NOTE: Scroll to the bottom of this article for a breaking update on Francis Manapul's future work with DC Comics.
Francis Manapul is redefining the look of Smallville while fully embracing all the classic elements of Superman's hometown in his latest gig as the artist of DC's "Adventure Comics." Written by Geoff Johns, "Adventure Comics" features an all-star cast of superheroes, but the headliner, undoubtedly, is Conner Kent, A.K.A Superboy.
Using a Pentel brush pen for his line work, the DC-exclusive Manapul adds gray tones with a Winsor & Newton water color set, creating art that echoes the work of iconic American artist Norman Rockwell, all the while staying true to the title's superhero nature and maintaining a true feeling of modern adventure on every page.
Manapul, a Filipino-Canadian living in Toronto, was a featured guest in his hometown last week at Fan Expo, and CBR News chatted with him at his booth in Artists Alley.
CBR: When we last spoke, "Adventure Comics" had just been announced. Now that you've been working on it with Geoff Johns for six months, what's the experience been like?
FRANCIS MANAPUL: Honestly, I didn't know how big it was going to be or how big they wanted it to be until after the book came out. I mean, I knew it was going to be big because Geoff Johns was writing it, but I was more excited that I got to work with him than anything else. To me, the assignment is more in the work itself. I've really been enjoying inking my own work. And I really think that Geoff has written a story that really, really feels tailor fit for what I'm trying to do. I think where he's going, I couldn't be on a better book to help him develop it.
When I did "Superman/Batman" and I did the wash/watercolor thing, I thought it turned out okay, but now I feel like the subject matter of "Adventure Comics" is so suited for what I'm trying to do. It sounds lame but I'm so in love with the book. I like it so much. It's great. I haven't been this excited about drawing comics since when I first started.
Does the fact that you're drawing "Adventure Comics," one of DC's oldest franchises, play into you excitement, at all?
It's definitely cool to be part of it. The thing is, a lot of times, it's really hard from the inside to look to the outside. So a lot the times when you're working on these things, you don't really know the magnitude. You're just working. And especially working with Geoff where we're having so much fun with the book. It's weird, you don't really notice it. I'm sure in a few years, I'll realize it and be like, "Wow. That was pretty crazy that I got to draw one of the most historic books around," but right now, it hasn't really set in.
It's good, I guess, because I don't feel intimidated. I don't feel any hesitation whatsoever. What makes it such an easy transition is how Geoff has written the book. He's made it very, very easy for me to do. The way the book is written, it really feels like everything is within my comfort zone. It's all rolling out very naturally. It doesn't feel like it's a struggle to draw the pages or anything like that.
Is the art style you're using now - almost a classic, Norman Rockwell feel - something you developed specifically for this project or is it a natural evolution or extension of what you've been doing for years?
I've always been a big Superman fan. And when I think of Superman, that's exactly what I think of - the Richard Donner "Superman: The Movie." There are a lot of farmlands, it's a very idealized vision of America. It feels wholesome and it feels like one of those places that when you were a kid, you would have said, "Man, that would be a great place to live." But then the way Geoff writes it, it's like "Stand By Me." It's wholesome and then a guy shows up and says, "You wanna see a dead body?"
"Adventure Comics" has a large cast. Is there a character you've really gravitated towards as a favorite?
Krypto, definitely. I based him on our family dog. He's so much fun to draw. After drawing the Legion and drawing so many superheroes, it's cool to draw non-people like pets.
What do you love about drawing Superboy?
I think what makes him really cool is that it's the knowledge that one day, he's supposed to be Superman, but obviously we're never going to see that because Superman's not going to stop being Superman. So the knowledge of him eventually becoming Superman makes him such an interesting character, especially with him being half-Superman DNA and half-Lex Luthor DNA. There's this real struggle about him.
And what's neat about his character is that I actually like his t-shirt and jeans thing. It's a little more street level, I don't know if that's the right word for it. But it's a little more grounded, it's a little less fantastic but it seems so much cooler and suited for Smallville. It doesn't feel extravagant or like something more suited for Metropolis. If you lived in Metropolis, you'd expect to see glitz and when you are in Smallville, you have this quaint farmland and there's this guy who's a superhero who's just in jeans and a t-shirt. That's the American way. You're wearing your Levis and your cowboy boots.
How are you finding working on a book of this size with such a large cast? Especially when you consider your particular style and methods?
The pacing has been really good. A lot of the second issue had to be worked on during a lot of the bigger conventions with San Diego and Chicago all back to back, so it was a little hectic. But like I've said, the way Geoff writes the book, it feels very natural, so that speeds up the process. There's no struggle.
It wasn't the same way as with "Legion of Super-Heroes." That was a lot of fun but there were a lot of aspects to it that weren't in me and I had to muster it up and find it. But that's the great thing about "Adventure." It feels like in a way, and I don't know if it's cheating, but it feels like everything that's in the book, is already in me. Not to say that it's not challenging because there was a lot of acting going on in the second issue that was quite difficult but... I don't want to say it was easy for me to do. Honestly it just feels like if it were a movie, you were a cast for the right role - and you're just doing you. You're not trying to be this or be that. And when it's like that, everything just rolls of much easier.
There's big talk around "Adventure Comics" #4, but you're not drawing that issue. You're coming back though, right?
It's not a fill-in per se but #4 is going to be drawn by Jerry Ordway. And he will be focusing on Superboy Prime. And then Superboy Conner Kent will be back when I come for #6. So Jerry Ordway is going to be drawing two issues of it and then I'm back for the second story arc. I believe the Jerry Ordway story ties into "Blackest Night," which is why, I'm assuming, it's being hyped so much. It would have been cool if I got to draw it but unfortunately I can only work so fast.
Are you doing any more cover work?
I don't know if I can say it, but l I recently had to quit one of my cover gigs. My run on "Red Robin" just ended. Marcus To is taking over the book and the covers, which is really cool. I was doing covers for "The Shield" too but it got a little too much to do that and "Adventure Comics" at the same time. I don't think I can handle another "regular" cover gig. I think it will be here and there. But I will be doing a cover for something else that I believe Geoff is writing. I think it is because it's one of his favorite characters, so I'm assuming he's writing it. I'm not sure when it's scheduled but I'm sure you guys will find out about it.
NOTE: DC Comics announced today that Francis Manapul and Geoff Johns will conclude their "Adventure Comics" run with issue #6 and move on to a new ongoing Flash title.
"Adventure Comics" #2 goes on sale this week from DC Comics.