It's not unusual to hear that a comic book artist is working behind the scenes on a movie or TV show. But Francis Manapul [that's him on the left] is taking it one step further by working in front of the camera, serving as a host on the new Syfy television series Beast Legends.
The show, which is already airing on History Television in Canada, premieres September 9th on Syfy with Manapul as a lead host. Combining fantasy with science, the show tracks down the truth about mythological creatures that could be real, and historical creatures that could be myths.
"It's a great opportunity to show the kind of skill set that comic book artists have that can be applied to different things, like science," Manapul told Newsarama. "For a comic book artist to be on TV and traveling around the world and going on these adventures and drawing — it's a really cool opportunity to showcase what we do."
Beast Legends, which will begin airing Thursdays at 10 p.m., brings together a team of investigators who research a legendary beast, traveling to the actual location where the creature's story first took life. Besides Manapul, the cast includes a professor of archaeology, a Harvard biologist, and an English adventurer and veterinary surgeon.
"By adding me to all these scientists, they got the formula they wanted, which is the fiction to go along with their science," Manapul explained. "The initial shoots they had were too science-heavy. So by inserting me into it, they got the fantasy part. And there were also some cool dynamics between me and the scientists, because they'd want to do things one way, and I'd of course want to do something I thought was cool, and it made for interesting television."
Manapul, who draws the monthly comic The Flash, was originally told that his role on the show was to only shoot for six days, sitting in a studio and drawing after the scientists returned from their adventures. But he instead spent six months traveling the world while filming the show as a lead personality.
"What ended up happening was that one shoot they were doing was in Vietnam, and it actually involved a lot of eyewitnesses to the Vietnamese 'Wildman,' which is their version of Bigfoot," he said. "So they thought it would be interesting to send an artist along to draw it as these witnesses described it.
"I'm so out of my element in that environment. I'm a complete city boy. I've never camped my entire life. I've never been in a jungle. I'm afraid of heights. Can't swim. I'm just this guy with a skateboard who loves comics," he said. "So they were like, 'This is perfect!' I was a complete contrast with the other host, who was a total outdoorsman. And they just ran with it, and I ended up traveling to all these crazy locations to track down these legendary creatures and draw them."
As a result, Manapul has experienced some pretty wild things that comic artists don't usually get to do, like swimming with sharks (sans cage), and paragliding to learn what it feels like to fly. The goal, Manapul said, was to understand how the environment would have affected the creatures' biology.
"For example, when we went to Poland, we were recreating a dragon," he said. "We went into one of the last medieval forests in the world, and according to legends, that's where the dragons lived. When we went in there, it completely changed what the physicality of the dragon would be, in order for it to survive in that environment."
Other adventures were more about getting animals to move in a certain way so he could draw their mythical relatives. "We worked on a Griffen, which was really cool. So my very first day, I thought I'd just sit and draw, but the next thing I know, I'm climbing up a lion's cage while carrying a dead chicken, then cutting out a hole and lowering the chicken to try to make the lion jump," he said with a laugh. "So they put me in some pretty precarious positions!"
He also got to do some fun action sequences that just heightened the excitement of the show, like drawing while sitting on a platform that was suspended over swimming sharks. Or skateboarding through the streets of downtown Hanoi.
"As anyone who's been to Hanoi knows, the traffic there is insane," he said with a laugh. "So it was pretty scary zipping through the traffic while they were filming. And there were even moments where I was doing a Back to the Future thing, where I was grabbing the back of a bicycle while on my board."
Because he's been working in the U.S. for the last few weeks, including a trip to Comic Con International: San Diego, Manapul hasn't heard any reaction to the first couple episodes airing in Canada.
"I'm on U.S. soil, and nobody here has seen it! There were a few Canadians at San Diego Comic-Con that had seen the show, so they were raving about it," he said.
Since the con, Manapul has been in Southern California, working on a few final polishes for Beast Legends. "We're actually finished filming now. We're just finishing up some post-production, doing voice-overs and narration. And then we're done," he said. "Now we'll just wait and see how reception is, and whether there will be a second season. And if we do a second season, it should be just insane, with bigger monsters and bigger everything."
But Manapul emphasized that his first priority is to comic books — particularly his current gig on The Flash. But it was tough going while he was in the middle of filming around the world.
"My schedule, when they were filming — and thank goodness, it's over right now — was to get up at 5 in the morning, film until 7, have dinner, draw until 3 a.m., and then repeat that the next day and try to grab sleep any other time I could," he said. "I've been running on two or three hours of sleep for the past eight months. It was so taxing, but I just had to make it work.
"Both projects, The Flash and the show, have been amazing opportunities," Manapul said. "The Flash is my absolute dream project to do, so there was no way I was going to screw that up to do the show. Comics is my career, and while the show is a great adventure and a great opportunity, I don't know what might happen with that in the future. Comic books have to be my main focus."
The US premiere of Beast Legends is on Thursday, September 9th at 10 pm eastern/ 9 pm central on SyFy, and it's currently airing right now on History Television Canada Wednesday at 10 pm eastern/ 9 pm central, Thursdays 8 pm eastern/ 7 pm central. Canadian residents can catch up on episodes as well as more air dates on www.history.ca.