An old entry from my Marvel blog of the 2000s concerning the role played by the inker.
People often ask what an inker does. Back in the days before comic book credits became so complete, most people assumed that the inker was the person who filled in the colors. More contemporarily, inkers got the reputation of being simply “tracers” thanks to an exchange in the film CHASING AMY. But there’s a little bit more to it than that–and I’ve got some visual aids situated on the left.
These are pages from a pair of Annuals released in the mid-1980s, an AVENGERS Annual and a FANTASTIC FOUR Annual (both of which are being reprinted in the new volume of the FANTASTIC FOUR VISIONARIES: JOHN BYRNE series, in stores today). While each of these Annuals told a complete story by itself, the events of the two stories overlapped at the end, with the Avengers and the FF coming together to solve their larger mutual problem in the concluding pages.
John Byrne penciled both stories–or, more precisely, he did breakdowns on the both of them. Breakdowns are looser pencils, without any spotting of black areas, and with more of the heavy lifting being left up to the inkers (who are most often credited as “finishers” when they work over breakdowns). And to make the coordination seamless (and save a little time and effort, no doubt), certain pages of art were repeated in both of the Annuals, with some additional copy here and there where necessary to make the stories work individually.
This is where things get interesting for our purposes. Because the AVENGERS Annual was finished by a young Kyle Baker, while the FANTASTIC FOUR Annual was finished by classic FF inker Joe Sinnott. So by comparing the common pages, you can get a good idea of precisely what each gentleman contributed to the final artwork.
As a general observation, Baker’s inks tend to be more impressionistic, more shadow-filled and broad, and they’ve got a bit more bounce to them. Sinnott’s line has his usual crisp sheen, and his approach is a bit more clean overall. Which approach is better is a matter of personal taste–they’re both equally valid. I can say for myself that, at the time these books first saw print, I preferred the Sinnott job, as I was always a big fan of his work on the FF. But looking back at it now, I find a lot of merit in the approach Baker brings to the material.
Please keep in mind, too, that the lettering and coloring is different on each of these pages, and both can contribute to the overall feel of the final page. Nevertheless, this is a pretty direct illustration as to how much power a particular inker can have over the finished product.