Rob Liefeld – inking analysis
The other day I was involved in a forum – like discussion about Rob Liefeld. As usual, in this case there are a lot of negative comments towards one of the founding members of Image Comics… How he draws feet, body misproportions, copycat characters, and so on. I took the other side of the discussion that later was deleted by the admin of the site, because it got quite angry. This post explains why I defensed him, but inking wise.
Rob Liefeld, for the ones that does not know him, is a comicbook penciler who has been in the business for almost 30 years. He is one of the few that keeps working in comics today. Maybe you don’t like his craft, but still he is a professional penciler in a medium that many of us, semi pro pencilers and inkers are doing the inhumanly possible to break in.
In every artist’s career you can see an evolution from his initial pages up to those that you can see he put his soul into it in order to achieve success and finally those that are made after success where the necessity in the market is made and it seems that breaking boundaries is not a goal.
Rob Liefeld’s craft does not escape that law. When he started in DC (Megaton, Who’s who in The Legion of superheroes. Hawk and Dove, 1987), his penciling was framed by Karl Kesel’s inks and he was dealing with the requirements of a professional deadlines. Up until the last pages of Hawk and Dove you can sense his true self over his pencils. One which searched for the visual effect rather than narrative clarity which later on he succeeded on that field.
However, Rob Liefeld penciling style is always on the verge of criticism because of several topics that you can find all over his work. Lack of background, several fixed panel shoot and the above mentioned misproportions and here’s when I think that an inker would help a lot.
Here are some of the bests pages I found over the internet (© Rob Liefeld Creations and the main source was Comic Art Fans).
Case 0: Inker: Rob Liefeld.
Most of the comics out there penciled by Rob Liefeld are also inked by him. According to his Comicbookdb profile, he has inked 54 of all his +150 titles. In my opinion his inks are well known in the gap between 1990 and 1993, when he penciled New Mutants, X-Force and started his own comic book, Youngblood. By the time he was well known because the unique energy he drove to the pages and characters. However, and taking into consideration that he might have been under great deal of responsibility, his inks were not quite polished. Maybe it’s a part of his energy or maybe it’s just a plain medium to get the page into the printer, but I sense on those pages that some line weight, some over line would pop the page out. Hatchering and feathering did not follow a regular pattern textures were not as realistic as they might look.
Here I’ll focus on the New Mutants #98 Cover and Youngblood #1 double-spread, penciled/inked by Rob Liefeld.
This page: While the lighting is well applied, line weight seems quite confusing between the foreground characters and the background characters. Besides, the background hatch it’s not regular. Adds a small disturbing feeling to the frame, which might be helpful to the style. Later on, you will see how other inkers with regular crosshatching patterns helps to give another look, more defined to the page.
On this one: (details)
I’d love to see more texture details on Badrock’s shoulder gear, there lines seem to the quite arbitrarily. While Rob’s faces are pretty strong, it would be great to gain some weight to separate it from the other character.
On this other detail, what drives my attention the most is that the wheel of Chapel’s bike does not look as rubber, letting the color to do the job. If you can see the other red circle, you can see how Liefeld gave more line weight to the arm in order to separate from the background, making it more readable to the reader’s eye. However the whole page lacks volume and – besides background / foreground issues, that’s what’s makes me these pages looks unfinished.
During the next years, Rob improved his inking technique and I will use one of his most discussed pin ups to prove it.
Misproportions, jokes and photomanipulations aside and only inking wise, Liefeld’s inking gets an huge improvement. Outer lines are bold, modulated, and shows a great deal of volume. Lights are placed, despite the fact that texturing might have given some problems making Cap’s uniform looks like latex, because it looks shinny. However Captain America’s shield looks like metal and the crosshatching is regular giving the same energy as the previous examples. The pin up shows volume in the shading of the body and the feathering looks just fine. As usual, the face is the part where you can see more detail in it. It’s another chapter, and I know that there are tons of pages that mocks up this piece talking about Cap’s body misproportions. If this job would had been inked by an professional inker, would he or she suggested a better body proportion, placed the chest star correctly? I don’t know and it’s not the point of this post. I wanted to post this piece because is so hated, but still you can see something out of it that can be analyzed here.
Case 2: Danny Miki.
He’s one of the greatest inkers today, with an obsession with details and – I swear that if the guy does not have 4 inking arms or a +30 hours day sometimes I can’t explain how he is able to get as much detail in a 22 pp comic book monthly. The founder of the best inking studio, Crimelab Syndicate, started in the business inking Liefeld’s second round of Youngblood early Issues, from #6 to #13, where he was able to put his commitment together and focus on the penciling.
This page: If you compare the earlier issues (from #1 to #5) there was an huge improvement in the finished art and my bet is that it was mainly because he relied on an inker, Miki, who gave him a new set of strokes, feathering and effects that added to Liefeld’s penciling the extra mile that wasn’t there on the first five issues. Dynamic and regular feathering, use of quills, perspective lines and more important, line weight gained Rob’s art a whole new value to the reader’s eyes. The main order was VOLUME, VOLUME, VOLUME. For me he’s the best inker he has got (ok, don’t count some collaborations, like todd McFarlane or Scott Williams)…
Case 2: Ian Churchill
Despite this cover, (Cable #75, ©Marvel Comics) was inked by Ian Churchill, the interior book was inked by Lary Stucker. I’d like to focus on this piece, because I think it’s important to see the main detail. We’ll keep the dust around Cable for another time.
This page: First of all, it lacks of background, maybe it was Marvel’s suggestion, but still it’s something you can see on Liefeld pages. while the cover looks good, a fully detailed background would probably turn this cover into a great one. But still the work on Cable’s armor is stunning. See the detail above. Churchill gives in his inks everything to Cable, line weight that makes him pop out from the background with a bold and unprecedented outline. Next to it, I don’t know if the penciled page show that level of detail, Cable’s armor is broken and the details shows it in its grace. There are a bunch of inside circuits that gives more concern to the situation. My bet – despite I did not ever see the penciled page – is that these kind of details are suggestions from the inker. And that’s something the inker must do, suggest somethings that will improve the final result. Next to it lighting shows a huge set of tense muscles in motion and shaded correctly and finally, texture. the knee protection looks like fabric, metal looks like metal, hair, like hair and broken stuff as broken stuff. It would be great to see more of this tandem together.
Case 000: myself…
Ok, it does not count at all, I have not inked him professionally but only as a test, but who am I to speak about an artists’s inking skills? Well, I have not asked for permission, but instead I tried to ink a interior page to gain some knowledge about the issue I am talking today about. I meet Rob Liefeld in the latest edition of NYCC back in October 2013, and he liked it. While i was inking this piece I tought if Is he as bad penciler as some people say? It’s as easy to ink as I believed he was? the answer was a surprisingly NO. Am I wise and experienced enough to write this post? No, but I think that at least I gave it a try to understand him better. So, inking Mr. Liefeld was a challenge, it allowed me to deal with volume, line weight and most important, to improve with some black and white splatter effects to improve the pop up effect between figure and background. Yes, sure, it’s not the best page he might have seen over his pencils and the feathering sucks, but still it allowed me to really put this penciler into a real scale and know where he can be improved and still make his pencils his own. And more important, seeing was would be the possible aspects that would help his craft, attached with an capable inker, a even better experience to the reader’s eye.
Let me know your thoughts and if there’s any, please let me know about what you think about making more of this kind of posts.
It’s has been done with full respect to the artist.