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DAYBREAK: Francis Manapul Draws “The Flash”

by  in Comic News Comment
DAYBREAK: Francis Manapul Draws “The Flash”

Francis Manapul stops in for this edition of DAYBREAK

With “Brightest Day” heating up today with new revelations concerning Deadman and the White Lantern, we return with our latest installment of DAYBREAK, CBR’s monthly look at DC Comics’ top-selling 26-issue, bi-weekly series and the other core titles being released under its collective banner.

One of those titles, written by superstar writer Geoff Johns, the chief architect of “Brightest Day,” is “The Flash.” In the next issue, coming later this month, a shocking connection to the White Light is revealed as Captain Boomerang and the Reverse-Flash experience a bizarre event that ties them together. 

CBR spoke with “The Flash” artist Francis Manapul about the critically acclaimed series and the Filipino Canadian artist shared his thoughts on delivering classic superhero tales while finding novel and modern approaches to showcase the superpower of speed. He also teased two new projects he’ll be working on with incoming “Teen Titans” writer J.T. Krul, as well, as how the h-e-double hockey sticks he got involved in “Beast Legends,” a new hour-long television series that investigates and creates incredible creatures of folklore and mythology in the same way that paleontology speculates about what dinosaurs were really like.

First off, what kind of reaction did you get at Comic-Con for what you and Geoff [Johns] are doing on “The Flash?” Did you get a lot of Flash requests for commissions?

Francis Manapul: The reaction was fantastic, from both fans and peers. It made me feel really excited and it really made all the hard work worth it. The requests for drawings of the Flash were only rivaled by Krypto.

Can you take us back to when Geoff first pitched the idea to you about working on the return of Barry Allen? What were your initial thoughts? Did you think your style would mesh with the fastest man alive?

My initial thought was: Absolutely! Under any other circumstance I would have said, “Yes,” instantly, but at that moment I really loved what we were doing on “Adventure Comics,” and my affinity for Conner, and Krypto was only getting stronger so the decision was really tough. Ultimately there was no way I was going to draw “Adventure Comics” without Geoff, and it was really flattering that DC thought highly enough of what we did on that book to appoint us with the task of launching the new “Flash” book. The thought of my style meshing with it didn’t really cross my mind, I like to think I’m versatile enough to handle most situations. It was more about what kind of story are we going to tell and how are we going to tell it, which was most important to me.

Were you familiar with The Flash and in particular, Barry Allen? Or were you more a Wally West guy?

Um…yeah. I’ve said it multiple times before that the Flash is one of my all-time favorite characters. Out of all the big guns at DC, he’s the easiest to relate to for me. Admittedly I grew up on Wally West, but I think he’s gone through a lot of changes since I started reading his adventures. And to me Barry – although he predates Wally – is a far fresher character at the moment, and is much easier starting point for new Flash readers.

So much of what you and Geoff are doing with Flash is set outside the world of traditional superhero comics. When you are creating scenes and environments outside of the superhero milieu – for instance police stations and diners – how important is it to create situations that feel almost Norman Rockwellian in terms of their presentation of everyday life?

“The Flash” is less Rockwellian than “Adventure Comics,” but more a big budget action movie type of book. That said, our portrayal of everyday life is very important as it creates contrast in the book and makes the fantastic look extraordinary. Jumping from a busy bustling street and seeing normal folks doing normal things helps make it that much more awesome when you see The Flash run across a helicopter blade.

The story Geoff and I are telling in “The Flash” is a very iconic version of the character. It seems that our collaboration brings about a very classic superhero feel, and yet very modern. What we go for is a timeless story that anyone can read. We want our book to be reminiscent of the days before the readers got jaded and bring back that sense of wonder they once had as a kid seeing their favorite heroes do amazing things.

Now that you are a few issues into the series, what are you enjoying most about drawing “The Flash?” Is it difficult to illustrate speed? Have you developed any new techniques to demonstrate the Flash’s powers?

Drawing speed is easy, but thinking of new ways to show his speed is the hard part. In “The Flash” #4, myself, [colorist] Brian [Buccellato] and Geoff came up with a new “frozen time” technique, in which we show time frozen by muting the colors around The Flash and keeping only him in full color as he moves through a scene. We also play with him as a blur with the background perfectly clear, and vice versa and other tried and true techniques. I actually made a ‘Speed Color Chart’ with Brian to show different ways we can play with color to help with the portrayal of speed. But every issue we strive to show him saving the day in super speed in new and exciting situations.

What about the rogues? Flash’s foes from the future have been on display during this first arc, do you have a favorite rogue in terms of look and feel? And what do you love most about him?

I like Captain Cold because he looks cool.

What’s Geoff like as a collaborator? Do you talk on the phone every day while you’re working on an issue? Is it all done by email?

