I’ve been going pen crazy.
I bought a bunch of pens, mainly with the idea of finding a good tool to do lettering with. Yes, I’m finally trying to gradually, hopefully, eventually maybe do my own hand lettering, especially for a particular project I have in mind. But in general I just think hand lettering looks better and lends greater character to a drawing. Words are pictures too.
So, pens. Lots of them.
I first got some Copic markers, which I actually like a great deal, though they do have that marker-y look on the page. But once scanned they seem to look good enough. Still, I’m not so easily satisfied.
So I got some fountain pens and some nib and a nice nib holder and I went hog wild.
In the back of my mind I suppose I had hoped that a pen solution might even replace drawing with a brush and ink, which is oh-so cumbersome and messy. But the fact of it is, I’m just a brush guy at heart. Despite the fact that I really liked some of the linework I was able to achieve with the nib pens, the pen drawings all looked inferior to me. So, at least for drawing, I’m sticking with what’s worked for me for time in memoriam: drawing with brush and using a fine-tipped fountain pen for tiny details like hatching.
For lettering, though, I may use a Pilot Prera fountain pen that I’ve been really enjoying, or I may just go with the Copics; I haven’t decided yet. The fountain pen ink tends not to be waterproof, which is a bit of a downside, but I like the feel of the pens, and the line they produce is very nice. The Copics, by contrast, tend to look a bit more artificial, but the mark they produce is waterproof. It’s a tough call.
In any case, I really like pens; they’re easy and convenient and fun to use. But nothing quite beats the look I can get with my old, trusty Series 7.
This is seriously cool.
GoComics Offers Free Classic Comic Strips Like ‘Peanuts’ and ‘Calvin and Hobbes’
Uclick has released GoComics, an app that allows users to download classic comic strips to their iPad or iPhone for free.
Ha! I just got that!
So I’m a pretty big Berni Wrightson fan, but his Swamp Thing work is a little before my time. I’ve decided to catch up on it now, in my 40s. Hooray for gainful employment!
First off, I’ll just say, I’m really enjoying Roots of the Swamp Thing, which compiles the first 13 issues of DC’s original Swamp Thing run. It’s a soft cover, semi-gloss affair with what looks like the original colors. This is not the “remastered” edition, this is likely pretty close to the original but on nicer paper. This collection also incudes the original impetus for the Swamp Thing character that appeared in House of Secrets #92.
There are, I think, a couple reasons why Swamp Thing has become the stuff of comics legends. The first is Berni Wrightson’s terrific work on issues 1-11. My first connection to Wrightson came from reprints of the spectacular horror work he did for Creepy. It’s some of the finest comic work you’re ever likely to see, and I highly recommend it.
Wrightson’s Swamp Thing work is not his best and tends to be a bit uneven, especially early on — and it’s certainly not on par with his Creepy work — but it’s still some of the best comic art ever made. The work is detailed and moody with liberal flashes of Wrightson gothic brilliance.
The first issue is the weakest both in terms of artwork and writing. It’s almost as if both Wrightson and the writer, Len Wein, didn’t care much about the origin of the character, like they just wanted to get into the stories. The drawing is well below Wrightson’s abilities, as evidenced by all the books that follow. It’s odd and jarring to see him make such weak work when you know his potential.
The origin tale itself also lacks the proper character development and tension to make it great. It’s full of unnecessary and confusing plot twists that take you out of the story and really weaken the mythology of the character. What could’ve been a powerful backstory that informed a character with depth and nuance ends up being a fairly typical and bland introduction to a character that only later, over time, will become interesting.
Though the origin story is a missed opportunity, the book quickly picks up in the second issue. Here the artwork begins to shine in the way only Berni Wrightson can, which is to say darkly, I suppose. Starting with issue #2 Wrightson’s art is back on track and we see him basking in the glory of fabulously horrific creatures the likes of which I’ve not seen before or since in comicdom.
Swamp Thing, at its heart, is really about a journey, both physical and philosophical. Issue #2 begins the Swamp Thing’s journey, and it’s in this journey that we begin to build up a knowledge of and fondness for the character. As Swamp Thing tries to make his way home, both literally and spiritually, we see how he responds to encounters with all manner of being, and it’s these responses that inform our understanding of the character.
This journey, which takes our hero to strange and exotic lands, also sets the stage for the perfect sorts of environs that Wrightson’s art revels in. So we get lots of great, gothic set pieces rendered in his inimitable style. It’s a lot of fun!
The other thing that sets Swamp Thing apart from other comics is the writing. Swamp Thing — not just the character, but the comic itself — is a bit of an odd beast. It’s equal parts horror story and super-hero book. Len Wein’s writing acknowledges this dichotomy and treads the line expertly. Narration is written in the same sort of highly melodramatic, gothic style you expect from a Creepy story — your standard horror comic fare — and there are even boilerplate classic monsters like Frankenstein and the Werewolf, though with twists. But the Swamp Thing himself is clearly a hero on a hero’s journey. It’s a strangely compelling blend of dank, utter darkness and, of all things, hope.
