Tim Townsend, in a relatively short period of time, has forged his place among comicdom's top inkers for his enviable talent and his uncompromising attention to detail. From his very first days, working briefly as a background inker [an artist that assists an inker with backgrounds as well as secondary figures, etc], he displayed work that was rich with promise.
Tim never missed an opportunity to ask questions and look at his work in a critical and constructive manner. Each job was an opportunity to improve and focus on weak points and develop a unique look in an industry full of artists content with following the status quo. Over a short period of time his work on the X-Men became one of the most polished styles in the business. Each page, no matter what the content, is a testimonial to his dedication to the craft.
It's truly no wonder that he's remained the X-Men's top inker for so many years.
DANIEL BEST: What's your background? Where you were born, etc etc
TIM TOWNSEND: I was born in Peoria, Illinois in January of 1970. I was adopted at birth and immediately moved to Cape Coral, Florida. Iíve been in Florida for most of my life since, currently Orlando.
DB: What was your first exposure to art and comic book art?
TT: My very first exposure to comics thus, comic art, was when I was 4. My dad took me by a 7-11 and I noticed a comic book rack filled with those plastic bagged 3-packs. Remember those? The books on the outsides of the 3 always sucked but you never knew what treasure might be hidden in the middle. I took my chances and ended up with an old Charlton E-MAN comic by Joe Staton. I thought it was pretty cool but what really lit my candle was the 7 page ROG 2000 back-up story by John Byrne. This was one of John's earliest gigs'. I honestly donít know what it was but I was literally hooked on John's art from the moment my young eyes beheld it. Even at that early stage of his career his work had something special in it that just grabbed me. It might as well have been heroin. I was hooked. From that moment on I decided I wanted to draw. Not only that but I wanted to draw comic books like John Byrne! I began collecting comics to find more and more inspiration. Some other early†memories are of P.Craig Russel's KILLRAVEN work, Jack Kirby's classic MARVEL stuff via pocket comics and trade paperbacks, Steve Ditko's Doctor Strange and Spider-Man, Frazetta and, VERY importantly, John Buscema's HOW TO DRAW COMIC THE MARVEL way. Once I eventually got my hands on that treasure I was off to the races. I still have†my original 1st printing hard-back. All the pages are embossed from years of me sitting there with a pencil and tracing paper, going over each and every detail of each and every page. Yeah, I started out tracing.....how ironic.
As an interesting aside, a number of years ago I was able to purchase the 7 original ROG 2000 pages from John that got me started. I donít know if John ever realized what that meant and means to me to have them.
DB: What prompted you to become an artist?
TT: Honestly, not to beat a dead horse, but John Byrne did. Iím not kidding you when I say I was obsessed with his work from day one. I actually had a filing cabinet in my bedroom that was reserved strictly for John Byrne comics. I even learned how to forge his signature. I forged a big John Byrne signature on the front of that cabinet and kept it under lock and key. Yeah......I was a bit nutty. John continued to inspire me throughout my youth and in to my young adulthood. He still does in fact. Of course I picked up other heroes along the way but I credit John with opening my eyes to this wonderful world. I hope I donít sound like a psycho stalker here.
Iíve had periodic interactions with John over the years, once in person at Walt Disney World and several times on line. I even got to ink him once on an X-Men: Hidden Years cover. I can honestly say Iíve never been so nervous and I did a horrible job.
DB: What are your main influences?
TT: I wonít say John Byrne, I wonít say John Byrne. Ok....other influences are Michael Golden, Walt Simonson, Bill Sienkiewicz, Frank Miller, Jim Lee, Joe Madureira, Chris Bachalo, Ashley Wood, George Bridgman, Jeffrey Jones, Barry Windsor Smith, Mike Mignola, Windsor McKay, Bruce Timm, Arthur Adams, Terry Austin, Scott Williams........I could go on for hours. Iím terrible at listing things. I started out in comics as a penciller. I did some indie stuff while I was in college and ended up landing an assistant inking gig at IMAGE having never truly inked anything in my life. Inking was a complete mystery to me. I thought it sounded easy and it was my "in" so I jumped on it. I had no idea what I was in for. 12 years later and Iím still doing it.
