The 2010 Inkwell Roundtable Interview
by C. Edward Sellner
1) For those who might not know, can you give us a brief intro to the Inkwell Awards? What are they? What are they for? How did they get started?
Jimmy Tournas: Bob did it!
Bob Almond: Yup, I guess I'm to blame.
Joe Sinnott: I found out about the Inkwell Awards from my son Mark about 2 years ago. They were started by Bob Almond. What a great tribute to the art of inking and all those involved.
BobA: Thanks a lot, Joe! That means a lot to me to hear that from you.
For the past decade I was noticing changes in the medium and the status of the craft of inking and not necessarily for the better. Having artwork un-inked was becoming more common place. The long practice of ink artists being credited in solicitations and covers was no longer the rule. This affected others as I noticed that online and printed reviews (or art identification efforts) weren't listing the inkers either. And even the industry's prestigious Eisner Awards didn't have it's own inker category due to confusion about the contribution of the role of the inker and decided to combine it with the penciler one
Why did this all bother me? Because, admittedly, I'm an inker and while in no way do I think ink artists deserve special attention, I was concerned about traditional practices being altered that would change the fans' perceptions of our contributions. 'Inking' was already little understood by the public and we were consequently the underdogs, so erasing us from credits was akin to the craft and it's artists ceasing to exist. We want to be the advocates who can fill in the gaps that have been made by educating folks about what inkers do and recognizing the quality of their work.
I was hired to write my 'Inkblots' column for editor Bill Nichols of Sketch magazine four years ago and the fledgling concept of The Inkwell Awards (originally The Inkblot Awards) was created as a topic for my column. But that subsequently developed into me getting feedback from the inking community and recruiting my founding core committee members: Bill, Tim Townsend, Daniel Best, and Jimmy Tournas in January of 2008. We scrambled like madmen to create a web site, recruit various contributors, promote ourselves, and raise funds for our non-profit charity. Our first voting took place the following spring and the first award recipients received their trophies that summer. And here we are!
Danny Best: For some insane reason Bob asked me to be part of this, so here I am. While I can’t contribute as much as I’d like to, I do what I’m asked to, plus a bit more.
BobA: That was a major development on Jimmy's part so let me step aside for a sec...
JimmyT: Larry Harrison and I partnered up with Wizard for the New England Comic Con. When Gareb Shamus and Peter Katz found out I was on the committee we talked and they were very receptive to lend a hand. Gareb and Peter are very interested in helping make this a friendlier and more active community and they are hard at work helping small promoters grow their shows. They are always doing things to help promote the comic marketplace, and that's a good thing.
BobA: Absolutely! Besides offering us space at all of their shows and ongoing promotion, at Jimmy's and Larry's New England Comic Con they will be sponsoring an actual awards presentation, our first! They will be bringing in all of the award recipients for October 15-17, about a month after the voting ends at our site online, where the winners will be announced and presented their awards.
Dan Panosian: That's great news! Too many fans really take inking for granted. With more press and information out there - the fans will appreciate the art form much more. Wonderful news.
Mark McKenna: Its all who you know or being at the right place at the right time! The fact that Jimmy T hooked up with Wizard for the New England Comic Con and along comes The Inkwells, all very fortuitous.
BobA: The core committee is here. There's inker Jimmy Tournas who set up our web site, handles fundraising, final balloting and trophy awards. There's our resident writer Danny Best who designed and maintained our site for a couple of years; he also writes up many of our PR announcements and anything that makes us sound intelligent. Art rep Bob Shaw was brought in after Bill and Tim left in mid-2008; he handles our eBay charity auctions, fundraising, and created our forum and CAF gallery. Veteran artist Dave Simons joined soon after Bob did that fall and was a member until he passed away last June. Inker Nathan Massengill was welcomed aboard after that in the summer of 2009; he recently produced our new brochures, helps with fundraising, and helped out with our Ms. Inkwell property. These are the guys who are involved day in and day out. They handle more duties than listed here like creating some of our social network pages, our Donation Books, and more. I set the agenda, help delegate duties, and make sure the trains run on time if you know what I mean ;-)
We have Committee Ambassadors who lend their name and support including artist Adam Hughes, DC editor Mike Marts, artist Ethan Van Sciver, and artist Mark Brooks, who recently joined us.
