Bill Sienkiewicz Talks Inking Neal Adams’ Work

Legendary comic book artist Neal Adams passed away on April 28, at the age of 80. Since his passing comic book creators and fans have reflected on Adams’ influence and inspiration. Bill Sienkiewicz took the time to talk about his conversations with Adams with respect to what it was like to ink Adams’ pencil work. Sienkiewicz posted the below message on Facebook.

On inking Neal.

Neal and I would have countless discussions about his pencils and what he felt inkers did or did not do with his pencils. He was quite candid about who he felt did or did not capture what he was going for. ( and no I’m not naming names.)


He was the first to admit his pencils were deceptive; they looked very tight but were remarkably open to interpretation due to his use of the side of the pencil and of gradations of pressure. His pencils were actually quite painterly, often to the consternation of inkers who were not being hired to do grayscale or washes in their finishes…. Not that printing would accommodate them anyway.

As a result, he felt a some inkers (and in some cases ones that fans absolutely loved) missed the point of his pencils, actually often didn’t quite capture what he was going for. He felt many inkers ( both of his work and of other pencilers whose work had a full value range of blacks, whites and grays) inked the pencil lines themselves and NOT the values of said lines, with the resulting art having areas that Neal felt “punched holes” in areas of transitions, ruining the turning of the forms.

Because we ALSO discussed painting and the importance of tones, values, grays etc. I actually felt I understood what he meant.

I saw Neal’s pencils not strictly in black and white or binary terms, but very much value-dependent in context/ value-driven, and that’s what I personally tried to capture in my inks over him.

I didn’t try to ink the pencil line as a one-to-one ratio, (- i.e., one part graphite = one part India ink) I tried to ink the relative value of it, something admittedly challenging when not using grayed or watered down ink. This often meant inking some lines thinner or thicker to approximate the ‘grayness’ of said line in context. And context is key.

It wasn’t something he asked me to do; it was something I found exciting and challenging and was my own peculiar way of addressing my inking of him.

Turns out he actually liked what I did .which thrilled me. I mean thrilled me no end.

But damn, when I was “off”, he’d would not hesitate to call me and proceed to discuss what I’d done, or failed to do.

“Hey kiddo…. About page 4 panel 3…“

To be honest, I loved these conversations, which almost had the opposite effect of making me want to capture what he was looking for.

They made me give occasional thoughts to “how can I mess this up in just the right way so Neal and I will able to talk for a few hours?”

In fairness, turns out he”d also call if he really liked something I did, so I didn’t have to resort of any nefarious inking screw-ups.

I’d honestly just like to think he actually enjoyed shooting the shit and talking art with a friend.

Gonna miss those talks.

-Bill Sienkiewicz

Below is a great example of Sienkiewicz’s inks over Adams’ pencils.

Neal Adams and Bill Sienkiewicz Batman: Odyssey Unused Page Original Art (DC, 2011)
Neal Adams and Bill Sienkiewicz Batman: Odyssey Unused Page Original Art (DC, 2011)
Matthew Sardo
Matthew Sardo
As the founder of Monkeys Fighting Robots, I'm currently training for my next job as an astronaut cowboy. Reformed hockey goon, comic book store owner, video store clerk, an extra in 'Transformers: Dark of the Moon,' 'Welcome Back Freshman,' and for one special day, I was a Ghostbuster.