DB: How was the transition from pencilling to inking for you?
TT: I suppose it wasn't really much of a transition because Id only just gotten my feet wet with pencilling. Even though I had never "truly" inked anything I could hardly call myself a real penciller. Every pro' has that first few jobs that they dread coming back to haunt them in the future. They learn as they go, get better, and move on. Well, I got snatched right out of the pencilling nest by the inking gods from the get-go. I sucked as a penciller and I sucked even worse as an inker. Since inking was my real "in" to comics thatís where I really cut my teeth. But getting back to your question, I guess the transition was more of a lateral move than a backwards or forwards one.
DB: Who would be the major influences on you as an inker?
TT: In the early part of my career Iíd have to say that my biggest influences were Dan Panosian and Art Thibert. Dan is the guy who got me my assistant gig' and the one who really trained me. Arty was there as well showing me the ropes. The three of us shared an office for a while and I would just sit there in the corner at my table and TRY to do as I was told. Two better teachers a fledgling inker couldn't hope for.
Once I left IMAGE for MARVEL I found myself on my own as opposed to the studio environment I had started in. It was then that I really started to get a feel for what inking really was. I still sucked horribly and would for a few years but I did begin to truly understand what it is I was trying to do. Prior to that I think I was just trying to keep up with everyone around me and not look like a complete idiot. Thereís something liberating about being on your own. Thereís no one looking over your shoulder and itís easier to take chances. Since I was finally beginning to understand inking I was able to really look around†at my peers and understand what I was seeing. I was able to study the art figure out why this was this and that was that. At that point I think I was really being wowed by guys like Alex Garner and†Scott Williams. Since I was strictly a nib inker at this point I was really enamoured by the brush guys like Mark Farmer and John Dell but the work itself was still beyond me.
Fast forward. At this point in the game, I think†my biggest inspirations are Scott Williams (the one and true king!), Klaus Janson (still beyond my abilities), John Dell (pure butta'), Joe Weems (pure fun), and Al Williamson (pure freedom). I pride myself at this point on not being tied down to one style. I rarely ink two different artists exactly the same way. I like to be as versatile as possible but there are still some things I canít do as well as others. Iím influenced by a wide array of people. Some of this inspiration finds its way in to my work while the other feeds my hunger.
DB: In your eyes, what does an inker bring to the art table? There's so much said about an inker being a tracer and the like - how do you view those claims?
TT: Ahh....the "T" word. I think, at this point in the game, thatís a dead horse. Letís all let Kevin (Smith) off the hook and move on. Anyone who honestly thinks that inking is tracing is either not interested in comics to begin with or just wouldn't be intelligent enough to understand the explanation. Honestly, if it was that easy why wouldn't everyone be doing it? Why would some be considered better than others? Why would some be held in such high esteem by so many? Itís really a crime the way inking as an art form is generally dismissed by the public. Do we really need WIZARD to say inking is worthy in order to turn our attention towards it? If the droves of fans really understood that every single line they're looking at in their favourite (Inked) books were placed there by an inker and could see what the pencils looked like before hand, I think the THUD from their collective jaws hitting the floor would be loud enough to.......well.....it would be really loud.
In a band the bass player is probably the least glamorous gig' one can have. Who gives a crap about bass players (except other bass players)? Well take that bass out of the music and what are you left with? Get my drift? Inking is far more than playing bass. We're responsible for more than just one aspect of the art. I love bass players BTW.
Iím not going to go off on my Digital Inking tirade. Iím on the record in a dozen interviews explaining whatís cool about it and whatís not. The bottom line is that about 95% of digitally inked books look like crap. We all know it, the fans know it. They just need to speak up about it to the people who make the decisions. See? There I go again.
