INKBLOTS: Name that Inking Style

SUPERMAN UNCHAINED # 2 cover art (2013), pencils: Jim Lee / inks Scott Williams (DC Comics)
Jim Lee pencils, Scott Williams inks

This almost sounds like a contest, inkmeisters, but, while it isn’t, I would honestly welcome some input of your own after reading about this topic. And today’s topic takes a look at the inking style that many credit Scott Williams with establishing. To describe it, this is the approach that is most-often applied exclusively with only pen quills/ crow quills and often not utilizing traditional line weight distribution as referred to in my past column “Line Weight Theory” (Sketch#31: “Approaching a Page”). The lines can be clean like brushwork lines but they usually have a much more angular manner and harder edge to them. Sometimes they are stylized using things like doubling up an adjacent thick and thin line and using ‘dots & dashes’, something vet inker Al Milgrom has amusingly referred to as Morse Code Inking.

UNCANNY X-MEN # 2, v. 2 (1991), Jim Lee pencils, Scott Williams inks (Marvel Comics)

I first recall seeing this technique being applied by Scott in 1989 on UNCANNY X-MEN which adapted well to and reflected the similar in approach pencil style of Jim Lee. But this ‘look’ saw wide-scale usage by the early to mid-’90s as Lee dictated the popular style and his peers began to simulate it. (Plus, the improvements in paper and printing quality, and the subsequent innovation of digital colors, allowed this delicate line work to show off better than before.) Being that Image Comics was formed in 1992 and Scott was the most-prolific inker in that company and they were based in California, this newly-adapted inking style was often referred to as the ‘Image style’ or the ‘west coast style’ of inking. Some other inkers to debut with this approach with or following Scott include this partial list: Tim Townsend, Danny Miki, Dan Panosian, Art Thibert, D-Tron, Sandra Hope, John Dell, Mark Morales, Batt, and Alex Garner.

UNCANNY X-MEN # 111, v. 1 (1978), John Byrne pencils, Terry Austin inks (Marvel Comics)
UNCANNY X-MEN # 141, v. 1 (1981), John Byrne pencils, Terry Austin inks (Marvel Comics)
UNCANNY X-MEN # 112, v. 1 (1978), Byrne pencils, Austin inks (Marvel)


What I find most-intriguing is who’s inking work influenced Scott early on. I would have guessed Terry Austin since he was one of the few (perhaps the first) ‘rockstar’ inkers from the ’70s and ’80s and he worked exclusively in quill on everything (except a brush to fill in large black areas) which wasn’t common at the time. And Terry often rendered these super-thin, clean lines that it seemed to me Scott was later able to mimic and display himself. (Interestingly, the printing process wasn’t kind to Terry and at one point the plates were made of a less-resilient, non-metal material, and sometimes his thin lines would show up in print as wavy squiggles from the plates warping.) But while he may have chosen his pens as his key inking tool ala Austin, Scott has stated for the record that his primary inking influence was actually Klaus Janson!


DAREDEVIL # 183, v. 1 (1982), Frank Miller pencils, Klaus Janson inks (Marvel)



SQP MARVEL SUPER-HERO PORTFOLIOS (1981), Frank Miller pencils, Klaus Janson inks
Ghost Rider/Wolverine/Punisher: Hearts of Darkness (1991), John Romita Jr pencils, Klaus Janson inks (Marvel)

Even though Klaus worked with a lot of brush and was far more organic and textural with his looser style (he rarely relied on straight-edges or templates) than a Terry Austin was, it was his super-thin and super-thick line weight extremes that Scott tried to capture in his quill work. So that was the genesis, even though their styles look nothing alike. Personally, I would imagine that, besides Terry, some Bob Layton inks would’ve also have had an impact on him if you look at how Bob also utilized his line weight extremes, and how he had a slick, hard-edged and angular line instead of a more organic one, especially his metal textures and Iron-Man renderings. Besides, both Bob and Terry’s inks even employed an early version of the ‘dots & dashes’. So I would imagine the probable ‘holy trinity’ to this Williams’-inspired inking direction to be Janson, Layton and Austin.

IRON MAN # 129, v. 1 cover art (1979), Bob Layton pencils & inks (Marvel)
IRON MAN # 126, v. 1 cover art (1979), Bob Layton pencils & inks (Marvel)

But an actual and accepted label for this inking trend has been elusive. I would’ve imagined that a name would’ve been nailed down years ago but nothing has quite stuck. ’Image style’ isn’t relevant anymore since Image Comics no longer has a ‘house style’. And Jim Lee’s Wildstorm Productions transferred over to DC Comics some time back so the only ‘old school’ wing remaining at Image with this general style still being somewhat prevalent is Marc Silvestri’s Top Cow Productions. And certainly the inkers adapting this style are not based solely on the west coast anymore to fit the ‘west coast style’ moniker. Would pen-style, dip-pen style, or quill-style be more fitting? Should we name it in honor of the pioneer himself, Scott (‘Williams’ style’)? Or simply stick with the original west coast and Image labels due to the origins of the technique? Or something else entirely? I’d really love to hear some feedback about this from established inkers in the field. It honestly seems to me that a distinct inking style deserves enough props to receive a valid name after two decades of existence.


Below, more Jim Lee/Scott Williams examples of his ink work. All images in this article TM & (C) respective owners

FANTASTIC FOUR # 1, v. 2 (1996)
BATMAN & ROBIN, THE BOY WONDER # 1 cover art (2005)
UNCANNY X-MEN # 277, v. 1 (1991)

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