When DC Comics announced yesterday some of the 52 new #1 issues it's releasing in September, one writing team came as a surprise to fans: Francis Manapul and Brian Buccellato on The Flash.
The surprise isn't because the two are new to comics — they're not even new to The Flash — but because they're known in the industry for their artwork -- not their writing.
Manapul and Buccellato just came off a run as the art team on The Flash with superstar writer Geoff Johns. Manapul does pencils, inks and watercolors. Buccellato does the colors.
But now they're writing the story.
It's not the first time the two have written a story, having collaborated on a story for Top Cow's The Darkness. But it's certainly a high-profile gig for two artists whose history at Image, Marvel and DC has always focused on art.
While the two wouldn't talk about the story they'll be telling in The Flash, Newsarama talked with Buccellato and Manapul about their upcoming run on the book and whether they're confident they can deliver on schedule.
Newsarama: Francis, how did this come about? And how did you end up working with Brian on it?
Francis Manapul: I think my editors knew I'd been interested in doing it. But it was certainly a surprise when our editor, Eddie Berganza, asked me if I wanted to take a shot at writing the book. My first response, honestly, was, "Seriously?"
But it was an absolute dream come true. The Flash is my favorite book, so there's no way I could pass it up.
Knowing what it's like to be a "first-time writer," I knew there would be a learning curve, and that's why I talked to Brian and asked him if he wanted to join me in this adventure. And luckily, he was up for it.
Brian Buccellato: Oh yeah.
Manapul: I tried to go about this in a smart way. I knew that, as enthusiastic as I was and as much as I wanted to write the book, I still needed someone to have my back.
Brian has been a long-time friend of mine, both in and out of the industry. We've been friends for more than 10 years, and we wrote together at Top Cow on The Darkness. We developed a lot of ideas for creator-owned comics, but we ended up being too busy with drawing to ever get them anywhere. But he writes screenplays and we've constantly been talking about writing stories together for a long time. So it was a no-brainer to ask him to come along.
Nrama: So Brian, your answer was yes?
Buccellato: Oh, I was like, "Hell yeah!" I think of myself as a writer as much as an artist, and this opportunity was exactly the type of thing I was waiting to hear.
Nrama: Francis, did you talk to Geoff at all before you started on the job?
Manapul: Yeah, I asked him for some advice. I think the most important conversation I had, when we were starting the story, was when I was asking Geoff, 'Who is the Flash to you? And what do you think of Iris? And what do you think about all these supporting characters?' And he told me what these characters meant to him, and what the book was really about.
But what Brian and I had to do was find out who he was to us.
I think what made Geoff's run great was that it was personal to him. Brian and I needed to find a voice and find what was personal to us. And we did.
A lot of the scenes that you'll see in The Flash are a reflection of what we're feeling. For example, the feeling of being overwhelmed. Over the past year, working on this story, we've gone through the process of working within this new framework, and of course it was overwhelming sometimes. And we were able to use that in our portrayal of the character. It's only natural that we express how we feel through Barry. That's going to mean a lot more and have a lot more resonance with readers. It'll come out that much better if the writing has that real emotion behind it, and hopefully the love we have for the character will come through.
Nrama: Have you started putting together the story, and has there been a learning curve? And how have you met that challenge?
Manapul: Being a long-time fan of the Flash, I had a pretty clear idea of what I wanted to do, and who the Flash was. And once Brian and I had a theme for the story we wanted to tell with Flash, we had a clear idea of where we wanted to go. So that part really wasn't a question. It was just a matter of, where do they want us to take it within the DCU? We knew where we wanted to go with the Flash, but we had to wait to see what the landscape was going to be post-Flashpoint.
It's like, we know the address of the place we're going, but because of some things DC is doing, we just had to take a different route to get there. And that's OK.
Nrama: How are you guys working together? Do you discuss the story then break it up? Or do it together?
Buccellato: A whole lot of Skype. We're "Skyping."
Manapul: Screen sharing is the best thing ever.
I think the advantage of having a writer/artist team that can do both is that we literally can see the story all the way through, from conception to the end. So every part of what you see on the book is part of the story, from the layout to the illustration to the coloring. Every part informs the story, it has a meaning.
Buccellato: It's all integrated.
Manapul: I think that's the advantage of having a singular voice. I say singular because Brian and I really do think similarly. And when it's this integrated, with the visual and writing being created with the same themes in mind, you really do come up with something unique. It's been great realizing how far we can push the story visually, because we're in it from the beginning.
Nrama: I can see how that would happen, but is there any example you can give?
Manapul: Well, we're able to integrate a lot of new storytelling techniques in terms of portraying speed. That's been the keystone that Geoff was giving the art. Every issue, he was having Barry do something new with his powers. What we're going to try to do is something similar to that, but showing it in a different way. We're going to push our storytelling abilities as far as we can. And for me, that's been the most gratifying thing about the book.