Back to your question. A good inker should bring 50% visually†to the table in my opinion (sometimes considerably more!). †I think every page should be treated as an individual work of art. Iíve never gotten rich off this philosophy but, at this point, anything less just wonít cut it for long. Inkers are a dying breed. We're at war and we all need to bring our A game every time we lay down a line. If people don't care about what we do we need to make them care. Believe me, they'll care like hell when we're gone and ALL the books look like...........grrrr....I wont mention titles or names. You know the books.
DB: There's a lot of pencillers who obviously feel that their pencils don't need inking. Outside of Gene Colan I can't think of anyone who's pencils can't be enhanced by an inker - a good inker that is. Now it appears that some publishers aren't that fussed with inking, sketch covers are everywhere and some comics have gone straight from pencils to the colouring stage. Any thoughts on this?
TT: Plenty. Its going to be tough to answer this without going on my patented tirade so bear with me. There are many reasons†this is happening. First and foremost we have ego's. As you say, there's quite a few pencilers out there who don't think their pencils can or should be enhanced. Are some of these guys correct? Absolutely! Im going to keep names out of this on both ends of the argument for obvious reasons. We all know who they are and they all know who they are. Regarding the guys who shouldn't be doing this, I think we have "The Emperors New Clothes" syndrome. When you're surrounded with people who tell you you're perfect in every way day in and day out, when you go to conventions and have fans tell you how wonderful the work looks, one can't really blame them. What they don't hear is the talk behind the scenes. Some wouldn't care anyway......but I think some would. Look, many of these guys can pull off a passable comic with digital inks. That's evident. If passable is good enough for a penciler and good enough for the fans then we're heading in the right direction. We'll have dozens of mediocre looking books to choose from. When ALL the books look this way I guess no one will notice because there will be very little truly inspired work to compare it to.
I understand the arguments for the digital process. The companies save a little money (very little), a little time (very little), and the penciler gets to keep ALL the art. More money for them. These are all pretty sound business decisions when you get right down to it. The thing that needs to be brought to the forefront though is that we're also talking about ART! Be warned, Im a purist and an art snob.
I don't believe in compromises and a lack of integrity when it comes to art. Well.....I suppose there's always a compromise or two no matter what you do but you get my point. It's just hard for me to understand why someone wouldn't want their art and product to look as good as it can. Isn't that worth just a little extra time and money? Has good enough become the rule of the day? I'm afraid it's heading in that direction (yet another reason I'm stepping away for a while). There are exceptions to this and these people still have significant enough numbers to make a difference. Inking isn't dead yet and I know quite a few pencilers who realize its need and worth. Once ones ego takes control in art (or most other arenas for that matter) one stops questioning themselves and listening to others hence, they cease to grow. Confidence is good. Cockiness is self destructive.
The bottom line to this argument is quality over quantity, integrity over ego. BOTH sides are valid and I make no bones about that. I've chosen my side. You, fans and pros' alike, need to chose yours.
DB: With the advent of computers, do you feel that inking, or indeed even pencilling and colouring, are rapidly becoming lost arts?
TT: With the exception of inking, I don't think any of these are in danger of becoming lost. I think the thing in question is the process, the tools. I'm no technophobe but I do find it hard to imaging myself forsaking the pencil, pen, and paper all together. But I never say never. The art is in the inspiration, it's within us, our minds, our souls. Humans adapt. If there were no more pencils, pens, paper, OR computers, we'd just find other tools to implement. Computers are definitely opening up some new horizons. The thing that worries me about the computers however, is that it almost makes things TOO easy. So much of the thought process and execution can be done by the computer itself. When you take the tool out of the human hand and eliminate that imperfection you eliminate the soul of the art. We humans are imperfect beings and we do things imperfectly. How many of you artists out there have had those "happy accidents" when drawing, inking, painting, composing, whatever?! You know, those accidents that literally make you jump back with joy and say "WOW! I never would have done it that way intentionally." There's a lot of masterpieces out there that consist of these imperfect, happy accidents. Again though, I'm not knocking computers. I think they're a wonderful tool to achieve a specific vision, a means to an end. But when you come to rely on them beyond a certain point, in my opinion, you have the art equivalent of a zombie, a soulless creation.
