Eye on Comics

Comics criticism and commentary from Don MacPherson

The Thin Bluelines

Posted by Don MacPherson on September 14th, 2014

The world of collecting original comic art is experiencing a boom in recent years, but there’s more going on than increases in interest and prices. The very nature of original art available out there is changing as well, and a lot of it stems from digital advances in the creation of comics. Finding a page of original comic art with lettering right on the board becomes increasing hard when one turns one’s attention to pages created in the past 20 years, given the rise of digital lettering in the mid 1990s. Today, digital lettering is the industry standard and likely won’t be found other than on some pages that are written, illustrated and lettering by a single creator.

But pages of original comic art without lettering are hardly a new development. However, boards featuring only pencil art or only ink art are becoming more and more common, and while a lack of lettering didn’t impact value in any real perceptible way, separate pencils and inks are definitely changing the market. More and more often, thanks to advances in digital scanning, pencillers will send scans of their pencilled boards, and inkers end up working on what’s usually termed as “blueline scans.” In many cases, that creates two boards that go into producing one page of original art. One could argue one of the reasons original comic art is seen as being so collectible and rare is because each piece is (or at least was) one of a kind. But when it comes to blueline scans, are there now two one-of-a-kind pieces of art? Which of the two boards are the original — the pencils, or the inked blueline scan that was actually used in the production of the comic?

Walden Wong, an inker whose work has appeared in innumerable DC and Marvel titles in the past couple of decades, said inking blueline scans of pencils has its advantages, not only for the publishers but the artists as well.

“Inking over blueline does seem to be the standard these days. It gets the work from one artist to another much faster. That said, gives them more time to do a higher quality piece of work, as supposed to rushing a page because FedEx at up all the time due to the wait for shipping,” he said.

When it comes to collectibility, longtime inker Drew Geraci said while collectors may prefer original pencils and inks together on boards, people shouldn’t overlook the quality and value of inked blueline scans, or the original pencilled pages, for that matter.

“If you love art on boards, your opportunities are going to be increasingly limited as time goes on. Bluelines are the industry standard now. Inking on boards is an exception for projects that are allotted a Fed Ex budget. I’ve been quite successful in my own right, so my inks over another adds value,” he wrote in a message to Eye on Comics. “Bluelines are not as expensive as pencil-to-ink boards, but they are legitimate for collectors, and as time goes on and bluelines are sold by inkers at conventions (published ones) the market will increase. I’ve sold bluelines for $100 or more on a splash page. Pencil-to-ink splash would go for $300+. It all depends on a buyer’s budget.”

Original comic art collector George Zollinger has more than 1,000 pages in his collection, and a number of them are inked blueline scans of pencil art, and the Boston resident is fine with them.

“I think for some people these are fine as collectibles,” he told Eye on Comics. “I think inked pieces are definitely considered originals even if they are a blueline. I also think that inked pieces represent an artist being involved. I think though blueline pieces are still cool to look at and show the original artist’s work, (and) so have value. It helps that they tend to be printed on official art board and not photocopy paper. The other thing I sometimes find is that sometimes it is not clear that the pencils were even kept. So some artist’s agents seem to only have the blueline, which is surprising.”

Geraci said that in his experience, a tiered hierarchy for original comic art and its collectibility has emerged. He said pencils to inks all on same board are the most desirable. Bluelines over pencil scans for publication aren’t as desirable as pencil-and-ink work, he said, but depending on the pedigree of the inker, or the quality, they can still desirable. The least sought-after original comic art, Geraci said, are blueline samples that haven’t been published.

“Blueline inks by a pro who was hired by DC or Marvel or Dark Horse is legitimate artwork that has value, as many art fans appreciate the detail. Not as much value as an inks-over-pencil board published by a big company, but it’s increasingly hard to find as the years go by,” he said.

Eye on Comics asked that since blueline scans command lower prices than full pencil-and-ink pages, if it was possible artists missing out on potential revenue. Geraci didn’t seem to think so — at least not for established artists in the industry.