Our contributors include artist Dan Panosian who created our logos, retailer Ernie Pelletier, legal consultant, artist Mark McKenna who assists with fundraising, inker Tom Schloendorn who circulates our announcements online, Stacey Aragon who handles our social network pages, Rich Lane who recently took over the duties of site maintenance, Damon Owens and PJ Magalhaes, our forum moderators, Julian Lebeck our trademark attorney, artist Randy Green who designed Ms. Inkwell, artist Gina Kirlew who designed her logo and the brochure with Nathan, artist Louis Small, Jr., our Ms. Inkwell model liaison and last but not least, Chrissy Cutler who is our first Ms. Inkwell and Hanna Pawlowska who just portrayed her as an alternate at Heroes Con. Of this group we have Dan, Ernie, Mark, and Tom here participating, as well as our Hall of fame namesake himself, the legendary Joltin' Joe Sinnott!
Joe Sinnott: I know that Bob Almond and Jimmy Tournas have a big input into the Inkwell awards. I was recently at the Pittsburgh Comicon and they had an Inkwell Awards booth set up there to promote it. I spent some time at the booth and had a great time doing a panel on inking hosted by Bob with Jimmy T. and Tom Schloendorn.
DannyB: You know, there’s a great joke in Bob’s answer, but I won’t share it right now…
4) I know some of you involved in the Inkwell are not inkers yourselves, tell us who you are, what you do, why you got involved in the Inkwell Awards, and along with that what your thoughts are on the inking industry? How does it impact comics from your perspective?
DannyB: I am me and have been me since I was born. What do I do? I write books and articles and have been doing so, in some shape and form, since the early 1990s and I have two major on-line outlets for my work, my website Adelaide Comics and Books (
As for the craft of inking….growing up I wasn’t immediately aware of inkers, or pencillers for that matter. As I got a bit older I started to notice that some stories were better than others, art wise, and then the next logical progression was noticing that some artists did better art on some stories than others. It was then that I wondered what the correlation between pencils and inks were.
One of my art teachers gave me a run down on what the difference between a penciller and an inker was – probably the only success he got with me was teaching me the theories behind art, because I failed the practicals with spectacular fashion (I once ate a box of dried cat food instead of drawing it in class in 1982) – and from there it was easy to see – some inkers made pencillers look better than they were. A good inker could make a bad penciller look good, and a good penciller great. A great inker, such as Joe Sinnott, Tom Palmer or Terry Austin, would make a great penciller, such as Byrne, Neal Adams or Jack Kirby look amazing. Some combinations only flashed before us for such a short time – such as Alan Weiss on Gene Colan, Frank Brunner or Jim Starlin. But the seeds were there. As the years went on I began to read more about inkers and discovered that I enjoyed ink work as much as pencil work.
BobA: Since last year we've been recruiting assorted and respected participants from amongst the comic book community to act as our Nominations Committee. At the end of the year they are allowed a few months to fill in nominees on the ballot for our first five categories: Favorite Inker, Most-Adaptable Inker, Props Award to an inker deserving of more attention, The S.P.A.M.I. (Small Press And Mainstream Independent) Award, and the All-In-One Award for artists who ink their own pencils. I then tally them and the committee splits up the names to verify them. The top duplicated names go on the final ballot for the public vote (which has been in the summer but this year will be in August to accommodate the new schedule for the awards presentation at the NECC).
A new procedure for this year, the nominees for the Joe Sinnott Hall of Fame Award were selected by the core committee and by ex-members, ambassadors, contributors, and past award recipients. I tally the nominees and validate the twenty-five year career term requirement. Then the top duplicated names go on the final ballot like the other categories where two artists are chosen.
For the time being this is probably the plan we are staying with after some early process growing pains.
DanP: This is something very important to me. I take the ballots very seriously. Especially the Hall of Fame aspect. There are veterans out there that have raised the bar on countless books and influenced generations of fans. Recognizing their achievements really means something special. I'm proud to be a part of the voting process.
6) I know the intention of the brain trust behind the Inkwell Awards are striving for much more than a simple set of awards. I know one of the main goals has been to build resources and community amongst inkers, professional and aspiring. I also know this has been a big year for you all in that process with lots of new developments. Fill us in on what all has been accomplished since last year?