DB: Have you ever gotten an inking job where you've scratched your head and said "I can't ink this" for any reason whatsoever? (be it that the art was just too good, or even worse - just too horrendous).
TT: Moreso in the early years. Since I wasnít very versatile I was very restricted to what I felt I could do effectively. I turned down a few really cool pieces because I felt I wasnít the right guy for the inks. To this day I wont take a gig' unless I feel I can do the job it deserves. Beyond that, Iíve turned down jobs that were pencilled on really bad paper. Professionals should use professional paper. Trying inking something on a napkin and you understand what I mean. I also wonít ink a job over someone whose pencils are worse than mine. At that point other temptations enter the picture and I donít have the time or the patience for it.
DB: Is there anyone out there who you'd proverbially sell your left arm to ink?
TT: Hmmmm.....Id love another crack at Byrne again. I inked JR. Jr. once on a cool THOR promo' but I always wanted another crack at him. I've worked with Jim Lee before but would also love another go. Dale Keown, Michael Golden, jeez'.....I know there's many. I have a tough time pulling names out of thin air. I used to have a laundry list but I've been fortunate enough to be able to†pair it down considerably over the years. I know 20 names are going to pop in to my head as soon as this is over.
I'd love to do another project with Joe Madureira someday. I think it would be fun to hook up with Joe again. We always had a lot of fun.
DB: Any thought of returning to pencilling? The recent Spider-man that you did was fairly impressive.
TT: †Well.....yes I suppose. I guess Ill go ahead and break the story here in your interview. I recently made the decision to step away from comics later this year once Iím done with my obligations at MARVEL. I arrived at this decision for several reasons. One reason is financial. I just work way too hard for as little money as there is to be made in inking these days. Iím faced with either compromising my artistic integrity and hacking out two or three pages a day (which I wonít do) or finding other options. Iíve had a plan for a while now to get in to the advertising business with a friend of mine who has built a great company and has more work than he can handle on his own these days. I like the idea of A) working with my best friend B) Working 1/5 as hard and C) making 5 times the money. I know, this sounds like a classic sell-out. Before you jump to that conclusion, I have other reasons. Iíve finally begun to feel the first signs of burnout. Iím not skipping to the drawing table every day like I used to and its beginning to feel like work. This isn't a good thing when it comes to art in my opinion. Itís not good for me creatively and itís not fair to my pencillers to not be getting my all. Iím still giving it my all by the way and Iím literally burnt out yet. I can just feel it coming. Iíve seen it happen to friends in this business and Iíve seen what it can do. I LOVE comics, I love comic art, and I love inking. The thing is that I want to continue to love it forever and ever. Id like to step away while that love is still intact and, in the process of doing so, perhaps replenish some of my creative juices. Iím not leaving all together. I'll keep one foot in the door. I could NEVER leave comics entirely. My hope is that by making more money and working†a few less hours, this will allow me to refocus on my pencilling and do the comic related work for fun, for pure enjoyment, just like the good ol' days. Also, by working in the commercial art biz', Ill be able to hone many other skills that I don't get to use on a daily basis including my pencilling. The art itself may not be as gratifying but, when I think of this plan as a whole, it all just makes too much sense. Iím actually REALLY excited about the new things on my horizon. So don't write me off the list folks. I'll be lurking in the shadows. 8) I probably wonít be taking off until late this year.
Also, I'd like to add how amazing my experience at MARVEL has been. Itís been 11 years there now and I literally donít have a negative comment about anyone there. I mean that. Iíve truly been blessed by the people Iíve worked with like†Bob Harras, Mark Powers, Mike Marts, Joe Quesada, Ralph Macchio, Axel Alonso, Jenny Lee, Stephanie Moore, Molly Lazer; the list goes on and on. Iíve always been made to feel like I was important, needed, and valued. Iím indebted to all these people and to MARVEL in general. Though Iím stepping away Ill still consider myself part of the MARVEL family and plan to keep working for them anytime I can. Sorry for the melodrama, I just need to say that.
