When I was a student at the Cartoon Centre in London, David Lloyd would sometimes take a fat marker to a student’s lovingly finished pencils and obliterate half the panel in solid black to illustrate the power of ink. He did it to me more than once. And while inside you scream as black envelopes your precious work, with luck you absorb the lesson. You learn bravery, and balance, and the value of black. And with time you realize that those precious pencils weren’t worth saving after all.
Ink frightens me. It’s so black, so solid, so permanent. My comfort zone lies in pencil sketches, which are soft, mutable and contain infinite shades of grey. Perhaps because I’m lessed skilled with it, I often find ink stills and deadens the picture. Which is why most of the illustrations in Allaigna’s Song are pencil sketches darkened just enough to reproduce well in a black and white publication.
But sometimes a story requires solid black and white. ‘The Wolf’ is a poem by Kimberleigh Smithbower Roseblade. Originally a spoken-word piece, it is full of contrast between the wild and vicious ‘wolf’ — the poet’s autoimmune disease, lupus — and her health, represented by the walls of her home. The words are direct and visceral, devoid of ambivalence or shades of grey. For this story, pencil sketches would not do.
When I must ink, I normally use a fineliner, creating a cartoon overtop of the pencils. I then use a brush pen or chisel tip marker for shadows and depth. This is the safe, minimalist approach. This time though, I pulled out old fashioned brush and inkpot, and let the liquid black pour onto the page.
It was scary and liberating all at once, and pulled me right back into my student days with David. It’s too early for me to tell critically whether I’ve made the right call, but my gut tells me this suits the story.
‘The Wolf’ will be printed in Pulp Literature Issue 4, Autumn 2014.