The last time we talked with Brian Buccellato and Francis Manapul, the creators behind Detective Comics, the pair announced they were bringing a New 52 version of Anarky to the comic.
Now that the Anarky storyline started this week, there's more to the story than readers might have suspected from that announcement. Not only did the storyline's first issue feature the Mad Hatter and a murder mystery, but the artwork hit a new level as the co-creators continue to hone their skills as co-writer/artists.
What's their creative process like? What themes are they exploring in the Anarky story?
And are they still on Detective after Convergence?
Newsarama caught up with Manapul and Buccellato to ask — and got a visual peek at their artwork too.
Newsarama: Francis and Brian, we've talked many times about how you guys think it's important to really tell the story through the art, and because you're both writing and drawing, you're in a unique position to do that. But I don't think we've ever really talked about your process, which must be very different from the usual writer-to-script-to-artist sequence. How would you describe the beginning-to-end process on Detective for you guys?
Francis Manapul: The way it works is, usually, Brian and I will have a conversation and talk about the story and where it's going to go. And from there, we'll actually write out, just, short paragraphs for scenes.
Brian Buccellato: Or something bullet points.
Manapul: Yeah, just generalities of what the story's about. And I'll start doing layouts for the book. And that's basically how the writing's done.
Then I'll pass those layouts over the Brian. And then we'll discuss the pacing of the story, move things around, cut out certain scenes that don't work. You know?
Nrama: So whole scenes move around based on the art layout?
Manapul: Yeah, things change from the original layout to the final inks, and a lot of it has to do with adjusting it to the story.
'Cause I never want to draw something just because I want to draw it. We make a lot of sacrifices, in terms of the art, just so that we can service the story properly.
Buccellato: I think what's interesting about the process is that, when we turn in our quote-unquote "script" [to the editor], it's got the layouts in it, and it's got pictures and descriptions of what the actual comic book is going to look like.
So instead of spending time describing what's in the panel, you can see what's in the panel. And then we just basically describe the action going on and give our editors enough information so they know how to follow it.
But it's pretty unique in that way.
Manapul: If I were to make a comparison, it's similar to when you look at the special edition section of most 3-D animated cartoons, or any cartoons, and they show that, you know, before we started rendering the characters, we have these animatics showing the entire story before we even sculpt figures our draw the actual thing, because it's basically moving storyboards showing the entire movie.
That's more or less what we do before any pencil hits paper.
Nrama: So what you're saying is, before that, instead of giving the editor a fully written script, you give him the layouts…
Manapul: The editor basically has a very, very clear picture of what the story's going to be.
Nrama: The colors that you're using in this comic are different from what you did in The Flash. I assume you went darker, because it's Gotham City, but did you guys talk about a different palette?
Buccellato: Yeah, but it's actually not darker. In a lot of ways, it's lighter.
It's less yellow, I think is probably more accurate. We're using more blues and pinks and purples than we ever did in Flash, so the palette's different. But it's not dark, per se.
Manapul: With Detective, I mean, it seems to be nighttime in Gotham almost all the time. And we try to find different colors that will represent darkness without using gray. And there's an array of colors that can give across the exact same feeling that darkness can make, but using color instead of black or gray. Things like green or purple or blue.
Because of the way I work with the tones, when you use gray to underpin lighting, it'll make my work look muddy, because I've already done the watercolored tones for it. So you have to use a secondary color to create that.
Buccellato: And usually a lighter color. It's more about colors and less about how much ink is on the page.
Manapul: Yeah, we're having to be much more thoughtful about the color palette than we were on The Flash.
Nrama: Do you guys always do the different jobs separately? Francis on pencils, and Brian on colors, right? Or do you ever mix that up a little bit?
Buccellato: I think there's a misconception that, because we're storytellers together, and we write it together — but I don't draw the comic book. That's all Francis. Pencils through ink and ink wash — that's all Francis' job. That's his domain.
I may weigh in with opinions, based on story. But other than that, I just sit back and wait for those pages to come in. He does all that.
And then, he turns over the pages to me, and I color them.
Then, what we really do at the end is, kind of this back-and-forth, after he's drawn and ink-washed it, and I've colored it — then there's one final pass, to create the cohesion that you see at the end.
Manapul: Yeah, in terms of the art, it's a separate process, and it really comes together in the coloring aspect. That's when we become very collaborative.
Essentially, we're very collaborative in the writing part and the layout, but the penciling and inking, and then the coloring — they're separate jobs. We both take a final pass to make sure it's the way we want it.
Nrama: So you might add some art after it's been colored?
Manapul: Sometimes, there are things that work better digitally. Like sometimes, I'll leave the sky, and then I'll come back in to ink it digitally afterwards. But it really changes from situation to situation.