Regarding the SPIDEY piece, yes, that was a trading card for Upper Deck. Thanks for the kind words. I had a blast colouring the piece since the whole colouring thing is brand new to me. This is only the second thing Iíve ever really coloured so the learning curve is pretty big.
DB: You're not the first artist who's decided to leave comics for advertising - the money is better, the workload is lesser (I think it might have been Paul Smith who once said he made more off the one ad campaign than he did in his entire career in comics) and the benefits are obviously there. Artists as far back as John Buscema in the '50s left comic books for advertising. Is the comic book industry one that lends itself towards the 'chew 'em up and spit 'em out' syndrome?
TT: I think the comic industry, like most,†is what you make of it. I'm speaking from a standpoint of an established pro' who isn't beating the pavement every day to find work. When you have the luxury of only worrying about the work itself and making deadlines, at the end of the day, you're your own boss. Its up to you how much you want to put in to a page and how many hours you want to devote to your work day and/or night. There are those fortunate souls who do BRILLIANT work and have very simplistic styles that lend themselves to being less labor intensive. God, I hate them. 8) There are others who do insanely intense work and still manage to pump it out at a seemingly effortless pace (this is partially tongue-in-cheek and not meant to downplay the hard work these guys do). Then there are us mere humans who really have to bust our humps just to keep up. I think the latter group is, like myself, more susceptible to burnout. If we're not careful then yes, we can be chewed up and spit out. Also, another thing to remember, you're only as good as your last job. No one is truly safe in this biz'. For every established pro' there are a few dozen hungry new young-guns just dying to take their spot. There's a certain pressure that goes along with that as well. It's definitely a high stress job some of the time.....at least for me.
DB: When you decide to leave for the greener pastures of advertising, will you keep yourself active, comic book wise, by accepting commissions?
TT: Most definitely. As I said, I could never leave all together. I'm going to make myself available to certain editors and pencilers for smaller inking gigs', covers, and the like. I'm sure I'll also be able to take on more commissions. Traditionally I've done very few commissions mainly due to work load and time issues. All of the comic work I do I want to be able to do for fun and not for the paycheck. This is the biggest reason why I'm stepping away, to not only preserve my love for the medium, but to grow and nurture that love so that I can grow as an artist. I'd love to be able to do some comic work all on my own, something that I'm really proud of. I'm hoping that this decision will allow me the free time I need to develop my skills further and to do some work that I can stand behind. I'm doing this because I LOVE comics. And there's always the chance I'll crash and burn miserably and come crawling back with my tail between my legs. I have to state that to give myself that "out"!
DB: You're known as one of the more active players when it comes to collecting original art - when did you start that up?
TT: I actually started collecting original art before I got in to comics professionally, while I was in college. My first real art purchase was a Jim Lee/ Scott Williams X-MEN†page. Getting this page in hand was an eye-opening experience for me. There's just something about seeing an original up close, to really see the lines on the page, to even feel the textures. You canít get that from photo copies and especially not from the printed books. It helped to kindle that fire in me. Obviously, being in college, I had a pretty limited budget so collecting art was a very rare and special treat. Once I began making some money at IMAGE I immediately started buying up everything I liked that I could get my hands on. I actually spent my entire first professional comics pay check on original art.....and I that was just about all the money I had at the time. In the long run it has REALLY paid off. Iíve managed to do some pretty crazy deals lately involving pretty insane money based off of art I got when it was still cheap. Itís hard to justify to my wife why I just spent half my yearly income on one piece of art. I made a rule a long time ago that money in the collection stays in the collection. I may sell pieces Iíve done myself but, with a few exceptions, Iíve tried to maintain the integrity of my collection and build on it. Itís proven far more successful than stocks and bonds for me!
DB: Has being a professional artist made collecting art any easier?
