Newsarama's 9: Francis Manapul

from Superman/Batman

Filipino-born cartoonist Francis Manapul is a rising star in comics, and was recently named one of Newsarama's 9 Creators To Watch in 2009. Currently working out of Toronto, Manapul first broke into comics with a shot story in 1998's Love In Tights and was quickly snapped up by Top Cow for a series of issues on Witchblade and Necromancer before moving on to DC Comics.

This DC-exclusive artist just finished work on Legion of Super-Heroes with writer Jim Shooter and is currently working on a two-issue storyarc for Superman/Batman. For this storyarc, Manapul is using a new technique – applying inkwash to his pencils for a dramatically different look. For more, we talked with the artist by email.

Newsarama: Can you tell us what you're working on today, Francis?

Francis Manapul: Currently I'm working on Superman/Batman #60. I'll be doing a two issue story. I also got other things in the works but I'll wait until after they are announced to talk about them.

NRAMA: How did you end up on Superman/Batman?

FM: I've been talking to Dan Didio throughout the summer cons on what I could work on after Legion. I expressed to him my desire to draw anyof my 3 favourite characters at DC. I was lucky enough to get two of them! Well technically 3 of them. [laughs]

NRAMA: 3? Who's the third – can you say?

FM: I always said that if and when I ever got to work at DC I would have to draw The Flash!

NRAMA: So what is this storyarc about?

FM: The basic concept is that Superman and Batman wake up in an alternate universe. I think the preview art has enough there to tell you what kinda alternate universe they find themselves in. I also have to say that Mike Johnson and Michael Green have been fantastic to work with they really wrote a script that I feel plays up to my strength. I don't know if they wrote the story after they found out I was drawing it but it certainly felt tailor made for me to draw. I told them that I really felt like a kid in a candy store and I hope my enthusiasm shows in the end results.

NRAMA: These pages you've sent show off some fabulous inkwashing that you've done. Is this the first time you've done this for comics?

FM:Thanks for saying so! Yes this is the first time I'm doing interior work in this fashion. I've done covers for G.I. Joe and Soulfire using this technique a few years ago. I always toyed with the idea of doing it for interiors but I always thought it might take too long and my inking skills aren't as slick as they should be so I sorta set that idea aside. However last summer after we tragically lost Mike Turner, I worked on a piece for his tribute book using this technique. While working on the piece it really made me think about Mike and how fearless he was in the way he would approach the industry, his art and his life. I thought life was too short for hesitations and I always found it fun to draw in that way so I decided to just go for it. I talked to Dan Didio about it and my future collaborators and they were more than supportive of the idea.

NRAMA: Probably your most high profile work to date has been on DC's Legion of Super-Heroes with Jim Shooter. Although DC ultimately ended the series, it got your name out to more people than ever before. What did you think of the experience?

FM:This was my first work for DC. In fact it was my first work ever for either of the big two so it was a very big deal to me. I'm sad to see the series go but we did our best to try and revitalize the property. The people I worked with was fantastic I had the full support of my editor Mike Marts, and great collaborators with Livesay and J.D Smith, and of course it was a real honour to have worked with a legend like Jim Shooter. I learned a LOT from this experience and was glad to had been a part of it. Jim was very tough on me but in that hard ass coach kinda of way. He really pushed to try and make me better and pulled no punches. I learned quite a bit from him but I think in the end we had different styles in our approach to telling a story. But I wouldn't have traded the experience for any other.

NRAMA: Prior to DC, you spent some time working for Top Cow. What was that experience like and what led to you transitioning to DC?

Yeah I spent quite a few years at Top Cow they were the first to give me my first big break. Marc Silvestri is bar none one of the best teachers an artist could ever have. The studio system was great and it really was a lot of fun to be there. Myself and the other artists were constantly learning from each other and there was just a real sense of camaraderie with the artists in the "pit". The Halo "breaks" were also great I don't think I've ever seen Marc so animated as when we were all intensely trying to frag each other.

The move to DC actually wasn't immediate upon my departure from The Cow. My friend Joshua Ortega introduced me to Dan Didio and Mike Carlin and we talked about me coming over there and what potential projects they had. After being at the Cow for a while I was really enjoying the freedom of freelancing and I told Mike that I would like to do something at DC but I was kinda going through this phase of finding my self artistically and I told him that I felt I still needed to grow and try non traditional comics before I stepped through their doors and took on guys and gals in tights.