Nrama: Is the dialogue all added after the art? I mean, the specific "he says" then "she says."
Buccellato: It's about 50/50, to be honest with you. We note dialogue, as needed, to know how the story's going to be paced, and so that Francis has a clear indication when he's laying out the panels of the pages. And a lot of times, with final dialogue, we do another pass and fill in all those blanks, after the pencils.
Manapul: Yeah, before I lay out or draw any pages, Brian and I discuss what the scene is about, but also what people are discussing — what they're talking about and what we need out of that scene.
Sometimes we'll have a scene that has a pivotal turning point in the story, where we need to pin down the dialogue before the art is drawn. And we do that.
But then there are some scenes were we know what we need to get out of it visually, and we'll add in the dialogue afterwards.
It's just much more of a dynamic process, because we can adjust according to what the art needs and what the story needs.
Buccellato: There's no hard-and-fast rule. We've written some scenes where the dialogue is completely written beforehand and then doesn't change, and we've written things where there's no dialogue written beforehand. And then we've written scenes where dialogue was written beforehand and we change half of it afterward.
There's no rule. It's just story first. And it's all part of our creative process.
Nrama: It's interesting to hear about, because most comics these days have a full script.
Manapul: I think there was one issue where we wrote a full script, before the layout was done, just as an experiment, and we ended up going back to our original free-style kind of process.
Nrama: OK, let's talk about the storytelling approach. Do you think you've grown as storytellers? Because this week's issue of Detective had several subplots going on, and mysteries, and they're all coming at a nice pace. Is that because you've grown as writers?
Buccellato: Yeah, I think so.
Nrama: Uh… not to say you weren't good before.
Buccellato: [Laughs.] Yeah, that sounded backhanded, Vaneta.
Manapul: [Laughs.] I think a lot of it is, I think, with Detective, we're just much more focused.
When we were working on The Flash, what you had was a creative team that was not only writing it from an objective standpoint, but also from the point of view of a true fan. You know? And I think that came across in The Flash.
Obviously, I am a big Batman fan too, but more so, I'm just a fan of detective stories and mysteries. And those are things that Brian also enjoyed. I think maybe the vision is more clear.
Buccellato: I don't think we were unclear in The Flash, but we had a different job. That was the beginning of the New 52, and our job was to set the table and create the New 52 version of Central City and The Flash and the Rogues.
So that was a completely different job. That was a responsibility that we had.
Whereas in Detective, we just get to tell a detective story. The world is built and ready to go, and we're just playing with those pieces.
Manapul: Yeah, I think in a lot of ways, Detective is easier to write than The Flash, because we are just focusing on the story, not the world-building. But in other aspects, it's more difficult — it's very difficult to come up with a mystery, and trying to stay one step ahead of the reader, and trying to misguide them but also leave enough clues.
Buccellato: Yeah, enough clues that it all adds up at the end.
Nrama: OK, before we run out of time, let's talk about the story you're telling in this Anarky storyline. Now that we've read the first issue and know there are several mysteries going on — and by the way, I love the scene where Bruce and Alfred kind of shared a moment outside — but can you talk about what you're going for with this story?
Manapul: What we're essentially going for is… when you look at what we had focused on in the first arc, with the drugs and social aspect of Gotham City, now that the waterfront was blown up, you have all the people that are displaced. So we're showing a greater contrast of what it's like to live in Gotham. This is the kind of place that inevitably shapes who you are.
If you look at the discussion Bruce had with Alfred, they're more or less saying this city turns you into something else.
The idea with Anarky is we're introducing — or rather, giving the citizens of Gotham an opportunity to have a choice. In the second issue, it will become very clear that Anarky's main goal is to give Gotham City a chance to be who they want to be, not who they became because of Gotham City.
Nrama: This storyline takes you up until the Convergence break, right?
Nrama: Are you on the book after Convergence?
Manapul: As far as we know.
Buccellato: Yeah, as far as we know, we are.
Manapul: Let us know if you find out otherwise.
Nrama: If you were to describe what 2015 is going to be like in Detective, how would you describe what you're hoping to do next year?
Manapul: One of the things we're going to focus on is, we love the development of Harvey Bullock. There are aspects of him that really fit well into the kind of stories that Brian and I are telling. Whereas our main focus has always been and always will be about the mystery, I think we'd also like to delve more into Bruce Wayne and who he is, as well as Harvey and the relationship that Harvey and Batman have. We also want to take some of the mysteries and make them bigger in terms of scale.
Buccellato: Yeah, we want to play around with a larger story, but not at the cost of the character work we're doing with Harvey. If anything, we want to integrate Harvey and Bruce by giving them more challenges and more conflicts and more things that are directly tied to whatever our big story is going forward.