We’ve discussed colour and lettering previously, so this week – luckily – the thing that caught my eye was inking. Specifically, Dean Ormston’s work in Black Hammer.
It used to be the case that a vast majority of books had their own inker, but (and this could be a case of small sample-size in the books I read) a lot of inking duties now are being done by the penciller on the book. With that in mind, it’s harder to say specifically what is being brought out in the pencils and inks, but with the case of Black Hammer, you can see specifically what the inks are bringing to the story.
What I wanted to look at in particular was how Ormston uses heavy blacks in certain panels to create more of an “idea” of an image, rather than a full rendered panel. Thematically this is a huge part of the overall narrative being presented, and helps to show how good inking work is able to add so much to the storytelling process. In this case, it’s as much of a part as the pencils, colouring, and writing.
I say it’s important thematically because Black Hammer is a book about “golden age” superheroes, and what they’re doing now they’ve past their prime. So as an example as to how the inking work contributes to that theme, let’s take a look at this page here, and specifically one panel on the bottom row. I think it’s a perfect example.
It follows a question put forward in the previous frame, “Do you still miss it, Barbie?”. Then you get this image – a superhero flying over a city-scape. It looks like a rough for a new issue of a big-two superhero book right? It’s quite iconic in its design, the cape blowing in the wind, body shaped like an arrow, high above the city-scape. You’d see this on the cover of something like Supergirl and it’d be right at home.
What Ormston changes is to drape the figure in black. That one subtle element changes this from a panel about a hero flying over a city-scape, to making it more about the “idea” of a superhero flying over a city-scape. It removes you from this panel by not rendering in a face or any discernible detail beyond a cape, a costume, and the fact the figure is flying. So all we can absorb here is those details, and not much more as Ormston gives us nothing else to work with. By presenting it as an idea of a superhero, Ormston then asks us to question what that actually means, and what it means in contrast to the previous panel, where we can fully see this girls face. As it’s become an abstract image it raises those points, rather than allowing us to just read it and say, “yep that’s Supergirl flying”.
This effect permeates throughout this issue, too. Here, on the very next page, you have the same thing happening again. You’re only given enough parts of the image to get a sense of what’s being presented. Just a little bit of armor, a little bit of red flesh, a touch of blue on the spider’s back. The rest is washed in black, which suggests it’s not important to see this. All you need to understand is the idea the panel represents: heroism.
However, it also crops up in a different way. Here, later in the issue, Abraham has gone to grab some coffee, and is served by Tammy. This page gives you the panel in the bottom left, a side-shot where the background exists but Abe and Tammy are silhouetted in black. Logically this doesn’t make sense, as we’ve seen what the lighting looks like in this shop previously, so we know they wouldn’t actually be completely in shadow. So Ormston is saying something else with it. If we follow the strand established previously, it’s about removing the actual image from our experience and presenting something else. Here it seems that Ormston is asking us to see their interaction, not them as people, but how they’re being with each other. It’s a way of bringing up some of the theme and subtext without having to directly address them.
It occurs again two pages later with the panel in the uppermost left of the grid. Here the father and Mark meet, and again, figures are silhouetted. Ormston is drawing our attention to this image, to their figures and the way they are, for that moment, linked. No doubt this is an important moment in the story of these two characters, and Ormston gives us that idea by inking it in that way. Without that, it’d be a regular panel of two people shaking hands, and wouldn’t carry the same weight it does now.
So that’s one very subtle and small thing being done by inking work to shape and build the narrative in this story. Little touches like this are being done in every comic with a good inker, and often are being missed. Take a flick through an issue this week, and see if you can spot any of those tricks being pulled on you.