Everyone knows the Flash is fast, but for Francis Manapul, communicating the high energy and excitement in DC's new series, The Flash, has been a dream come true.
The artist has always wanted to work on The Flash, and after working with Geoff Johns on the launch of Adventure Comics last year, he got the chance to do it.
Last month, The Flash started with a new #1 issue that received praise from critics and fans alike. Newsarama talked to Manapul to find out more about his approach to the comic, the character and all those cool little Easter eggs that fans have been raving about.
Newsarama: Francis, how did you achieve the high energy of this comic?
Was that the idea behind how you and Geoff approached the Flash?
Francis Manapul: You know, whenever anyone asked me about what The Flash was going to be like, I said it was like Adventure Comics, only faster. The banner of the book is Brightest Day, so I think what we're going for is a slightly lighter tone, with that Geoff Johns sort of dark twist.When I first started talking to Geoff about the comic, he knew what my strengths were as an artist, and what he said he was trying to do is a mix between what he's doing on Green Lantern and what we were doing on Adventure Comics. I tend to be more slow in my pacing, and his Green Lantern work was more action-oriented and fast-paced. So with The Flash, we wanted to do something in between.
I've been dying to draw the Flash for a long time anyway, so I think we're striking a pretty good balance with that.
Nrama: What do you mean when you say your pacing tends to be slow?
Manapul: I kind of like a slower story. The way Geoff writes for me, he allows my panels to breathe. It's quite a contrast to what I was doing in Legion of Super-Heroes. Jim [Shooter] wrote very heavy and fast, you know? There was a lot of information packed in every single panel. And the way I like to tell stories is, sometimes I like silent panels where there's something going on but no caption. It's sort of a slower beat. It allows you to take it in.
Nrama: Yeah, I notice in the panels that, even though you probably wouldn't be described as an artist with a lot of detail, if you look in the background, there are a lot of little details. They're almost Easter eggs.
Manapul: Yeah, definitely. My work is far from detailed, especially with Ethan making such a stamp on the Flash. My stamp tends to be more gestural, which I think works out for the speed of the character. What I'm trying to accomplish, aside from the detail, is more of the feeling. That's why working with Brian Buccelato on the colors because, in every panel, there's a certain feeling and ambiance that we're trying to get across. If I'm able to do it with as minimal lines as possible, that's what I try to shoot for.
Nrama: There's also the Easter eggs I mentioned, like Flash saving the guy's Chinese food, or Iris almost always having that coffee cup. Were those things that Geoff had specifically in the script? Or did you add some things of your own?
Manapul: Geoff told me that he wanted Iris to be drinking coffee all the time. I drew it in her hand, but really, if you see her holding a coffee cup, that's Geoff's idea. But little things like the Chinese food, that was something I was able to add in, because Geoff writes fairly openly. Little things like that are fun to add.
Here's a detail for you. The Chinese food says "To's Chinese." I was drawing that page at current Red Robin artist Marcus To's apartment, so I wrote his name on the Chinese food. So there's even an Easter egg within the Easter egg.
It's just fun to add little details like that because, going into the book, Geoff wanted the Flash to do things with his speed that, visually, we hadn't seen before. Not so much in terms of the way I draw the speed lines or what-not, but more in terms of the portrayal of his speed in pictures. So I thought he'd be fast enough that he'd put that Chinese food back in that guy's hands while still being able to save the day. It's the same kind of thing we're showing by having him tearing up the car like that. We're trying to portray speed in a different way.
Nrama: I also noticed Barry and Iris' chat icons. Was that you or Geoff?
Manapul: That was Geoff! [laughs] He has the bow tie and she has the coffee cup.
Nrama: Getting back to the overall feel of the comic, you also portrayed that Central City moves fast. Was the idea to give Central City its own personality, and again, did you have a little freedom to communicate that visually?
Nrama: That's what's so awesome about Geoff is that he has such a complete idea, and yet he's able to give it to you and feel like it's open. The things that really made me feel for Central City is that Geoff is actually modeling it after my home town of Toronto. So all I have to do is look out the window.
What he wanted to do was, like Gotham City has such a personality and life of its own, he wanted Central City to take on a life of its own as well. Everyone's on the go, everyone's texting and rushing and drinking coffee. It will be quite a contrast to how we portray Keystone City as well.
Central City is based on speed, yet when Barry Allen takes off his Flash mantle, he's always late. It's kind of an old joke, that even though he's the fastest man alive, personality-wise, I think the city's a little too fast for him. And I think that's a nice contrast.
