Sequential Tart Interview with Walden Wong

Wong’s Inking Makes it Right!

Walden Wong

by Jennifer M. Contino

Walden Wong is one of the hottest inkers around. Recently he provided the inks for the Top Cow/DC Comics crossover, JLA/Witchblade. He always had a dream of drawing and working on comics and he never let anyone dissuade him from his goal. He’s done fantastic work on so many projects. Sequential Tart thought it would be fun to talk to him about his past, present, and future works.

Sequential Tart: If I were writing your secret origin what would be included?

Walden Wong: I was born and raised in San Francisco. When I was young, I always liked drawing. I remember my kindergarten teacher telling me that I drew pretty well. It was just stick figures at the time, but I think that influenced me. I always wanted to draw. I didn't know what I wanted to do in life, so I just drew every day, all day long.

I remember one time when I was really young. I was drawing directly on the dining room table. My father got upset and yelled at me. "Why are you always drawing. Why don't you concentrate on your alphabets and do what's important." So I listen and started drawing characters with the alphabet. I would draw two letter 'O' right next to each other pretending that was the eyes. A letter 'L' right under the eyes pretending it was the nose. Then the letter 'V' right under the nose pretending it was a smile. And finally a huge letter "A" on top of all those letters that represented a hat. And instantly, I get a smiley face wearing a hat. I'm sure that wasn't what my father was thinking. But It worked for me. Because I thought everything revolved around drawing.

All through my schooling, I just took two art classes that was three months long each. One was drawing and the other one was painting. Buy the time i graduated high school, I had to get serious. I felt like I had to go to school to help me get a real job. So I went to college and was undecided on what major to choose. But it had to be related to drawing in some sort of form. First it was Architecture. Then it was Civil Engineer. But I finally graduated in Business Administration emphasis in Marketing.... thinking package designs. I could go out in the real world and design and draw logos. Create images with drawings. So all through my life time, it's all about drawing.

ST: When did you discover comics and how did your interest in comics change?

WW: When I was in Middle School. Around Sixth grade, I was collecting baseball cards because all my other friends were collecting them at the time. I just keep buying and buying them. But at the same time, I didn't know a thing about baseball. I just liked the idea of collecting something and protecting in by putting it into Mylar sleeves. It was neat until I started to actually read the back of the baseball card. I said to myself... "what's an 'RBI'? What does 'ERR' stand for? What are all these numbers under it mean?" I wasn't a baseball fan so I had no idea what those letters were meant. Then, some other classmates bought in comic books. That was the first time i had ever seen a comic book. Comic books in Mylar bags. Wow... a whole new collectible that i can go into. I didn't know where to actually buy comics books. So I started buying comic books off my classmates and trading them. And I started asking them to buy comics for me. It didn't matter how I got them; I just wanted to start a whole new collectability thing. Then one day, I decided to read some of them. And I said, "hey... this comic book thing has a story in it. This is kinda neat.. Much better than baseball cards." So I stopped buying baseball cards and started buying comic books. When I discovered what a comic book store was, I was hooked. Ever since then, I still go to comic book stores. Buying Mylar bags and boards to protect them. I even bought comic boxed to store them in.

Today, I just buy the books less all the "protection." Comic books are just all over the place in my room now. Once I'm done reading them, it gets tossed to where ever there's a place for it.

ST: What titles interested you the most as a youth and are you still reading any of them currently?

WW: When I was young, I bought Uncanny X-Men and Batman. Those were my first books. I didn't know what Marvel Comics or what DC Comics was. To me, a comic was a comic. I didn't know there was different companies. But once I discovered different comic book companies, I felt like everybody was either buying Marvel Comics (I believe those people were called 'Marvel Zombies' at the time) or just buying DC comics. I felt like I had to choose one company to buy from. So I was just buying X-Men and a lot of Marvel titles only. Today, I regret that. There were a lot of cool DC Comics that I missed out. Today, I buy a variety of books. I still read X-Men and Batman when I get them. But I don't read or buy them habitually like when I was younger.

There's a lot of comic books out there today and it just makes me want to buy a whole bunch. Sometimes I forget what issues I all ready bought a month ago and not buy the new one. So I would miss a few books here and there. But I still keep up to date with all the characters that I once read when i was younger.

ST: When was the first time you realized that each part had its own person working on it and when you thought about working in comics-eventually-what job did you want?

WW: When I was young. I didn't know people worked on comics, let alone that there were pencillers, inkers, colorist, etc... I never realized that there were different people working in comic until I got serious and decided that I wanted to work in comics. This was around college time for me. I always wanted to draw and I wanted to go into comics. I thought about pencilling and then I thought about inking. Then I decided to go into Inking and here I am today.

ST: When did you first entertain the notion of working on comic books for a living?