Geoff is a fantastic collaborator. I feel as if we are really in sync with how to tell our story. From the pacing to the shots we choose to do, the work is very seamless. I find that he trusts my abilities as a storyteller, and sometimes we go on for a few pages without any dialogue or caption. He really knows how to tell a story cinematically, so when I read his scripts, it’s really easy to visualize. We mostly do the talking before we start an arc, and really, after “Adventure Comics,” if Geoff and I were a basketball team, we are pretty much running our offense on instinct and doing behind-the-back passes to each other and alley-oops.

I see for “The Flash” #7, Scott Kolins is listed as the artist. Are you just taking a one-issue break to get a head start on the next arc?

Yup, it’s just a fill in. Geoff and I have another two story arcs planned.

Before I ask you about your other big project, can you share what tools and techniques when creating pages for “The Flash?” Are there any artists, comic book or otherwise, you look to for inspiration?

Pretty standard stuff; pencils, brushes and watercolor. I usually start with a thumbnail to figure out the layout of the page. I’ll then begin penciling on the board, after which I would start to paint all the tones with watercolor. After that, I’ll go in and ink the page. As for inspiration, [there are] too many to list. As cheesy as it sounds you can find something inspiring in any art. Sometimes not even art itself, but just life in general.

Now that all the comic book stuff is out of the way, here’s what we really want to know. How the heck did you get involved with “Beast Legends” and how much fun did you have working on the show?

It was a lot of fun, but also very physically demanding, to both film [a TV sries] and work on a monthly comic. But the things we did, and saw were just amazing. It truly was an adventure of a lifetime. I pretty much crossed things off my bucket list, and even had to create new categories for it so I can cross it off.

I got involved on the show after one of the producers contacted me via email. At first I thought it was for a behind the scenes type of job, like designing or storyboarding. I haven’t had much experience in either, so I thought it might be a great opportunity to expand my skill set. When I came in for an interview, I found out it was for an on-camera role, so we did a screen test, and that was that. My initial role on the show was supposed to be minimal. While the scientists romp around the world gathering info, I was suppose to stay on set when they bring it back and I would draw it on camera. It all changed when they were shooting in Vietnam, and, due to the number of eye witnesses, they thought it would be a great idea to bring me over to draw what they saw. As it turns out, they really dug the chemistry between me and the other presenter as well as the instant visualization I was able to bring out on the field. What was supposed to be a six-day involvement for the season ended up being almost eight months of my life.

Can we expect a Season 2? Also, I’m lucky because I’m Canadian and I can see it now on History Television, but when will it be released in the States?

I’m crossing my fingers for a Season 2, but if it doesn’t happen, at least I’ll get more sleep. But seriously, we’re still waiting word. It’s currently airing on Wednesday nights at 10 p.m. on History Television in Canada, and it will start airing on SyFy September 9th on Thursdays at 10 p.m. in the U.S.

You mentioned in an earlier interview that you were anxiously awaiting your chance to draw another legendary beast, namely Gorilla Grodd, in “The Flash.” Can you let us know if that’s happening?

Not yet, but hopefully soon.

I guess you got to practice a bit when you were doing the Wildman of Vietnam for “Beast Legends?”

It didn’t even occur to me that drawing the Wildman was awesome practice for Grodd! How convenient is that? Two birds with one stone. It was perfect, as well, since I got to bone up on my ape anatomy and even got to touch some really old fossils.

OK, if not Grodd, do you get to draw any creatures in upcoming issues of “The Flash?” Maybe an updated Turtle Man or Urtumi?

Not yet, but we are creating some new characters.

While out on the hunt for the first season of “Beast Legends,” did you become a believer? Was there at least a moment, when you were pretty sure one these legends might actually exist?

It was hard to say I could believe some of them exist, because science could not prove they were around. However, through studying real living animals, we were able to come to conclusions on how a fictional creature could exist using what biologically exists. That, in it of itself, is pretty amazing when you think about it.

If not a believer, have you always been fascinated by monsters and creatures? For instance, as a child, did you to do drawings of dinosaurs and dragons?

Not really. I was a straight up superhero fan as a kid, so the drawings of monsters and animals that I did on the show, I was learning on the fly. In some, if not most cases, I was drawing said animal for the first time as they filmed, and in some cases, [using] new art mediums, as well that I’d have to learn minutes before we’d start shooting.

Before we let you go, and you pass out from over-stimulation, are you working on anything else these days, comics-wise?

Yes – I did a two-page story for “Superman/Batman” #75 with J.T Krul. I’m also working on a black and white short story starring “The Spirit” with J.T, as well. But those are all side things. More of “The Flash” is in my future…and hopefully a little bit of Krypto.

“The Flash” #5, written by Geoff Johns and featuring art by Francis Manapul, speeds its way into comic book stores across North America on August 25.

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