“Jimmy Cheung’s inker Mark Morales showed me an entire portfolio of the Avengers story they did for Free Comic Book Day. It was all bluelines and gorgeous, as Mark is an incredibly gifted inker. So Jimmy sells his pencils separately. I don’t know what Mark prices his work at, but lots of art appreciators will admire a Cheung/Morales page and buy it because that was what was published,” Geraci said. (Correction: It was Morales’ work with Leinil Yu on Secret Invasion, not an Avengers story with Cheung, as Geraci notes in the comments below.)

“Mark McKenna did a two-page spread of Grifter shooting at ghostly demons and sold it for $350! And it was a beaut! Fans may prefer pencil/ink pages, but have an appreciation of the inker’s contribution and if they love a piece they will shell out $350 for a spread in blueline form, as long as it was legitimately the work DC hired him to do and published.”

Zollinger frequently sells original art pages on eBay under the ID of spacetrash2009, and he was one of the few sellers with items listed under the “Original Comic Art” category on eBay who noted when a page was an inked blueline scan right in the title of a listing when Eye on Comics did a search for the term “blue line” in that category recently. He said inked bluelines definitely command lower prices.

“If I had to guess a price hierarchy of most valuable to least it would be: ink/penciled piece, pencil piece, ink over blueline, blueline, color guide, production transparency, stat page, and least value is photocopy,” he said, noting it’s important for people to know what they’re getting into — and for sellers to be knowledgeable about the nature and origins of the pieces they sell.

“I have to admit I didn’t truly appreciate the difference for a while, and frankly was annoyed that few people even mark pieces as such, sometimes not even in the description. I think that is either ignorance (which happened to me) or being deliberately misleading. Bear in mind, most scanners don’t show bluelines very well at all, so the pictures would look like either penciled or inked artwork. So you might not know until the piece shows up. I try to be diligent about calling it out and do so in the title as I think that information should be front and center. Sometimes that means I don’t even list the artist in the title, so that information is very important to convey to potential buyers.”

Wong said while he understands inked blueline pages tend to sell for less than pencil-and-ink pages, his experience is he’s not out any money when it comes to selling his work.

“When pencillers and inkers work on the page together, the penciller usually get two thirds of the original art back while the inker gets one third of the original art. With blueline inking, the inker gets to keep all of the pages,” he said.

“Mathematically speaking, the inker can ideally sell blueline inked pages for one third the cost of original inked pencils pages and the income would be the same as if they sold one third of original inked pencils in full price. Only difference is, selling more pieces over selling fewer pieces. Same goes for the penciller. If original pencils were inked, they only get back two thirds of the art. If it was bluelined, the penciller gets to keep all of their pages and sell more pieces. Even if it’s sold for less, they have more pieces to sell which covers the lower price sold. In a way, it all comes up the same.”

But if there are two versions of a page of comic art — the pencils and the blueline inks — which one is the original? The pencils? The inks from which the comic was printed? Both? Wong said it ultimately falls to the individuals collecting those pieces to decide for themselves.

“Think about it this way: when you’re buying pencils, every so often, you see another page of the layouts that the penciller have done. Are they original pencils? They came first, just not as polished as the finish pencils, correct? So with that, there’s an original piece of art for layouts and an original piece of art for final pencils. Two pieces,” Wong said.

“Which one is worth more? That’s up to the collector. What started it all? Or what’s the completed final product? Now with blueline inking, you’re just adding another factor to that layout/finished pencils set of pages. Now you have a layout page, a finished pencil page, and an inked blueline page. Which page is the one that started it all? And which of those three pages is the one that’s used for printing? Which is desirable? Again, it’s all up to the collector.”

A potential pitfall of the rise of blueline scans as a means to create comic art, Wong pointed out, is how easily those scans are printed and available for artists other than the inker who worked on the actual comic-book project to embellish and offer for sale.

“If some up-and-comer sells replicas, it should be specified on the auction, or written on the side. On my blueline pages for Marvel and DC and Disney, I always write (example): ‘Original published blueline art for Marvel (C) 2014.’ Outside the borders, sometimes at the bottom, sometimes the side, depending on space. Sometimes the scans are off, so the image will not be centered,” Geraci said. “Thankfully, I’ve been a veteran for 20 years and I have somewhat of a rep, so people know I won’t rip them off. Every blueline I do is a ‘1 0f 1’ (I was asked that at a show).”