TT: Most definitely. We're in the unique position of being able to, for all intents and purposes, print out own money. Thereís nothing like trading your own artwork for a classic piece of art from an artist you adore. There have been times when I almost felt guilty.....almost. Itís also very gratifying to see your own art in the collections of others and to think that someone feels as strongly for it as I do for that of artists I collect. I think the single coolest aspect to collecting comic art for me has been the people Iíve met and the friends Iíve made. The comic-art collecting community has one of the most diverse cross sections of international cultures of any group I can think of. Iíve been lucky enough to meet and many times befriend people that range from kids, housewives, and clergymen to famous musicians, Hollywood writers, producers, directors, and actors.......and all areas in between. Itís just awesome on so many levels.
DB: You're also active in identifying the occasional art forgery when they surface. Do you find that some people either don't want to know that they've been duped, or merely don't care?
TT: Iím pretty tenacious when it comes to this for some reason. There are quite a few new people coming in the hobby every day and even more people waiting to take advantage of them. EBAY makes it even easier. I try to stay in my areas of expertise but, when I spot one, I take whatever steps I can to bring it to light and take care of the situation. It just takes one moron to ruin it for everyone. When it comes to things like Bill Watterson and Charles Schultz originals, I just don't have enough time of expertise to chase down all the EBAY frauds. The Schultz's can be tough to spot in regard to the sketches but heres a good rule of thumb for all you new guys. Bill Watterson does not sell his originals and never has. Only a VERY few legitimate originals have made it in to the marketplace and are firmly in the hands of collectors. Unless a piece comes with EXTENSIVE proof of provenance, you can pretty much count on it being a fake. And yet there at least 3 or 4 new ones on EBAY every month, some from the same sellers. I just thought Iíd take advantage of this to get that particular word out.
DB: How do you feel the industry has changed since you broke into it, other than what we've already covered?
TT: The good: Things seem to be looking up these days. Aside from the digital corner-cutting, there are some really nice books coming out. There seems to be an emphasis on writing again which I think is wonderful. The bar keeps being raised and there always seems to be someone willing to step up and hurtle it. Sales, though not what they used to be (nor will they ever be again), are solid and don't seem to be in the steep decline that we were becoming accustomed to up until a few years ago. When I first entered the biz', the streets were still lined with gold. Sales were still insane as was the money. Obviously that has long since passed. I look back at those times as sort of a bonus, something I was fortunate enough to experience, be a part of, and benefit from, but I don't consider it a reality. So, aside from the golden years, things got really bad, and then pretty darn good again.....as if I'm saying something everyone doesn't already know.
The bad: Things are more "corporate" now. Though we're all friends, the daily inner workings at Marvel (my only real source of experience)†are a bit less.....family like. I totally understand why. Itís a different time and the nature of the business world and the reality of our fan and sales base doesn't afford us the luxury of slacking off. Marvel had a huge hole to dig itself out of and, in the process; many hard decisions had to be made. Marvel is a business first and foremost and should be run as one. My comments aren't as much a complaint as a lamentation.†I guess things just used to be more.....fun. But maybe that's just me.
DB: Do you have any advice to offer anyone who's thinking of being a comic book professional, be it writer, penciller, inker, etc?
TT: Go to college, get an education, and learn how to draw. Don't put all your eggs in this basket because, chances are, you wont make it. That's the cold, hard fact of the matter. Have an education to fall back on, a Plan B if-you-will. If you're insane enough to pursue it further, be prepared for a lot of criticism and LISTEN TO IT! Keep your ego in check and realize that no one cares who you are, only what you can do. This market has a surplus of talent and a shortage of projects. You're going to be competing with seasoned pros', some who have been doing this for decades, for the same jobs. You must be better or at least more marketable.
Inkers especially need to be on their toes. Learn what the heck inking is. Learn how to draw. Anyone who thinks inking is a job for failed pencillers or an easier route to go hasn't got a clue and probably won't have a prayer.
It's a tough business to be in. I suppose if you have what it takes; you're insane to begin with and will probably do your own thing no matter what I say. Go with that.
DB: Any closing thoughts/comments?
TT: Just that I hope everyone doesn't forget about me after I take a few steps back. I swear I'm not bailing all together! I'd like to thank all my friends/co-workers and fans for all the years of fun and support. I truly love this business and all it's done for me. Nothin' but love. Everyone play nice!