You get a page from a penciller that may or may not be late and immediately have to set to work emulating his style while adding some of your own in under the tightest possible deadlines.
And, in return for your hard and diligent work, you receive what is arguably the littlest amount of credit of the entire creative team. When a page looks good, the penciller gets all the glory. When a page fails to live up to the standards set by readers, bad inking is an easy excuse for a penciller.
Despite calls from some quarters for an end to the entire inking profession in favor of digital alternatives, traditional inkers continue to persevere throughout the industry, adding their own individual stamp and technique to the work they are doing. One of these artists is Drew Geraci, one of the most reliable, accomplished and prolific inkers in the industry. You probably are familiar with his name, as he’s inked virtually every longstanding mainstream ongoing series at some point or another, including such titles as “52,” “Sojurn,” "Gen13" and “Green Lantern Corps.” But you probably don’t quite know about all the passion that goes into every one of those pages. Read on, and soon you will.
How did you get into the comic industry?
I worked as an advertising executive in my early '20s and it became a job that I hated more and more. I decided to quit and give two weeks notice because I was working 14-hour days every day, even the weekends, on a flat salary. Then my boss had a heart-related operation and I had his work assigned to me as well, so I thought, "His future will be my future" if I didn’t get out right there.
I decided to devote myself to breaking into comics. This was the early '90s, and at that time there was so much low-rent crap out there that lowered the bar to the point where I thought I could break in. [laughs]
I remember how horrible the watered-down imitators of Liefeld were, and I was certain I could do it better. There used to be this huge barrier between professional and non-professional artists, but at that point it seemed like fan art was somehow passing as acceptable.
What was your first big gig?
I met the soon-to-be Reverend Dave Johnson, the famous cover artist [of “100 Bullets”], at Dragon Con in Atlanta. He was one of the local talents, and he was kind enough to give me his phone number and sent me some samples. I got two pages done late one week and turned it around, working my ass off to get those pages done. The samples I lightboxed were from “Chain Gang War,” a DC book Dave did for a year before he hit it big with the first "Superpatriot" series for Image.
It was a Thursday when he called and left a message on my machine saying he really liked it and wanted me to be his assistant. I was giddy like a schoolgirl, and I remember playing that message over and over.
I had just gotten married, and after assisting Dave for a couple of months, I decided to make the leap from working to being his assistant. My wife had a good cry, but she believed in me, so for the next six to eight months we got by with very little money. I would have done it for free, but he gave me both money and my name in the credits, and I’ll always be thankful to him for that. He was real good to me.
How much has your artistic style matured since those first few jobs?
Beyond the stratosphere, in my humble opinion. I’ve absorbed so much since the days when I was pretty much a tracer. It was later on when I was working with Greg Land that I started doing half-tones and textures, and now I really adapt myself to whatever the job is. I feel like I can ink anybody now since I’ve been commissioned to ink over Gene Colan and artists like that.
What do you think were some of the major breakthroughs in your career?
When I first got Greg’s pages for the 1998 "Birds of Prey: Black Canary/Batgirl" one-shot and saw all the half-tones in pencil form, I had no idea what to do. But [“Gun Fu” creator] Howard Shum generously informed me to use a china marker to handle it, and I also learned a lot of dry brush, which I loved doing. More recently, my work on "52" really brought a lot of attention to my work [inking Pat Olliffe], and I'm very proud to have had a part in those stories.
What are your favorite works?
I’m extremely proud of the five issues of “Thor” that I did with Scot Eaton [#75-79]. We both busted our humps on that, because in three months they double-shipped “Thor” twice. We came on at the tail-end of the Dan Jurgens’ years-long storyline that apparently people had gotten tired of, and neither Scot nor Dan got the recognition they deserved.
My biggest regret is that we didn’t stay on “Thor” after that. We had the option to do the “Ragnarok” story with Michael Avon Oeming, but we decided to jump on “Captain America” instead because we thought Cap would've been higher profile, but the guys at Wizard went apeshit over the final issues of “Thor.”