WW: When I first discovered that comic book artist gets paid for doing comic books. I've always been told that being an artist; you don't earn much money. Maybe when you past away, then your artwork will be valuable. But what's the logic in that? I can't spend the money when I'm gone! That's the reason why I went to all those directions in my college years. I was thinking I wanted to do something artistic. It didn't matter what it was. It had to be artistic in some way AND it had to help me make a living. Hence Architecture, Engineering, and Marketing. After going to some comic book conventions and talking to some artist, everything just clicked. Comic book artist can make a living. I grew up with comic books and all it's characters. Why not go into that business instead. This would be something that I would LOVE to do.

ST: Once you decided you wanted to work on comics, what did you do to make that a reality?

WW: When I decided to work in comics, I didn't really have much direction or training. When I did was worked on a lot of sample pages. Once I'm done with that, I would send it in to publishers and bring them to conventions for a critique. Most of the time I would get a really good critique with the people that I contacted. Then with the new information and hints that I get from them, I would go back to the drawing table and do all new samples. I remember a time when i was just doing samples for individual people so they can critique me. It was hard work and I keep it up. I just keep practicing. Every time I sent my work to publishers, I never expected any kind of work to be offered to me. All I wanted was a critique. That's what helped me get work in comics. Even today, I still enjoy a harsh critique of my work. One can never stop growing.

ST: Was inking your first choice?

WW: Inking was my first choice when I broke into the business. I originally thought about being a penciller. Bet usually when I draw, I get Artist Block. I'm just staring at a blank piece of paper thinking what to draw. Sometimes I would just stare at that paper for an hour and nothing happens! Being an inker, everything is there all ready. Once I get the work, I can start on it right away and not have to worry about what to draw. And the best part of being an inker is that I get to work with all these talented pencillers.

ST: Who are some of the influences on your inking career and, in general, who are some of the people--inkers or otherwise--who've made the biggest impression on how you approach inking jobs?

WW: I have a lot of influences in my inking career. Marlo Alquiza was the inker that told me that inking could be a career. He's also the person that keeps in touch with me all these years with constant critiques of my work. He told me to "master the nib." Get use to inking using a crow quill pen. Paul Smith was also a major influence. Paul not only critique my work, he helped me get work. He was also the person that made me learn how to use a brush. When I got older and discovered that some of the comic books that I read when I was a child were done by Paul Smith; I was totally excited that I was working with him. Just having Paul Smith calling me to talk artwork made me love inking more.

Both Paul and Marlo gave me direction on their approach on inking. Both of them "trained" me through sending copies of each other’s work through snail mail, faxes, and talking on the telephone. Not everyone would spend that kind of time to help others. bet the two of them are the best! Because of those two, I'm able to use both a crow quill and a brush like a pro!

ST: What is the equipment that you use to ink with?

WW: I ink with Brushes and Crow Quills. A Crow quill usually is a nib attached to a holder. It has a metal tip and when you apply pressure during the inking process, you can vary the line thickness. From thick to thin and back. The brush works the same way. The advantages of a brush is that it can hold more ink for a longer period of time whereas the crow quill requires constant dipping for ink. The advantages of a Crow Quill is that it can do more intricate details than a brush can. So of the other tools that I use are beveled templates and straight edges. When I'm inking, using beveled guides are best because it won't drag the ink when you remove the guides. I also have a flex curve available. This is almost like a ruler. Except that I can bend it and shape it to certain curves. There's also white ink that's used for things like stars and white lines in a black area. I also have tech pens that I use. These pens only produce a flat line, unlike the brush and crow quills. These are best used for panes boarders. I'm sure there's a lot more stuff I have next to my drawing table, but these are the tools that I use the most.

ST: What's the difference between inking and finishing a page? Which do you prefer?

WW: The difference between inking and doing finishes is that when I'm inking a completed pencilled page, everything is there. As for finishing a page, there's more work involved. Usually a penciller would just sketch out a rough layout of a whole page and it's up to the inker to finish everything off with details. Both inking and doing finishes has it's perks. When I'm just inking a page, I just go there and ink. when I'm doing finishes, it'll be a part of me that's doing the pencilling during the inking process. But between the two, I have more fun just inking a page. Doing finishes takes more time because there are times when I don't understand what the layout calls for.

ST: What's the hardest piece that you've ever had to ink and what made this work so difficult?

WW: I don't really recall any piece that was really hard for me to ink. They're all the same to me. A lot of details or no details at all, it still inking. If I had to choose something, it'll probably be inking something that I have no idea what it is. If there was a pencilled drawing and I can't figure out what it is, it's usually hard for me to ink that in. I figure that if I can't understand what it is, the public won't be able to understand it as well. So what I usually do is contact the penciller and ask. And when there are times that I can't get a hold of the pencillers, I'll just sit there and think about it until I can figure it out. Then I'll ink it. For me, inking isn't just about tracing the lines that's there, I have to know what I'm inking to make it look good.

