Friday, August 25, 2017

The Penciling, Inking, and Coloring of Superb

Inker Le Beau Underwood inking Superb

When you check out Superb, you're witnessing the collaborative results of penciler Ray-Anthony Height, inker Le Beau L. Underwood, colorist Veronica Gandini, writers David F. Walker and Sheena C. Howard,  letterer by Tom Napolitano, editor Joseph Illidge, and editorial assistant Desiree Rodriguez. It's perhaps easier and more common for people to speak of a book being by a single author, but it's difficult to single out just one person when it comes to comic books.

A week or so back, Underwood tweeted an image here and then here of the inking work that he was doing on Superb. His tweets prompted me to think a little more about his collaborative work with Height and Gandini.

In many cases, pencilers begin sketches of the artwork that correspond to the script and plans of writers. (Of course, there are exceptions, most famously artist Jack Kirby regularly produced images prior to writer Stan Lee offering the narrative). Inkers elaborate on or "finish" the necessarily incomplete sketches produced by pencilers. Inkers adjust the images and add various degrees of blacks and shades in order to extend and further actualize those initial sketches. Next, a colorist -- often working digitally these days --applies a variety of tones and shading. At every stage, really editors are offering advice, encouragement, and suggestions for revision.

For the most part, we rarely get to look at the behind-the-scenes processes between the penciler, inker, and colorist. We end up with a product like Superb, and we're looking at the results of collective, layered artwork by Height, Underwood, and Gandini.

Superb #1 and #2 are about these teenagers, a white boy and black girl, who are coming to an awareness of their superpowers and the evil forces that are trying to suppress people with others like them who have physical enhancements. At the same time, Superb is about a penciler, inker, and colorist working to address a number of visual opportunities and challenges.

What image would correspond to this moment in the script? How should that image be shaded to add further emphasis? What colors should be applied? In Superb #1, Height, Underwood, and Gandini don't just answer those questions in 24 pages. Instead, they repeatedly address those questions in 128 different panels. In other words, it's a substantial amount of labor intensive work.  
The upbeat nature of Underwood's tweets suggests that it's a labor of love and enjoyment for him, but still, it's work that goes into that artwork. The time-intensive labor of it all is one reason that comic books have separate roles (writers, pencilers, inkers, and colorists). Imagine how long it would take for a single artist to produce every aspect of just one issue, not to mention a whole series.

The division of labor in the case of Superb mean that Gandini, Height, and Underwood are each specialists in their own realms, and here they are pulling together. Illidge deserves considerable credit here, because he had the vision of assembling these talented, diverse creative teams across the entire Catalyst Prime Universe. With Superb, I'm looking forward to the ongoing collaborations between the penciler, inker, colorist, and everyone else.

East St. Louis study group focusing on comic books--Noble & Superb
A Notebook on comic books

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