BobA: Our mission is to inform and educate about the craft of inking and to recognize its artists. The second half of the mission is fulfilled through the awards presentation. The first part is done through our web site venue (http://www.inkwellawards.com), an ongoing effort to collect various resources on inking.
Within the community we've made a few philanthropic measures over time but we keep this close to the vest due to our limited resources compared to, say, The Hero Initiative. Perhaps over time we can help out those in need some more.
7) Give us the lowdown on Ms. Inkwell? What is she about?
BobA: I was at last fall's Pittsburgh Comic Con and seated next to IA contributor Tom Schloendorn. We were comparing our poorly selling raffle tickets to all the interest a dealer was getting a few aisles from us with two hot girls exciting the crowd. I joked getting a female mascot to wear a black inkwell bottle for an outfit with a stopper on her head. The more I thought about the general concept the more I started taking it very seriously. I questioned Louis Small, who was also at the show, about using promotional models. After sharing some ideas and contacting model Chrissy Cutler, I tried recruiting an artist to take my concept and come up with a visual design it. We went through a lot of artist options, including Adam Hughes, Tim Townsend, Jimmy Palmiotti, Amanda Conner, Bill Tucci, Terry Austin, even Joe and Dan around this table, but artists have pre-exisiting deadlines and some feel that good girl art isn't their strength. After weeks of searching Tim Townsend hooked us up with Randy Green who served up a bunch of prelims. After seeing my notes and references and after fine-tuning the concept with him and Nathan, we agreed on our spokesperson! She would be a savvy and sexy business woman who was a celebutante with a high-fashion sense and who owned a business named after her, India Wells, Inc., AKA, Ms. Inkwell. Nathan then inked and digitally colored her and his assistant Gina Kirlew created her logo. In the meantime Chrissy acquired the wardrobe necessary and Ms. Inkwell debuted at the Pittsburgh Comic Con. She will also appear at Wizardworld Big Apple and New England in October. Hanna Pawlowska, our first alternate, appeared at Heroes Con and may appear at other venues. They pass out brochures, sell raffle tickets, sign photos, prints, and items with their image on it for a fee to our non-profit. Plus as a bonus, they're a lot prettier than me and Tom!
DanP: She seems quite saucy! Thanks Randy!
Joe Sinnott: I had the pleasure of meeting and spending time with Ms.Inkwell at the Inkwell booth at the recent Pittsburgh Comicon. She appears on a lot of their promotional material and donation books, and is a great asset to the Inkwell Awards.
BobA: Why don't I yield the floor to Danny and Bob for this ....
DB: I’ve found it, personally, hard to move on without Dave, such was the impact that he had upon me in such a short time. It seems that every day I find something to remind me of him, not that I need reminding. Just the other week I found part of a cardboard box that he’d sent; he’d drawn a kangaroo on it – it just kills me at times. Dave’s passing came very shortly after that of my father and there were a lot of emotions to deal with and they still remain. I still can’t read his last email to me. I know what it says, I read it at the time, but I can’t bring myself to re-read it. I still maintain and update his web-site with notes that he left behind and art that I keep discovering, and, with Bette’s blessing, that site will remain there forever. It’s funny, people keep emailing from Dave’s past, even now, shocked at his passing.
The first student has been selected and she has TALENT! Dave would have loved it. He’d have been a bit surprised and would have wondered, out loud, as to why he should be selected for such an honor, but I suspect that deep down he’d have understood and more than approved.
To honour Dave we discussed various things and ultimately did what Dave was best at – helping others. At Bob Shaw’s urging we established the Dave Simons Inkwell Memorial Scholarship. Each year the Joe Kubert Art School will select a promising student who submits organic inks - inking with a pen or a brush, nothing digital - and that student will be granted $1,000 to assist in their tuition, in Dave's name. To be able to write the announcement and my own memories of Dave to be read out at his memorial was very emotional for me, and I’m honored that Bob Shaw read it, and even more touched that it received a standing ovation.
Dave was about helping people develop their own unique skill set. This is an extension of what Dave had been doing since the day he sat at the feet of Frank Robbins and got the advice that set him on his way, shortly before Robbins set himself on fire, in a story that could only happen to Dave.
