Artist Francis Manapul told a room full of fans gathered for his WonderCon spotlight panel, he’s living his dream, working on his favorite comic book character and having starring in a TV show that almost killed him.
Of course, Manapul was referring to The Flash, the titular character of a relaunched series he’s working on with writer Geoff Johns. But while he was drawing pages in advance of the series’ 2010 relaunch, Manapul was also given a chance to be on the History Channel Canada TV show “Beast Legends.”
With a core team of a Harvard biologist, an animal expert-slash-adventurer, a New York University paleontologist and a comic artist, “the concept was to take mythological creatures and apply real world science to it, and see what it would be like if it was real.”
Manapul’s original contribution to the show was something of a desk job, while two of the scientists went out traveling the world, exploring Vietnam, Germany, New Zealand and other countries.
“What ended up happening,” though, was “I guess they didn’t like the pairing of two scientists, and there wasn’t enough conflict. So they sent me to Vietnam with the animal expert/adventurer. He’s like a 6-foot tall white guy. I’ve never camped out my entire life, a complete city boy, and they thought, perfect, let’s do this!”
Over the course of the show, Manapul made himself the target of a jumping lion, swam with sharks and skateboarded without a helmet through reckless auto traffic in Vietnam.
“It was really tough,” he said, though not because of all the derring-do. “Since ‘The Flash’ was going on, what made it tough was the schedule. I was enthusiastic about both projects, so my daily schedule was to get up at 5 AM to be ready to shoot by 7. I’d get back around 7 or 8 and draw my Flash pages until 2, 3 in the morning, sleep for a couple hours and start again.”
The audience gasped at this, and Manapul said, “it gets worse, actually.”
“The worst it ever got,” he said, “I was coming home from Germany Monday night, at like 8 PM, and I started working on the book until about 6 AM Tuesday morning, when a car picked me up and I worked until 7:30 Tuesday night. I came home, ate dinner, napped 30 minutes, worked until 11 AM Wednesday on ‘Flash’ pages, got them in two days ahead of schedule, then got on a plane to the Bahamas to film another scene.”
The art-and-film machine told the audience he began reading comics as a child in the Philippines before his family moved to Canada. “Reading comics around then was one of the first things that helped me speak English,” he said. “It was really helpful.”
He lost interest in the medium for a while, “Until the Image guys turned up — Jim Lee, Whilce Portacio, those guys brought an excitement that wasn’t there before. They demanded my attention, and as soon as I picked it up I just had to draw.”
As an artist who found a lot of success at a young age, Manapul gets asked a lot about how to break in to the industry, an experience he remembers came with a ton of pressure.
“I was going to comic conventions and showing my portfolio when I was 16 years old. One day I was showing my stuff to Charlee Adlard, who draws ‘The Walking Dead.’ I don’t know if I was supersensitive, or just didn’t get sarcasm, but he asked how old I was. I said 16 and he said, ‘I dunno — it might be too late.’
“This was the year Joe Madureira was breaking in, and it was like if you didn’t make it by 18, 19, it’s too late. I thought, OK, I have a two year window to get good.”
As for advice, Manapul offered, “it’s just being consistently on the scene, showing your stuff, showing improvement. That’s about it. It sounds simpler than it is.”
It’s an answer he’s been working on for a while.
“Every time someone says, how do I break in, I kept thinking, well, you go to conventions, meet people, show your work around, etc., and yes, that’s the answer, but the real answer is adjusting your questions. It’s not, how do I break in? It’s, how do I get good enough that I’ll be allowed the opportunity to break in?”
Manapul’s first professional work — a 2001 video-game-based comic called “Fear Effect: Retro Helix” — was solicited with his name on it before he even knew he had the job.
“I’m sitting at home,” he recalled. “I get a phone call from one of my friends, and he says, ‘Congratulations!’ I said, what are you talking about? Did I have a kid or something? And he said he saw me in Previews. I didn’t know that I got this gig!”
As a fledgling artist, Manapul struggled with dense scripts, trying to cram everything the writer described in every panel of every page.
“I was too young at the time to know how to edit (my writer),” he said. “Now that I’m working with Geoff Johns, it’s a full script, but it’s open enough that I can add many things. We’re pretty in-synch with the way we think, which makes that flow really easy.”
The craziest thing he’s seen in a script came from Jim Shooter, Manapul said.
“(Shooter) was as full as a full script could get,” Manapul said. “But it was so full, you would literally read three paragraphs before you get to what the panel is actually about. I think he just wrote down his train of thought, then, when finally he gets to the point, it’s good, because you’re really understanding the motivation of the characters. But if you give the subtext of the scene and tell me what their line is, that’s fine.”
Asked about his influences, Manapul gave a pretty familiar list, naming Portacio, Lee, Todd McFarlane, “and, yes, Rob Leifeld.”
As he got older, he said, he grew to love the work of Mike Mignola, Duncan Fegredo and numerous European artists. Along the way, his own style has changed, and the watercolors he’s doing now are real, not a computer effect, he said.
“I did them a long time ago on some ‘G.I. Joe’ covers,” he said. “But the way it was printed, I didn’t like it. I thought, I guess this doesn’t work for comics, and I went back to regular line work for a long time.”
The Flash is Manapul’s favorite DC character, and a dream job, but “At the time I finished ‘Legion,’ there were two roads I thought were open to me: Flash and Superboy, and I really wanted to do The Flash. Superboy I didn’t know anything about, so I read the books and what I did was, I drew what I hoped the book would be. It was one of the first double pages from the first issue, where he’s looking out into the cornfield. That was pitch art that I did.
“Those pages were me convincing myself why I wanted to work on that book instead of ‘The Flash,'” he said. “Geoff wrote it into the book so I ended up getting paid for it, so even better!”
The panel closed with a series of questions lifted from “Inside the Actor’s Studio,” which itself lifted the questions from “a French guy.”
Manapul’s favorite word is awesome. Aggression turns him on. His favorite sound is the noise Maria Sharapova makes when she’s playing tennis, and his least favorite is the sound men make doing the same thing.
As for another profession he’d like to attempt? His answer is simple:
“I’m doing what I want to do.”