I’m also proud of the “Birds of Prey” stuff Greg and I did, and the first half-year of “Sojourn” at Crossgen.
Tell us a little about your experience over at Crossgen.
I’ve been pretty public with my displeasure. I was a true believer the first few months there, but the big man on top, who I will not mention by name since he likes lawsuits better than comics, did everything he could to boil the enthusiasm out of us.
A lot of us were rugged individualists who got into comics because we wanted to strike out on our own. But we would be hauled into these meetings to get screamed at, just because one or two people would be causing trouble. And as the company bled money it happened more and more. I know it wasn’t directed at me necessarily, but the negativity (that we were ordered to ignore), came from the top down.
Another problem was the continued animosity the company promoted toward Marvel in some interviews. You don’t bring fans in by insulting other people’s tastes, you can be a fan of both.
And now about 70% of Crossgen’s former artists are Marvel exclusive. Irony!
In general, it was a very personal time and I must have loved it on some level or else it wouldn’t have hurt me so much when it went under.
Are you normally a Marvel or DC guy?
When I was a kid, I was a huge Marvel fan. But then, in the '80s, I was getting more and more DC as the pros began to jump back and forth from company to company more often. When Dick Giordano was Editor-in-Chief at DC I started to read more of their books. And that opened my eyes to First Comics, Eclipse, and other indies that I loved.
Let’s talk about your current gig, “Green Lantern Corps” How familiar were you with the characters and world when you jumped onboard?
For the longest time I never was because Hal Jordan was such an ambiguous character, and it wasn’t until recently that they finally started defining him. But I’m happy to be on “Green Lantern Corps” because that is when I started to pick the book up, twenty years ago, when Englelhart & Staton changed the “Green Lantern” title to “Green Lantern Corps” and Guy Gardner and Kilowog showed up.
Have you been following Geoff Johns’ run?
I did some work with "The Sinestro Corps War," and DC was kind enough to send me the hardcover of the issues, and that’s when I really got into it.
How did you get the gig?
Timing. I had a week to kill between my deadlines on my final issue of “Gen13,” and the first issue of “Casey Blue,” a new book for Wildstorm. I had no other work, and I don’t like sitting around for a week not making any money, so I called Eddie Berganza and asked if there was any extra work.
He asked me what my commitment was to Wildstorm, and I told him “Well--it’s funny you should ask. I've done a cover to a new series but haven't started on interiors.” And he told me Prentis Rollins was moving on from “Green Lantern Corps” and the book needed a new inker, and I told him I would love to, I just wanted to have [Wildstorm editor] Ben Abernathy's blessing first. He’s been a great editor for me for so long, and that’s the reason I stayed on “Gen13” for a whole year.
Was the fact that Patrick Gleason was penciling a big part of the decision?
Frankly, I wanted a higher profile gig, and “Gen13” was being universally ignored, sadly. Ultimately, you want your stuff to be seen by the most people possible, and “Green Lantern Corps” is a really cool book with a lot of great stuff coming up in the new year. It’s an exciting time to jump on for readers.
I inked a few pages of Patrick’s on issue 17 or 19, and I know he is an underrated artist. He shares a studio with Doug Mahnke, and they have similar styles, which I enjoy because I get to sculpt a bit while inking. There’s room for me to invest myself more in the artwork.
Is the job open-ended?
It’s open-ended as long as any of us want it.
Guy Gardner is one of my favorite characters of all time because of the design of the costume and his general snotty attitude.
Have you altered your style at all for the book?
Eddie Berganza had encouraged me to use my judgment more than I normally would. Pat throws so much on a page, but it’s not finely focused. I can go in there and edit some while I ink. I can fine-tune things that may or may not be a rock or a fist. Pat puts so much crazy detail in there. Wait'll you see how nuts issue #25 is!!!
Eddie wants me to ink a little more like Dexter Vines and make the style beefier. I can do that since Dex and I both started out assisting Dave Johnson.
Three or four years ago, several editors and experts within the comic industry were calling for an end to inking comics in general, but today it is still going as strong as ever. Why do you think inking remains such an essential part of the medium?
