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October 2, 2009

Behind the Scenes with Bob Almond Talking About the Inkwell Awards

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An inker with nearly two decades of experience in the job, Bob Almond officially began the Inkwell Awards in January of 2008. It was a program that grew out of his column in Sketch magazine (“Inkblots”) the previous year, and has been instrumental in bringing positive attention and recognition to what he calls “an oft-misunderstood and maligned art form.” Almond and the rest of the Inkwell team offer an annual award to show appreciation for the best inking work done in comics over the past year, and they also run a site that Almond describes as “a one-stop resource hub for ink art explanation and education consisting of tutorials, interviews, and features on inking, among other items. And we have an inker database in the works as well.”

As Almond puts it, “Inkers are part of the support team that makes the penciler look even better. We elaborate and enhance the drawing, editing and reinterpreting it in ink. A favorite analogy of mine is that we’re the bass player to the penciler as the lead guitar. We don’t get the attention the lead guitarist, the rock star, does and we accept that. We just like to inform and show appreciation and respect for work well done that may fall under the radar.”

Almond has also been doing some good above-the-radar work, including the Dave Simons Inkwell Memorial Scholarship Fund. The man it is named after passed away this past June after a long battle with cancer, and Almond, working with Simons’ sister Bette, is using the program to contribute $1,000 a year to art students at the Joe Kubert School of Cartoon and Graphic Art. “We hope to be a long-term positive force in the community, and you can’t have too much of that,” Almond says.
 
Here, we get to know Almond a little bit better.
 
 
 
Do you remember your first comic book or graphic novel? If so, what was it?
I don’t remember my first comic book…. I think it was a few DC issues. And I don’t recall my first Marvels, as my dad would buy a few at a time. But I can remember what the first issue to all my Marvel issues were back in that late 1976, early ’77 era. Avengers #155, Fantastic Four #177, Amazing Spider-Man #166, etc. In many cases, I can tell you who did the covers, interior credits, and even the title!
 
What do you love about the graphic novel as a format for storytelling?
Sequential art storytelling has the same potential excitement and creativity as film but you also have the dynamic artwork, which has no budgets nor limits. You can adapt any genre, any style, any mood, control pacing, build tension, everything a camera and set can do but you can draw in as many bodies, buildings, landscapes, and special effects as you/the artist want without worrying about extras, traveling, props, CGI, etc. and the higher costs involved. The sky, hell, the universe is the limit!
 
Whose work do you admire?
The pencil work of George Perez inspired me to become a comic-book creator. Also loved John Byrne, Frank Miller, Neal Adams, Sternako, Jim Starlin, Gene Day, Jack Kirby, Bernie Wrightson, and so many others. But if you mean in inking, there are several, like Terry Austin, Josef Rubenstein, Bob Layton, Mark Farmer, Tom Palmer, Joe Sinnott, Klaus Janson, and many more.
 
Who do you read outside of the graphic novel format?
Does TV Guide count? Nothing really; I’m mostly a comic reader, and even with that, time hasn’t allowed me to keep up like I used to, just my Comics Buyer’s Guide. I blame the time it takes to skim through the internet daily.
 
How many graphic novels do you read a month? How many of those are manga?
None, regrettably, and none, as I’m not a manga fan.
 
How did you first get involved in the field professionally?
In art college, we had to do a project where we interviewed an artist and produced work in their style. A fellow student had some comic book artist contacts and I got Bernie Wrightson’s phone number and called him up for an interview, something that I am still aghast of due to the sheer audacity…. I’d never do that today! Anyway, he invited me, my brother, and my girlfriend (now wife) to his annual Halloween party in upstate New York (I’m from Massachusetts) and after a few years, he and his neighbors would gather artist friends every other month to show each other their work and used the event as an excuse to eat, drink, and hang out. That was my cue to bring my portfolio and through Jim Starlin, Bernie’s local bud then and one of my inspirations, I was hired by Jim’s editor to work as inker on Jim’s new series Warlock & the Infinity Watch, which spun out from the Infinity Gauntlet back in 1991.
 
What kind of reaction do you get when you tell people what you do?
Fascination, but that usually leads to confusion and an explanation as Joe Everyman generally thinks that comic books are done by one or two people and not a list of folks who each perform their own craft. And describing my role as inker leaves them clueless as they have no reference point to understand the position, as inking was created within the comic industry simply as a production skill to expedite the art creative process. The general public understands what a writer or a letterer or a colorist or an editor or even what a penciler does, but once you say “inker,” the status comes with a paragraph-long description. Hey, it’s a livin’!
 
Do you collect comics? What is the most valuable piece of art, graphic novel, or comic book in your collection?
Even though I started in the mid-’70s, I have a collection going back to the Silver Age due to my early purchases of back issues, mostly Marvels as I was a Marvel Zombie (back when the term referred to a mostly publisher-exclusive fan, not a series). I have the entire run of Avengers volume one (my favorite title) with the first issue signed by Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, and Dick Ayers. I have some other highlights, like Amazing Spider-Man #3 signed by Stan, Giant-Sized X-Men # 1 signed by Len Wein and Dave Cockrum, Incredible Hulk #181 signed by Wein and Herb Trimpe, etc. Most of my collection are in archival preservation supplies and in mid- to high-grade.
 
Is there something you covet adding to your collection?

Geez, I guess every Marvel issue that I’m missing from the Silver through the Bronze Age! I’d take the EC Comics series, too. But in the real world, I’m happy to have the Marvel Masterworks and Essentials editions and the set of Russ Cochran’s EC New Direction hardcovers.