As the story progresses, we gradually get a clearer sense of Swamp Thing’s predicament, of his desires, his frustrations and, ultimately, his selfless and heroic nature. But this is all couched within the conventions of a horror comic. I can’t say I’ve seen anything quite like it. It’s really rather brilliant.
I’ve not read Alan Moore’s take on Swamp Thing, but I probably will sometime in the not too distant future. I can see how he’d take advantage of the basic ingredients and make it into something even better. There is much untapped potential in the original book. But the raw elements of something wonderful are there. There is horror, but pathos, and the sense of the accidental hero thrust into extraordinary circumstances, making the best of a truly strange and ghastly situation. There is the sense of the underdog, and the feeling that in a horrible world it’s often hard to tell wrong from right, good from bad. And there is always the idea that actions speak louder than words, even if sometimes no one is listening.
I can see why Swamp Thing is considered a great book. Because it is.
So a while ago I wrote about my then-favorite ink, Holbein. I’m still a Holbein fan, but I’ve discovered another ink I think I like even better.
Dr. Ph Martin’s Black Star Matte
I’ve tried a few of the Dr. Ph Martin’s varieties, and most have left me wanting. But the Black Star Matte flavor is excellent. It’s become my go-to ink. I mean, to be honest, I’m really splitting hairs at this point; the Holbein ink is quite comparable. Also, I have a tendency to change my mind ad nauseum.
Nevertheless, this is great ink. Covers just as well as the Holbein, but it doesn’t gum up my brushes quite as bad or as fast. And it flows ever so slightly better.
What Makes a Good Ink
What the Black Star Matte and the Holbein inks share is that — unlike average-coating inks which absorb into the paper requiring multiple coats to create a deep rich black tone — they sit on top of the paper and are fully black with a single coat. This is what I look for in ink coverage, a rich, dark black with a minimum of coats, ideally only one.
But flow — how well the ink moves from brush to paper — is also key. The darker the ink, though, the thicker it tends to be, and thus the worse it tends to flow from brush to page. The Black Star Matte, for my money, has the best balance of these characteristics, flow and coverage. The Holbein standard comes in second, and the Holbein Special third, for what it’s worth.
These are all great inks, though, and you’ll do well to use any of them. But I wanted to incude another ink option here in the blog. And it just so happens that this one is my current favorite.
A friend recently asked me to recommend a good inking brush, so I told him about my two favorites: The Winsor & Newton Series 7 and the Raphel 8404. I have loved and used both these brushes for a while now and they’re both terrific.
Winsor & Newton Series 7
The W&N has a reputation for lacking quality control at the factory, but mine’s been pretty good. Maybe not perfect — it tends to start to splay a bit during long inking sessions — but still one of the best brushes I own. And really, is there such thing as the perfect brush? I’m starting to think not. But the Series 7 is as close as I’ve seen.
I’ve liked the Raphael nearly as much — and on certain days more — than the W&N. It doesn’t hold quite as much ink, but it has great snap and holds a point for longer than the W&N. It was my go-to brush for a long time, but lately I find myself using the Series 7 a lot as well. Go figure.
My friend got back to me a while later with some additional recommendations, courtesy of a terrific brush log. After reading the list I decided to try out all the brushes that got an A. For the most part I agree with what’s said in the brush log, with some additions and one exception. Here are my thoughts as well as some examples. of these brushes in action.
The Isabey 6227z is an odd brush and something of a surprise. It’s a bit longer and thinner than the inking brushes I’m used to, almost somewhere between a rigger and a round. At first I hated it. It doesn’t hold much ink and it doesn’t have much snap. But eventually I discovered that this brush, when held more perpendicular to the paper, is particularly good for detail work. For tiny lines it just can’t be beat. It’s not a brush I’d recommend for general inking, but if you need to do fine brushwork, this bush will be your friend.
Escoda Tajmyr 1212
I’ve seen the Escoda recommended before. I have to say, I don’t get it. This brush doesn’t hold much ink, has no snap and can’t keep a point to save its life. In my notes I wrote, “Has character,” which I later realized meant, “Sucks.” I also realized I’d bought an Escoda once before. Didn’t use that one either. I honestly don’t see why people continue to recommend this brush. Aside from its slightly larger handle, I don’t like it.
Kalish Series 1
The Kalish was the real revelation for me. What a great brush! I’ve only played around with it, but I’m really looking forward to doing some real inking with this thing. It’s got a great feel, holds lots of ink, has excellent snap and seems to keep a point for quite a while. Kalish sizing is pretty weird — they use milli-inches as their unit of measurement — so I accidentally bought one that was way too big for me. After ordering smaller ones — a # 2, which is comparable to a W&N #2, and a # 3 — I was quite pleased. Not only do they have everything you want in an inking brush, but it seems to me that the handle is slightly fatter than the W&N and the Raphael, and I really like the way they feel.
All in all, the Kalish Series 1, the Winsor & Newton Series 7 and the Raphael 8404 are all wonderful brushes for general inking. I’d be hard pressed to pick a favorite at this point. The W&N is the gold standard, though, the brush by which all other brushes are measured. Still, after doing these tests I was amazed at how much I enjoy using the Raphael. And the Kalish promises to be a real contender for the throne.
Any way you slice it, it’s a good time to be an inker.