Frankly, I thought it was going to go away. That’s partly why I went to CrossGen. I thought if I knew inking and I went to the company, they might train me in computers or something. But at the time that happened, Marvel was in bankruptcy and were doing a lot of financial shortcuts. But it wasn’t a magic band-aid.
I can’t believe I am still inking in 2008, but at shows people tend to enjoy watching me ink, but I am still working on other aspects as a back-up, like writing and penciling. So if one day there is a royal proclamation that there shall be no more inkers, I can move on.
Now when are you going to dive in and pencil a book?
Actually, when they start offering me work. [laughs] I’d rather do a small project on my own for my portfolio to launch my penciling work into other books. A friend of mine, Tom Nguyen, is doing the same thing right now and has made the transition with “Radioactive Adolescent Black Belt Hamsters.”
As much as I respect inking and have always enjoyed it, I’m not going to count on that ten years from now. I would like it to still be around, but I won’t be a fool and sit around and be unprepared.
So you are also interested in writing?
I’m working on a book right now that Chuck Dixon is editing for me as a favor. He’s been so helpful and generous with his time.
The book is about “Behind the Music” meets “The Sopranos.” In a small fictitious town near Chicago, a band is trying to make it, but there are problems with the mob. More details are coming.
The biggest thing that Chuck helped me with was his call about the essence of the story. The rock-and-roll aspect and the mob aspect were originally backdrops of a superhero story, Hotwire, and once Chuck read the scripts he said he loved the way I gave the characters individual voices, but told me I had to drop the superhero because that was the least thing he was interested in. I ruminated over two or three weeks about that before getting rid of the superhero element. I was telling two stories and got caught up in the B-story of the rock band so much that my A-story got lost.
My cousin Sean was in a band for seven years when we were growing up, and I saw a lot of crazy things firsthand. I know what it’s like to wrap up beer-soaked electrical chords at three in the morning on a Sunday, and I know what an uphill battle being in a band is.
It is kind of like a metaphor for what I am doing, the uphill battle I have trying to break through the barrier with my own project.
Ready for the lightning round?
What was your first comic book?
“Captain America” #145. It was Cap verses Hydra on an airplane. I think it was called “Sky-Jacked.”
Has there ever been a comic that touched or changed your life?
Casy Blue #2 cover progression, inks by Drew Geraci
I would say “Watchmen” #5, with Rorschach’s origin. It pretty much screwed up my world-view for a long time, and that’s no lie. It’s so bleak that I was young and impressionable and it messed me up for life, thank you, Alan.
If you could only do one book for the rest of your career, what would it be?
Oh golly. I’ve had the pleasure of doing almost every DC book, so it would be a Marvel book. I would say “Marvel 2-in-1" which had the Thing team up with a different character every month. Can you believe in the 100-issue run there was never a Thing/Hawkeye or Thing/Wolverine ?
What is the best comic book movie ever made?
I wish both “The Dark Knight” and “Iron Man” were out already, because they are both serious contenders. But right now, “Spider-Man 2.”
Weirdest convention experience?
I had some guy run into me at Chicago, look up and point and yell “You are an ink god!” I looked over my shoulder, not knowing who he was talking to, and he gave me his cell phone and made me talk to his friend in another state. It was an out-of-body experience, that I certainly drank up. I was taking a dip in Lake Me. [laughs]
If you could only be remembered for one thing in your career, what would you want it to be?
I want to be remembered the way I remember Terry Austin, Bob Layton, Murphy Anderson, Dick Giordano, etc... all the great inkers.
Coming up in REFLECTIONS: Prepare for an explosive month as we get to the heart of BOOM! Studios. We’ll start with Editor-in-Chief Mark Waid talking frankly about leaving DC for his new gig before looking at several upcoming BOOM! releases in-depth from industry veterans like Steve Niles, along with up-and-comers like Chris Morgan and Kevin Walsh.
And after BOOM! month concludes, Kurt Busiek and Greg Rucka are stopping by for their turn in the hot seat. Excited yet?