Funny Cartoon Inking - A Look at Various Styles

out of the inkwell cartoon funny inking

In the comments section of the last post about Michael Cho's lessons on Thoughtful Inking, Chris Allison brings up a good question:

" you think this has applications to funny comics? I've noticed all my favorite funny comics generally use really flat compositions and mostly just trace simplified cartoon characters (with sparing shadows).
I dunno, I love
Wally Wood's artwork, but I'm not sure it makes me laugh out loud like Don Martin or Kliban. Just like to hear your thoughts as this pertains to COMEDIC applications. And everyone else's opinions too!"
Hey Chris...that's a really great question! I had to think about it for a while, so here's my take:

Michael Cho's examples range from the flattest , clear-line extreme on one end to the most high-contrast extreme on the inky side. I would agree that in funny comics, there's not much use for the heavy black Charles Burns/David Mazzucchelli/Mark Zingarelli type inking, but SOME funny artists have a pretty bold thick-and-thin chiaroscuro ink line:
Walt Kelly Pogo brush inking

Dan Gordon's funny-animal inking follows this pattern...
Dan Gordon heavy brush inking

Most classic
funny-animal guys like Carl Barks and Harvey Eisenbergavoid bold inky contrasts, but their inking is still subtly thick-and-thin to help delineate form and force.

The heavy black stroke on cartoon characters' knees and elbows often describes coiled-up action rather than anything literal.

carl barks uncle scrooge inking

Harvey Eisenberg Foxy Fagan inking
Dilbert scott adams inking

Pearls before swine stephan pastis inking
Some cartoon artists use a dead, unvarying line weight to add to the deadpan comedy feel of their strips.

Think Dilbert and (one of my few favorites on the current comics page) Pearls Before Swine by Stephan Pastis.
When I say "dead," I'm not saying it's bad. It CAN be very effective in these cases.

There's also another group of cartoonists who use a supple and simple line-weight, punctuated with heavy spotted blacks.

Peanuts and B.C.
have lots of black to keep the page looking interesting,

Hank Ketcham's Dennis the Menace has some of the most beautiful comic inking the world has ever seen!

Peanuts by Charles M. Schulz inking Lucy Schroeder piano

Johnny Hart B.C. inking

Hank Ketcham Dennis the Menace inking
So I would say there IS an application for funny stuff, but it's not necessarily as important as it is with dramatic comics. Whatever looks funny is funny!

Don Martin's drawings are funny
because Don Martin draws FUNNY!

I wouldn't look at this stuff as "rules," but rather just more valuable tools that are available to use if you're aware of them. Thoughtful choices are what it's all about. I frequently say that as long as you have a reason for doing something in a drawing, it's probably a good choice.

Hey readers; what are YOUR thoughts???


Bob Flynn said...

Really interesting breakdown, Sherm. I think you can read a certain degree of visual quality in how someone inks...but "funny" comes from the drawing itself, the pacing, and the writing. Michael Cho uses his blacks to get at a certain realism, and he uses light and shadow to establish mood.

I've always thought of line as the framework of my drawing, and I use color to punch up the emotion or mood I want to create. To help things pop or recede, too.

Of course, line can have a ton of personality on its own. But if you just work in black and white--its useful to know how to block in your blacks. Cartoonists don't use enough black as a whole, I think.

Larry Levine said...

Hi Sherm, Great post!!!

Inking is serious business, as a southpaw cartoonist I know first hand (especially the one I avoid smearing with).

Berke Breathed is another great inker, especially beginning when Bloom County hit it's artistic stride in 1986.

Chris Houghton said...

Wonderful post Sherm!

deniseletter said...

Great post!!!What a variety of styles in inking.I also consider especially valuable those with the simple use of ballpen.

Sherm said...

Bob -- I think you're right on when you said, "but 'funny' comes from the drawing itself, the pacing, and the writing." when you talked about helping things pop, it made me think about the comics by Franquin that I'm reading now.

Larry --glad you liked it!

Hey Chris, thanks!

Hi Denise -- I never really thought about all that variety in inking styles until Chris Allison brought it up in his more reason comments are really helpful!

chrisallison said...

Thanks again, Sherm! It's great to see this stuff illustrated right alongside your words so a visual person like me can grasp at it.

Long live Cartoon Snap!

Crimson said...

"The heavy black stroke on cartoon characters' knees and elbows often describes coiled-up action rather than anything literal."

I've seen that before worded a little differently, I'm tempted to blame Vincent Waller since I vaguely recall it having some connection to Spongebob, but it may also have been you. It's such a strange statement...

And I do mean. I am calling shenanigans unless you can show a few examples (even one would be surprising, but not evidence of any meaningful trend). I've not seen one, and I've been looking for awhile (across a broad selection of classic cartoons & comics).

Far as I can tell, putting heavy linework anywhere that doesn't correspond to light and volume (especially on a cartoon style character) is a bad, downright non-functional idea. But I'm game to be proven wrong.

Sherm said...

Hi Crimson...I see there were some broken links in this post, so now that I've fixed them I can send you to some good examples. In the Foxy Fagan comic referred to above, you can see that the ink line on Foxy's knees and butt get thicker as they round the curve of the knee and butt -- but there's no relation to light or shadow. See and then look really closely at all the ink lines throughout that story at . Eisenberg doesn't use the technique in every panel, but he uses it a lot. Also see the cartoon inking of Carl Barks, Harvey Kurtzman at, Floyd Gottfredson and especially Dan Gordon at

Sherm said...

D'oh! More bad links! For Harvey Kurtzman inking examples, take a look at Potshot Pete comics at

Crimson said...

Thank you so much for taking the time to respond on this.

I'm still not seeing it, though. The contours you point to in Foxy Fagan here I read as a matter of conveying volume -- simply assuming overhead lighting, heavier line weights are used at the bottom of forms. Otherwise his face and ears are also coiled with potential.

Kurtzman's Potshot Pete appears to have fairly uniform contour lines throughout, though much heavier (possibly inked with a very large round brush). In a few places there's the same sort of 'heavy side down' simplified lighting cue (though Kurtzman here is using a lot heavier shading, with more definite shadows). Other than that, variance in contour line weight seems to reflect only the natural widening and tapering of a quick brush stroke. Awesome action lines on the figures throughout, but nothing I can spot as line weight used to signify compression... Again, variance that may fit that notion don't explain the same variance used elsewhere, as on a motorcycle handlebar.

Crimson said...

And with Dan Gordon it's the same (LOVE Dan Gordon!). Most of the notably heavy contour lines fall along the bottom of the volume. You even remarked on how heavy that came out with the bearded old man.

In there's a slightly heavy line on the girl's rump that might apply to this theory... but that's a stretch.

You may be onto something with Carl Barks. I'm looking at some samples from my own collection and he doesn't do volume signifying heavy lines the way these others do, nor does he use heavier contour lines. His line weights seem to have no rhyme or reason at all... but there are some heavy lines along the curves of duck knees and feet.

Crimson said...

Going through more Barks I see some variation over the years. It doesn't look like he liked to vary his line weight much within a figure but does a lot of 'broken line' effects with lines tapering to nothing at either end.

I see a few cases where he did use the heavy line at the bottom trick -- seems mostly reserved for cover pinups. Guessing he wanted the characters to feel weightier for the covers, but light on the page. Just guessing. Might just be that those covers weren't inked by Barks.

Where I do see significant use of line weight is variance between foreground, midground, and background subjects.

Sorry about multi-posting. I'm honestly looking -- just not seeing.

Where did you learn about this technique?