Nrama: We talked about how you utilize Barry's actions to communicate his speed, like with the dismantling of the car or the Chinese food catch, but those speed lines you mentioned are also incorporated. But it's kind of a combination of those lines and the lightning and the multiple images and blur effects. Did you have to work on how you were going to do those things, and how did you decide on this look?
Manapul: Oh I absolutely had to work on it. When I first started on the comic, I wanted to do what Ethan did, because I thought the lightning was so cool and everything. But there were certain aspects of it that I felt didn't work for me.
It was one of those things I only learned by actually working on the book. It wasn't something I could figure out just sketching in my sketchbook before I started it. I had to figure it out within the story. So that's why, in the first issue, you get that combination of speed lines, lightning and multiple images. I think that, for me, I'm kind of digging the multiple image thing. I think I figured it out on that Flash page where he's running toward us. I actually drew that page at the end, because I drew some pages out of sequence. But it just worked out that way, by the time I got to that page. I had figured out what works best for me.
But we'll be using a combination of the lightning, speed lines and multiple images. I think it would be wrong not to allow myself to use all those things. Why pick on trick in the bag when I can use all of it?
Nrama: Have you noticed that some scenes work better with one effect or another?
Manapul: Yeah, they do! I've been trying to figure out which effect makes him look really, really fast, and which effect makes him look extremely, out-of-the-world fast. I'm just trying to figure out which one it is that looks the fastest. I'm assuming the fastest, fastest you'll ever get is when you don't see him at all and it's just a line.
So what I've started to do is working with Brian really closely on the colors. On a separate piece of paper, I started doing speed lines using a wide brush. I want the artwork to have that not-created-on-a-computer kind of look, so I would do some speed lines using a wide angled brush. And Brian would apply that to the motion that we did. So there's little things like that that we're trying to use to streamline it.
Nrama: I know you can't say a lot about the futuristic guys that showed up at the end, but a lot of people have noticed the little details about them, like their RFTF badges. I assume you came up with a lot of their look?
Manapul: Geoff had the little details that he wanted, such as that badge. That badge was completely directed by Geoff. Once you get a closer look at the badge, it says quite a bit about the characters and about the future as well. So I can't really discuss what those things mean.
But in terms of designing the characters themselves, Geoff didn't give too much direction. He just kind of said, "draw the Rogues, but in the future." Character design isn't exactly my strong point, so I just drew the Rogues in the most natural way possible.
Basically I drew the Rogues without using reference, trying to remember what they looked like, while adding in some things. I'm still learning along the way, in terms of how I'm portraying the Rogues. I've been looking at quite a bit of reference lately, looking in particular at what Scott Kolins did with Rogues Revenge. So what I did with these characters is I tried to remember that, but make it a little more futuristic while giving them a more uniform look. Even though each one has a different costume, they all have something where you know they're all part of the same team.
Nrama: Are you getting to draw the future?
Manapul: Not yet! [laughs] Right now we're hanging in the current century in Central City.
Nrama: Are we going to be seeing other Flash characters? There are quite a few speedsters running around the DCU.
Manapul: No, we're just focusing on Barry for a while. I think we need to. What made Issue #1 stronger was that it was just Barry. The book is called The Flash, not Flash Family, and while I think we'll be looking at the family eventually, right now we have to introduce Barry as the main man.
I actually grew up with Wally, and I always loved Bart, but I think the book needs to chill a little bit from that multi-Flash thing and let Barry establish himself. I think Geoff just needs to give it some time before we have all the characters thrown together. Let it occur naturally in the story. I think that's similar to what he did with Green Lantern, when he did Rebirth and focused on Hal and let the Green Lantern Corps comic come out of that story naturally. And then now they're at the point where they're adding another Green Lantern title. I think it's better that way, to sort of let it grow out of the story naturally instead of forcing it all at once. You don't want to dilute the franchise right away.
Nrama: I know there's probably nothing I can ask you about Flashpoint. Did you know about the teaser?
Manapul: No! What's funny is, I was out of town, so I didn't get a chance to see the book until a couple days ago. I had no idea about Flashpoint. I saw people online saying, "Flashpoint! Flashpoint!" And I thought, what are they talking about?
I mean, I know what Geoff is doing with Barry and where he wants to take him. We've discussed some of the plans, although I don't know all the details. I actually find it more fun that way. So even if you did ask me about Flashpoint, I wouldn't know any answers.
Nrama: Then to finish up, is there anything else you want to tell your fans?
Manapul: I just want to say thank you for giving it a chance, because I know quite a lot of people were unsure whether I could handle portraying speed and drawing the Flash. Coming off Adventure Comics, which is a very slow burn, I know there were a lot of people who were a bit hesitant about me coming on board. So I'm really happy we were able to win them over. Hang in there. It's only going to get better from here on out.