Monday, October 11, 2010

The Delineators

There is certainly no shortage of great ink artists in the world, past and present. Hal Foster, Alex Raymond, Al Williamson, Wally Wood, Berni Wrightson, Joe Sinnott, Tom Palmer, Mike Mignola, Adam Hughes, the list goes on and on. Great artists all, and each of them capable of teaching us something unique about the expressive use of line.

Hell, Dave Sim has basically made a second career out of recreating and discussing the art of great inkers in his comics series glamourpuss, which shows that there are enough smudge-fingered, cross-hatch loving weirdoes out there to sustain a regular comic about it. Who’d have believed it?

Today I’d like to put forward my personal vote for the very best artist ever to dunk a brush into an ink pot.

Frank Frazetta.
Frank often used a lush wash technique
on some of his work.

But was equally at home
with a black and white

The style is perhaps less relevant today than in the past, but his deep facility with the medium is undeniable. What I love most about his inks is that he uses a very “painterly” technique. When seen reproduced in grey tones, we can detect the washy quality of the blacks, the loose, yet heartbreakingly accurate placement of the feathering, and the highly developed sense of form. And, for me at least, the black and white stuff has all the same explosive energy found in his color work.

The guy was amazing with color, no question, and his output of truly great inked work, though copious, was confined to a relatively short period of his career.  Due to this limited productivity, I think Frank is often overlooked when the ink nerds begin their heated comparisons of the top delineators. He is sometimes disregarded in favor of those who spent the larger part of their lives in service to the brush and pen.

Well, not on my watch. The guy was awesome!

I certainly can’t take anything away from the juicy blacks of Milton Caniff, the lyrical brushstrokes of Alex Raymond or the endearingly scratchy looseness of Mike Kaluta, but for me Frank always had his inks firing on all cylinders. Great structural drawing and design underneath with superb feathering, outstanding black placement, and painterly verve on top. 

For me at least, that’s the magic combination.

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