Buccellato: We have some really interesting things that people haven't seen before. We really tried to look at Flash in a different light and integrate the visuals and his powers in a way that I think people will be a little surprised by.
Nrama: Do you think of it a different way from the beginning? Do you start with thumbnails?
Buccellato: Not first. It's a step. But we were asked, and I'm glad that we were, to plan out our overall vision, thematically -- what we want to say with Flash and the themes we want to explore and how we're going to get there. We had to break down two years worth of storytelling that included our wish list of the definitive Flash that we want to explore.
That's really where we had to start. The theme. The bigger plan. And the visuals had to be step two or three. Once we knew what we wanted and that everyone was on board with that, then we could work on the visuals, and the great thing is that we have all this information in hand when we come up with the visuals, so it can have meaning as well.
Manapul: That was definitely beneficial, to map out the entire road. But to answer your question, for the first couple weeks, we did nothing but plotting and writing and developing who the characters were to us. So the visuals came later.
Of course, since we're artists, there was an occasional burst of a visual idea. I remember at Wonder Con, when I had just come from a meeting about this with Eddie and Brian, I was going up the elevator and had this idea.
Buccellato: A brainstorm!
Manapul: Yeah! I literally ran downstairs and said, "Hey guys! Sit down for a second! Let me show you this thing that I want to do in terms of how to show his speed!" I showed them this little drawing I did on my iPad. And that was the first illustration I did. And I don't think I drew anything else for another two weeks after that.
But even that visual idea came about after discussing the story we wanted to tell. So I think that's the best thing about this type of collaboration that involves both art and story.
Nrama: So you see it as an advantage?
Manapul: It can be if you approach it the right way. It can't be me being an artist wanting to do stuff for the sake of drawing it.
Buccellato: It has to serve the story.
Manapul: Everything has to be in line with the story we're telling. But luckily, within the story we're telling, we've come up with some interesting ways to portray the visuals.
I think what a lot of people forget is that comic books are a visual storytelling medium. A lot of people instantly disregard artists who try to write, but we're constantly writing every day, but we're just using a visual language. For an artist to expand and grow, it's already in them -- or at least it should be in them -- to know how to tell a story. Brian and I already know how to tell a story well.
Nrama: I'd love to ask you guys about the story, but I know you're not allowed to say anything. So in general terms, who is your Flash?
Manapul: Well let's put it this way: If you don't know who Barry Allen is, and who the Flash is, then this is the perfect comic for you. That's one of the missions we had.
Buccellato: As DC has said, this not a reboot. But obviously, we're presenting Flash to an audience that may not have ever known who Barry Allen is. So we get to have a fresh take on it, and we get to basically tell the story of who the Flash is, and part of that is told by showing the character learning who he is, and learning what his limitations are, so you'll see much of this through his eyes. Our Flash is learning. Barry is learning, personally and as a superhero.
Life is about change and learning and growing, so I think people are going to really identify with Barry in this comic. We're all learning and growing, so Francis and I are taking Flash and we're going to grow him with us.
Nrama: Readers have seen scheduling problems in the past with artists who are also writing, and fans have also voiced concerns that they've seen delays on Flash in the past when you guys were doing art. Have you taken the potential for time problems into account at all?
Manapul: I think we need to say that there was never an issue with me and Brian delivering our work. We never said we were late. People on message boards said we were late. But they were wrong. We can't really say anything about what happened. People will think what they think.
Buccellato: We don't want to throw anybody under the bus either. But nobody likes to be blamed for things that aren't their fault.
Manapul: Right. But the real answer to your question is, editorial would not put us in the position we're in if they thought we weren't capable of doing what we're doing.
Buccellato: I don't think it's going to be a problem. But just in case there's any question, that's one of the reasons we're sharing the workload.
Manapul: We've had a pretty decent lead time. I feel like we have more than enough time to do what we need to do. I don't think it's going to be an issue. To me, it's a non-issue.
Buccellato: We're committed to making sure it's not an issue. I think it's really important for us that we are on time and that we are ahead of the game. I know how efficiently Francis worked on The Flash and so does editorial. He has proven to me that he is the most reliable and greatest artist and writer that I know he is.
Nrama: Then to finish up, is there anything else you want to tell people about what you guys are doing in The Flash?
Manapul: We love this character, and we have put a lot of time and energy and thought into what we're doing on The Flash. This comic will literally be our hearts on our sleeves.
Buccellato: Hopefully, readers will fall in love with Barry the way we have. I know there are some fans who are partial to Wally. But I think people are really going to love Barry when they read our story.More on DCNu:
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