He acknowledged having a digital scan of the original pencils allows for artists to keep printing and inking the same work, but it’s not something he would ever do or even be interested in exploring.

“I would never re-do art I’ve worked on – talk about boring! There’s always new art to make,” Geraci said.

Recently, there were two auctions on eBay for what appeared to be the same page of original comic art. Both were for Page 1 from The New 52: Futures End #15. One was original pencils inked by Geraci, the other was an inked blueline scan of the pencils, done by another inker. Geraci is the person DC hired to ink the page in question, and it was the pencil-and-ink ink art board that was used to produce the comic book.

The duplicate page was posted first on eBay and closed with a winning bid of $158.49 US on Aug. 27. Geraci’s page closed about a week later and commanded a final sale price of $200 US. The first auction didn’t overtly state the inker in question wasn’t the original inker on the project nor that the page wasn’t the art used in the final comic’s production, but it also didn’t overtly state that it was.

In such scenarios, Wong said, collectors need to keep those trends and possibilities in mind when deciding to purchase new pieces that are inked blueline pages.

“I have read about other people taking scans and inking up pages and them trying to sell it as the original inked pages. For a collector to buy a page like that, they should at least see if the inked page is by the same inker that did the page that’s credited in the book. Pull out that book to see if the lines are the same,” he said.

“If someone is going to spend hundreds of dollars to buy an original piece of blueline inked art and is unsure of the page, it would do them some good to pull out the book and look to see if the ink lines are the same as the published book. The effort it takes to look in a book to see if the linework matches would be the same effort a comic-book collector would open up a comic book to see if it reads ‘second printing’ or ‘reprint’ on the book’s indicia.”

Zollinger said the danger is definitely there for people to use blueline scans of pencils to dupe collectors, but he suspects it probably wouldn’t be worth the effort in most cases.

“I haven’t come across an example of someone doing it to deceive people. EBay from time to time lists someone doing an ink job over a copy of an artist’s pencils. But I suppose a forgery could happen. I suspect that would only happen with top-end pages. Forging a $200 page is probably not worth the time,” he said, noting however people should realize there are also legitimate reasons for a second copy of an original art page to be produced.

“Also sometimes original art gets recreated because the original was damaged but they needed the page to do a reprint. I have an example that Bob Wiacek had to do of a George Perez page from his classic Wonder Woman run. So it’s a recreation piece that didn’t involve the original artist but is based on it and was used for the generation of the graphic novel. So I consider it original art, but clearly not as valuable as the original piece that Perez did. I think if the seller is upfront about the origins of a piece, then having multiple instances of a page is fine. But I think the page needs a clear marking so that over time it doesn’t get confused as the original. Even the artists themselves frequently do recreations of their own pages and covers. I suspect though that copyright lawyers would argue that anything other than the original is a violation of copyright and should not be accepted. At the end of the day, some pieces I own I picked up because even if it wasn’t a true original, it was cool to own a neat piece of art.”

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2 Responses to “The Thin Bluelines”

  1. Drew Geraci Says:

    Update: I meant to say Mark showed me bluelines of Secret Invasion over Lenil Yu, Not Jimmy Cheung’s Avengers, but forgot, since it was years ago.

  2. Emanuele Peveri Says:

    Great article! Really dig into the question of “value of art.” So thanks Drew, Mark McKenna & Mark Morales for your “over-pencil” work that’s hugely appreciated.

    The point is that pieces of art have value only if they are unique. If there is blueline, original pencil, finished blueline and so on, what’s the value of what? The answer is simple to me, and it’s no value. No economical, nor historical.

    I think that the beautiful and amazing job that colorists do have a backlash that is killing the inking art. They electronically cover a fine texture done in hours in a blink of the eye.

    How many times poor pencils have been embellished so much that final art had became memorable. It happened also that poor inkers have ruined gracious pencils, but IMHO I think this didn’t happened often.

    So once more, all hail the inkers and pencilers that continue the “old” way. Time will prize them.