ST: You've worked for almost all of the major comic book publishers and tons of independents, does each company have different guidelines or ideas about inking and what that job entails?

WW: They're all the same. Usually for me, when I get the work, I would look at the pencils and decide if it calls for a crow quill look or a brush look. A lot of times it'll call for a combination of both. But for all companies that's out there, the main idea is to make the pages look pretty. There's not a lot of differences between one company to another. If there were some kind of different guidelines, it'll probably be deadlines. They're all different.

ST: A lot of times the inker is sort of the fall guy for projects when something does not look perfect or if there are any problems. Have you ever encountered anything like this?

WW: A lot of times! When something doesn't look good, the blame usually goes to the inker. When things do look good (even if it was better than the original pencils), that gets overlooked. Some other situations is that pencillers would fall behind and take up the inking deadline time. When the pages goes to the inker, they'll have less time to work on them. I'm sure this happened to all the inkers that's out there. I know it has happened to me. But I don't let it get to me. All I have to do is concentrate on making them look pretty.

There's another thing that funny too! Sometimes, I'll have a lot of books that come out on the same month. What people think most of the time is that I'm taking a lot of projects and hacking them out. This is usually not the case. From time to time, I would work on some inventory projects that's held until a later date for publication. Later on when it gets published along with another book that I did do on a deadline, people think that I took on a lot of projects at the same time. But what people don't realize is that there are some months when there is no comic book that comes out with my name on it. It's funny how life works. If something looks bad, people seem to associate it with the person's name. But it something goes good, it gets over looked. I guess that's the way life goes.

ST: How do you feel about the term 'tracer'?

WW: It's okay by me! I call myself a tracer sometimes. When I'm at a convention and people ask me what I do, i tell them I'm an inker. IF they don't know what an Inker is, I just tell them I'm a tracer. That's basically what it is. No need to glorify it. Besides, telling them that I'm a tracer is much easier than trying to explain what an Inker does.

ST: What is your work space/environment like?

WW: I have a separate room for working/Inking. There's Two drawing tables and a few other tables that holds all the equipment like a light box, rulers, pens, etc... One drawing table is right in front of a window which I look at from time to time to relax my eyes. The other drawing table faces another room that has a television. I hardly use that one because I don't watch television that much. I have two table lights on my drawing table. Also a radio when I listen to all the time when I'm working. There's a telephone and fax machine there. It's almost like a business office. Except that it's filled up with comic book posters all over the walls, Comic books everywhere, Copies of my work, toys, and a lot of other comic books fun stuff.

ST: I know a lot of pros like to listen to music when creating, do you have a particular 'play' list that you like to hear when working?

WW: I listen to everything. Pop, Rock, R & B, Alternative, Metal, Hard Rock. I have a wide range of music that I like. You'd be surprised. (Backstreet Boys, Britney Spears, Boys II Men, Limp Bizkit, Korn, Rob Zombie, Crystal Method)

ST: What's some of your current 'must see' TV and why?

WW: Right now, I'm watching Freaky Links because it's made by the creators of The Blair Witch. I also like Freedom, which was done by creators of the Matrix. I use to watch Millennium. I like watching shows that has that same kind of creepy feel to it.

ST: Speaking of TV, if we were making a movie of the week about your life, who would play you and why?

WW: Hummm... I don't know about this one here. Maybe Jet Li. Minus the kung fu moves. Haha! And the reason why is because he kicks butt!

ST: What would the movie be rated?

WW: Probably rated R. Kung Fu Comic artist throwing Crow Quills as weapon projectiles. If I can't do that, I'll guess I can go G. Comic artist singing, "I draw you, You draw me, what a happy family." Ha ha!

ST: What's JLA/Witchblade about?

WW: JLA/Witchblade is a comic book company crossover with DC Comics and Top Cow Comics. It puts the members of the JLA with Witchblade. Sara, the holder of Witchblade lets loose the Witchblade and it gets a hold of some members of the JLA. Then all heck breaks loose. It's way cool. Have you ever seen Wonder Woman wearing the Witchblade. Very pretty!

ST: How did you get involved with this project?

WW: It was offered to me. At the time, I was working with the penciller and the Editors got use to me and the penciller as a team. When the penciller was picked, I was picked along with him. I still say it's pure luck that I got it.

ST: Why should anyone check out that comic?

WW: It the best Inking work I have done yet. If you like my work in the past, you'll love what I did with JLA/Witchblade. It's not everyday that I get to work on an inter-company crossover. and when I was working on it, I made sure that each and every line and dots were perfect to what I wanted it to look. Each little DOT!!! Insane detailed Inker on the Loose! So you got to check it out!

ST: What other projects are you currently working on?

WW: I'm working on a short story for JLA #50 and some inventory issues here and there. It's keeping me pretty busy.