Having said that I took on Iron and the Maiden which was unlike anything I'd done at Top Cow and offered me a great chance to work with Jason Rubin and my good friend Joel Gomez. The project was just pure fun it was basically a big summer action movie type thing. It was also a big bonus when I found out that Aspen was publishing it, I've been friends with them for a long time dating back to the Top Cow days so it was a real treat to have them be a part of it. Then came the Sept Guerrieres which offered a completely different flavour as my last book which taught me real restraint in my storytelling. Soon after that I told DC I was ready and now here I am.

NRAMA: You mentioned you also did a French graphic album called Sept Guerrieres. Can you tell us about that?

FM: I went to France a few years ago to go to the comic festival in Angouleme, during this trip I met Thierry Mornet. He had the idea of getting "American" artists (although I'm Canadian) to work with French writers. I was really excited at the idea unfortunately I was in the middle of an exclusive contract. Three or so years later I told him that if he was still interested I was available and he introduced me to editor David Chauvel and thats when we finally put pencil to paper. The book is published by Editions Delcourt and is written by Michael Le Galli. The story is about a royal family whose people was under threat of extinction by opposing forces which lead the queen to band together 7 of the greatest women warriors to guide her only son to a safer land in order to make sure their royal bloodline continued.

NAMA:And where can those not living in Europe get ahold of this book?

FM:I know some stores in Quebec carried the book and I've seen some on Ebay. But I'm sure you can find it at

NRAMA: Doing comics is a relatively solitary job, besides conventions. With that being said, who would you say are your closest friends in comics?

FM:Absolutely it can be very solitary. I'm lucky though in that my girlfriend Agnes Garbowska and I live together, with her being an artist as well has made it very easy and we bounce ideas off each other all the time. There's also a lot of artists in Toronto that I get together with every now and then for dinner which is always nice. Guys that I've known since we were all trying to break in, like J. Torres, Arthur Dela Cruz, Kalman Androsofsky. That said I used to go down to the west coast and crash at my good friend Joel Gomez's pad for a month or so and work in the studio wether it be at Top Cow or Aspen or Wildstorm. I don't make the trip down as often as I used to but I know when I'm out there there's always doors that are open to me and couches to sleep on for which I'm very thankful for. Joel is like a brother to me along with Brian Buccellato, Frank Mastromauro, Mark Roslan, Vince Hernandez, Beth Sotello, Joshua Ortega, Peter Steigerwald, Marcus To, and of course we all really miss Mike Turners presence, Frank had his poker chips engraved with Mikes initials so he'll never miss a game. Making a trip down there is like visiting family for me. I also keep in contact with a lot of them on a daily basis whether it be talking online exchanging silly emails, extremely long long distance calls, our fantasy sports teams, and our nightly xbox live games. Its funny how technology has really made things easier. I remember when Vince and the guys would bring their old xbox to Joels pad so we could all play Halo and we'd set it up in different rooms. Now we just log on to Xbox live, which kinda coincided with the way our lives changed with some moving and me being up here in Toronto it's really made it easier to stay in touch. This job has really blessed me with meeting friends who I truly believe I'll know for the rest of my life.

NRAMA: Do you get a chance to read comics on your own when you're not doing them? If so, what do you normally read?

It's been either feast of famine for me. I would go through period where I'd just read a whole buncha books in a row and periods where I haven't picked up a book to read aside from a quick glance at the art. But books that I just can't put down when I do are The Walking Dead (love the oversized trades!), Invincible, and 100 Bullets, I refuse to flip through these books since reading them is such an experience for me which I don't want to spoil. Anything else I pick up it's to look at the pretty art.

NRAMA: Moving on to the future -- what is the dream project you've always wanted to do?

FM: It's a really tough question because there is so much I want to do. Of course I'd really like to do put my stamp on a major character like Superman or Batman or Spiderman. Aside from that my dream would be to be able to do a whole comic on my own. Write it, draw it color it heck even letter it. The dream part of it is that I'd like to do it with complete freedom. Maybe one day when I'm independently wealthy and win the lottery that's just what I'll do. Or learn to live without sleep. Hopefully it's not the latter.

NRAMA: So if you were to do your own comic, what do you think it'd be about?

FM:To tell you the truth I'm not sure. I've bounced some ideas around with my friend and art rep Shawn Bryan. But the real reason for wanting to do my own book is more for me to be able to draw however and whatever I want. I guess it'd be more a practice of self indulgence, er... I mean artistic exploration! yeah that sounds better!

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