I’ve talked about this on twitter and Facebook a bit but haven’t had a chance to properly address it here. Last week, Friday’s strip marked my return to brush and ink. REAL brush and ink, as in a Windsor Newton Series 7 # 2 and Windsor Newton India Ink. For you completists, I’m working on Canson 2 ply bristol, vellum surface (the ONLY surface for brush work in my experience). I made the switch after reading a chilling article about an animation colleague named Sharon Forward and her harrowing experience undergoing emergency surgery to repair a damaged retina. Sharon goes on in her account to postulate, and reasonably so, that the cause may have been all those hours she spends with her eyes inches away from a Cintiq, the now required tool for her job as a story artist in animation. I immediately mentally gave my own work habits the once over. I don’t think I spend as much time at the Cintiq at work as Sharon does, but if you add in the time I spend drawing Chippy and Loopus in Manga Studio? Well then, we are there and then some. I sat here at my desk staring at the Cintiq 21UX I’ve owned since January of 2006 and contemplated my options. I turned my head about 45 degrees to the right and stared at the large Mayline table I purchased in 1999. It was covered in bills, scraps of paper and other detritus. My tool drawer was still brimming with pencils, pens, nibs, and most importantly, brushes and inks. The choice was clear: I’d go back to doing the strip Old School.
I’m not going to lie, it was intimidating, staring at that blank strip of bristol. I wound up missing Wednesday’s update due to this brief bout with performance anxiety. How did I do this again? I just kind of blocked in the characters, right? Yeah..but what If I get the sizes wrong? Well then grab that eraser, scrub down the board and try again. Finally, I began.

Holy crap, you guys. It was like…hearing Van Halen’s first album in vinyl again. I pencilled the strip, and after shooting a quick photo to record my progress, I dove into inking. I was rusty, at first, tenative with the brush. I gripped it too hard. Then, it all came back…and I started having fun again. I realized that while I inking with a brush on actual bristol forces me to pay attention to the drawing, to really feel it out. I read somewhere that Bill Watterson does VERY loose pencils and prefers to find the drawing in the inking stage, something that I found impossible when inking digitally. Not so with a real brush. I felt like I could improvise a bit with a brush, really improve the drawing as I inked.  As I inked my way through the strip, I cursed myself for not pencilling a few more so that I could just keep inking. Then it struck me: this was why I always wanted to be a cartoonist. This was the real joy of cartooning. An ink-loaded brush on bristol. Finding those thicks and thins.
Why is it that I don’t find that joy in digital inking? I have a theory: you are disconnected from the drawing by at least one factor, possibly two. You are using a stylus,  which is a reasonably balanced tool on a slick, glass surface. There is a proxy inking your drawing for you, a program helping force the pixels to behave in a way that simulates how you might ink this on real paper. But it ain’t real. It ain’t live, it’s Memorex, or worse. It’s all just 1′s and zeros.
I still use the Cintiq for compositing and fixes, I still use the font instead of hand lettering, I use the Manga Studio tones rather than cut out zipatone.

But inking, man….I don’t think I can go back. Maybe if I’m REALLY behind I’ll bust out my Surface Pro and jam on a strip, or if I’m traveling.
However, now that I’ve rediscovered the real joy in Cartooning, it will be very hard to do this any other way.

Thanks for listening.

John