DanP: I think it's a very challenging time to be an Inker. With printing technology and computerized coloring, many comic books can bypass the inking stage altogether. In many cases, the results are breathtaking. However, a lot that success is a combination of the right kind of pencil artist and a very talented colorist. Removing the inker from the publishing equation saves the company money and comic book companies are a business when it comes right down to it. It can make a lot of sense to a publisher. So, today's Inker or Finisher needs to bring something very special to the table. I think that's a good thing. It raises the bar and when the bar is raised only good things can happen. Publishers will begin to recognize that quality sells books. I believe fans recognize skill. I think we're going to see some very impressive things happen in the future.
JimmyT: Inkers I know are all working. In fact, I know a few pencilers inking their own work.
Joe Sinnott: The best time to have entered the field as an inker was during the 1960s, 70s and 80s. There were more companies, more books; the explosion of the superhero genre made it an exciting period to be working in. The creation of most of comics greatest heroes made it all the more enjoyable.
BobA: Good job with that list, Mark!
10) What about for the aspiring inkers out there, what kind of tips can we give them as they think about pursuing a career in this field?
JimmyT: There are a lot of inkers and the jobs are not as plentiful as they were before as opposed to penciling and coloring, I would expand as well as inking to keep busy if they want to do it for a living.
DanP: Learn to draw. Study as much art as you can. Your inking will improve and you'll begin to see what the pencil art is trying to convey on a whole new level. Trust me, every edge you have will help you land a better job and increase your chances for more work.
Joe Sinnott: First of all, try developing your drawing skills - that's most important! Also, experiment with all the tools - pens, brushes etc. and find one that is comfortable and suits your ability and stick with it.
11) With the formal presentation at Wizard happening what do you guys see as the future of the Inkwell Awards and the inkers and inking industry of comics?
JimmyT: It will take time to grow. Hopefully Wizard will give us a shot in the arm and get the name out to a wider audience.
BobA: the future may be uncertain but for the time being I'm not convinced that the need for inking will significantly diminish let alone disappear. There's always going to be a need for inked art. Doing it on a computer leaves no original art to sell or collect and not everyone can afford or handle the technology, although that will surely change over time. Publishers don't care what tools artists use, as long as it's good and on time. I think the public has seen that while there are some exceptions to un-inked art or digital tool inking looking good, the majority looks better inked as the craft is about quality, and quality is always a valuable commodity.
Joe Sinnott: The prospects are limitless what with the new techniques available - remember, it's the inker who is the final, and in my opinion, the most important cog in the wheel!
DB: To those who ask why is inking vital, I say just look at some of the stuff that’s out there now and you’ll see. It takes a very talented penciller to create an entire book ready to be shot from the pencils only, and not many can pull it off without it looking, well, unfinished. I love John Romita Jr's pencils, but I doubt I could stomach an entire book of them. As much talent as JR Jr has, he looks far better when someone such as Klaus Janson finishes the work he produces.
With the industry moving towards digital inking – read darkening of the pencils – and away from organic inking, the need to educate people is even more vital. The last thing anyone should want is for inking to become a lost craft.
12) Anything else anyone wants to put on the table?
BobA: Anyone here want to plug their latest projects or businesses?
Joe Sinnott: For those of you who don't know, I "retired" from comics in 1991. However, Stan Lee asked me to help him out for a while and ink the Sunday Spider-man strip for King Features. That was over 19 years ago, and I'm still inking Spidey. 2010 marks my 60th year working for Stan Lee.
BobA: Wow....well, nothing will top that achievement, but does anyone still want to follow-up from Joe? He seems busier than most of us for a 'retired' artist
DB: I hope I live to sixty, let alone work for sixty years doing something I love. Way to go Joe! My wondrous other half and I have finally taken the plunge and become publishers – with Blaq Books. We published the recent Gentleman Jim Mooney book (thus fulfilling a promise made over five years ago) as both digital and print versions, and have several exciting projects in the pipeline, including the long awaited Norm Breyfogle biography, an overview of the little known Newton Comics company of Australia (read how they ripped Marvel off in the mid 1970s), a stunning graphic novel from Steven Bove and some biographies on comic book artists that’ll surprise more than a few people. I’m always open for ideas and people who wish to collaborate on biographies and history.
DB: Life is good, man!