exclusive contract with Marvel. Before that, like most other inkers, I was doing freelance jobs for pretty much every company. But I’ve been pretty steady at Marvel all the way back to the mid-90’s.
I started working there inking X-Force #49 and stayed with that book on and off until #100, inking Adam Pollina at first and later the great Jim Cheung (who I’m still working with). I was lucky enough to be offered a contract with Marvel in 2006 and renewed a few times since then.
Inks from Wolverine #1, with Ryan Stegman
Steve: Your next project will be Wolverine, with Paul Cornell and Ryan Stegman. So when you take on a series like Wolverine, how do you prepare for it, as an inker? Do you talk things through with Ryan?
Mark: Mostly it involves talking things through with the penciller and seeing what look he’s going for with the pencils. Since this is the first time I’ve inked Ryan on a book there’s a bit of a learning curve. It usually takes me 10 or so pages to get comfortable inking someone new and really figuring out how I’ll approach it.
Steve: Do you still get a bit of excitement from getting to handle the iconic characters like Wolverine, and add a bit to his mythos?
Mark: Absolutely. I started reading comic books when I was 5 years old, so it’s been a big part of my life for nearly 40 years. Anytime you get to add a small bit to the characters overall mythology it’s a great thing. I was lucky enough to own a ragged copy of Hulk #181 (the first appearance of Wolverine) when I was a kid, so to work on a book with that character so many years later is fun.
Steve: Do you see the script, yourself, so you come to the inking aware of which moments are comedic, which are dramatic, and so forth?
Mark: I always ask to see the script. I think it’s important to know where the story is going and see where the high points of the issue are. I try to spend an equal amount of time on all of the pages, but if there’s an important action or dramatic scene in the issue, I will spend a little more time on that to try and make it stand out.
Steve: Would you say there are any particular elements of your style which have come to define your inking? If so, is this something you’ve slowly developed and evolved over the years, do you think?
Mark: I would say that mostly I try to be precise with my inks. I tend to work with highly, finely detailed pencillers so you have to have a good amount of precision when working on the pages. A lot of that evolved over the years.
When I first started inking I had a much looser style. I inked everything with a brush, so the lines were a lot bolder and less precise. A little before I started working at Marvel, I did some work for Top Cow and Extreme Studios. At the time (the mid-90’s), the Image books had a very specific feel with the inks, heavily influenced by the stuff the amazing Scott Williams was doing with Jim Lee and Marc Silvestri.
I couldn’t make my brush do anything like Scott was doing, so I switched to using a pen (old fasioned crowquill nibs) to try and get more of that feel. It worked out ok then and over time I’ve become so comfortable using the pens, that I rarely use a brush on anything. And my style of inking has evolved to have much more of a controlled line.
I still love the look that the great brush inkers like Klaus Janson, Mark Farmer and Dexter Vines can get with it, but I really don’t have that kind of control over the brush anymore.
Steve: From start to finish, how long would you say it typically takes to ink a page?
Mark: It varies. But I try to get a page done in an 8-10 hour day. Some pages take a lot longer, sometimes well over 20 hours, and others I can knock out in 4-5 hours.
Steve: You see comics sometimes which have three or four inkers listed as working on an issue. Is this just because of time constraints? How do you feel about the practise – would you rather see comics be delayed a little so one inker alone works on it, and gives it more consistency?
Mark: It usually is a time constraint thing. I much prefer giving a few pages to another inker to do a good job on them rather than hack out a page to meet a deadline. I try to make sure each page I put out is the best I can do at the time. Comics have pretty much always been a monthly thing, so sometimes you have to use more than one inker. Everyone would love to have more time to work on the books, but the books have to come out.
Inks from Avengers Vs X-Men, with Olivier Coipel
Steve: Do you think inkers get their due in the industry, from people like – well, people like me, I guess. Reviewers, critics? And from companies themselves?
Mark: Of course I’m biased about it, so yes, I don’t think inkers get their due. But it is understandable at times. When you’re just seeing the finished inked and colored printed page, it is hard to see exactly who did what to it. The fact is that the inker’s job can change depending on the penciller you are working with.
Sometimes you are basically taking a bare bones layout and adding everything (weight, shadows, texture, depth, etc.) and other times you are taking really highly detailed pencils and trying to meticulously translate that into ink. So unless the reviewer/critic has access to the uninked pencils, it can be hard.
That being said, I think the person reading the book can get a good idea of what a particular inker does by looking at the same penciller being inked by different people. A good example is the stuff John Byrne did back in the 80’s (some of my favorites ever). On the X-men, Terry Austin inked him. On his short run on Captain America, Joe Rubinstein inked him and later in the decade Karl Kesel inked him.
They are all great inkers and the finished product looked great, but each of them inked Byrne very differently. Lately though it seems that most of the critics spend much more time reviewing the writing of the books, which obviously is very, very important. But to me, comics are first and foremost a visual thing. So probably some more attention should be spent learning more about all aspects of the art (pencils, inks, colors and letters) so it can be accurately discussed.
Steve: Is there a sense of community within the world of inking? Who currently do you think stands out as doing some brilliant work right now?
Mark: I think there is. There aren’t that many people in the country that do any aspect of comics for a living. So you get to talking shop with the people who are in that club with you. And with so many conventions now and the ability for everyone to interact online you are able to meet/chat with your peers much more easily than in the past.
Currently, I think there are lots of really good inkers out there. Jonathan Glapion is great. Loved his work over Capullo on Batman. John Dell, Tim Townsend, Klaus Janson, Dexter Vines, Joe Prado, Christian Alamy. All great – and I’m sure there are others I’m forgetting.
And for guys who ink their own pencils, you can’t beat Kevin Nowlan, Sean Murphy and P Craig Russell.
Steve: What advice would you give to anyone looking to get into inking as a career?
Mark: Having some drawing skill helps a lot. Try to get as many samples of different pencillers as you can and try to figure out a way to ink it and make it work. A lot of inking is problem solving. Figuring out how to use your brush or pen to make a line that will add to the look of the page and not distract from it is hard, but it only comes with practice. Trying as many different tools (brushes, pens, markers) as you can to see what works for you. There is no one tool you have to use. At the end of the day you can use a burnt stick to ink, if you know what you’re doing with it.
Steve: What are you working on currently, aside from Wolverine? Where can we find you online?
Mark: At the moment it’s just Wolverine. And I’ll be starting on a project with Jim Cheung soon. But mostly these days it’s about trying to get some sleep, since we have a 6 month old baby here.
Many thanks to Mark for his time! Wolverine #1 is out this week, starting a new series and storyline.