Marcus To is pulling double-duty for DC Comics for a couple months this summer, drawing his regular title, Batwing, but also doing a two-issue fill-in run on The Flash.Beginning with June's The Flash #10, artist Francis Manapul is taking a two-issue break from doing pencils on the book to concentrate on writing and working ahead on art for issue #12 and beyond. He will still be doing layouts for the comic, and will continue to co-write with Brian Buccellato as the two introduce Flash's Rogues over the next few months leading to August's 48-page Flash Annual #1.
"It's simple. I need a break," Manapul told Newsarama. "Working with Brian [Buccellato] on the writing and planning for the title has been great, but then also keeping up with the covers and art and everything, making that monthly deadline, it can wear on you. I woke up today not feeling like the weight of the world is on my shoulders. We can take our time now to get ahead on writing."
The Flash was launched last year as part of DC's New 52 initiative. Besides co-writing Manapul has been also penciling and inking the monthly title, as well as adding watercolors. Buccellato has been coloring the book.
"He didn't have to draw today," Buccellato told Newsarama last week about his writing collaborator. "For the first time in nine months, he has one day, or at least one day, where he doesn't have to draw."
"One of the reasons is that his desk is a few feet away from mine," Manapul said. "So it's really easy to go over the whole thing with him.
"But also, he's a fantastic, talented artist. The pages he's done for Batwing look absolutely stunning. And when we were talking about who we could get to do a fill-in, he was at the top of the list. The way he does action and emotional scenes is just amazing."
To started his comic career with Aspen, then drew Red Robin for two years before landing the Huntress mini in the first wave of mini-series augmenting the New 52.
Manapul said he and Buccellato have written issues #10 and #11 to play to To's strengths. "Knowing that he'd be drawing it, we started catering some of the story beats to his strengths," Manapul said. "It's going to be interesting, because the way Brian and I work is that I do the layouts from the script. And then it will be interesting to see his take on the layouts that we're doing. I'm really excited."
Newsarama talked to To about the double-duty, and what he's trying to bring to his two issues of The Flash.
Newsarama: Marcus, does this mean you're taking a break from Batwing?
Marcus To: No, no! I'm actually drawing both at the same time.
Nrama: That's a lot of work!
To: Yeah, but what a lot of people don't realize is that during Red Robin, I also did part of Soulfire Vol. 2, and also the Green Lantern video game comic. So I have the capability to do two books a month for a little while. It's not easy, but I can do it.
Nrama: You have to put a few extra hours?
To: Yeah, exactly. Basically, it means for the next couple months, I won't be leaving the house or the studio too much.
Nrama: Such a sacrifice. It sure is nice of you to allow Francis to take a break. Was this something you guys started talking about at your studio?
To: Actually, how it happened was Francis and I were in Seattle, and we were talking to Brian Cunningham. And Francis was saying how he and Brian normally write, which is by doing layouts first so they can see it visually, and then writing the script. And I said if he did the layouts, I could probably get that book done in two weeks. I mean, a lot of the thinking has been done already. Of course, I totally trust Francis' visual cues, so I thought that even if I did change a couple things, it would be very minimal. So all in all, it would be taking the map that Francis laid out, and all I would have to do is follow it. I felt that I could do it in a good amount of time. And I spoke with Brian Cunningham about it, and he was excited about it.
And my editor, Mike Marts, was there too. So we talked to Mike about it, because he was the one who brought me on to Batwing. And he thought it might bring good publicity for my work on Batwing. He thought maybe I could show all these Flash readers that I can draw, and maybe bring some over to Batwing.
Nrama: Have you been able to keep up with the schedule you set for yourself doing both comics?
To: Yeah, pretty much. The first couple pages with the Flash actually in it, I took longer than I normally do on pages because I kept on erasing him and saying, "No! He doesn't look right!" So those pages took longer while I got used to it. But it's been great working on the book so far.
Nrama: There's only been one artist drawing this young Barry Allen since the relaunch, so are you trying to kind of match what Francis has been doing on him?
To: Well, we talked about that. The editors suggested a few options, like they thought maybe they could bring in someone to gray-scale it, like watercolor it. But Francis said, "No, there's not a point in him doing that." He said it would be a disservice to me if I wasn't able to do my own style. He didn't want me to try to copy what he's done. So that was a good vote of confidence from him to his editors to really just allow me to draw the way I feel most comfortable and want to draw.
Nrama: That makes sense. But does the layout by Francis give it a different feel than, say, your work on Batwing?
To: I think the storytelling is his approach, more or less. The way the shorts are composed is probably his approach. But the way I draw his layouts is my approach. That's the way I'd described it.
So the way Flash looks? It's mostly mine.
But you know, Francis and I have very similar likes and dislikes, in the way we draw characters. So I think there are enough similarities between his style and mine to keep it consistent.
Nrama: I know you work in the same studio. Did you guys know each other before that?
To: Yeah, I've known Francis for a long time. He's really good friends with the Aspen Studio guys. And when I as at Aspen, that's how we met. I was at a con, hanging out with Peter [Stigerwald], Frank [Mastromauro] and Mike [Turner]. And we just kind of hit it off.
I actually ended up moving to Toronto because Francis thought it would be a good idea. And I did too, because he said there's a great art community. I was living in Calgary, and I was complaining that there weren't a lot of artists that I know. So I made the move to Toronto. And from there, I met all these other artists at the studio, like Kalman [Andrasofszky] and Ramón [K. Pérez].
And they invited Francis and I, at the same time, to join the studio. And now we've got Ken Lashley and Scott Hepburn and a bunch of other guys, just to try to get that kind of creative influence between all of us different artists.
Nrama: I suppose there is some downside to having other people and distractions around when you're drawing, but do you feel like the benefits outweigh the challenges in the studio?
To: Yeah. I mean, I'm ultimately more comfortable working at home, by myself, but when you're on a tight deadline, there's nothing like doing it along with other people, so it doesn't feel like it's that bad.
Nrama: It's probably easy to get distracted at home, isn't it?
To: Sometimes yes, sometimes no. I can do a fair amount of work at home, because I'm so used to it. When I was a kid, I used to just sit at home and draw in front of the TV. That's all I did. So it's a very comfortable feeling for me. I don't play a lot of video games or do a lot of other stuff.
Drawing is my life, really. That's what I do.
But at the studio, I think it's more, for me at least, it's more about preventing that anti-social side effect of sitting at home alone. And it pushes me to be among others and be OK with having them look over my work, or share insights on your art. That's the big benefit for me. It took me awhile to get used to that.
Nrama: You're starting with issue #10, where Weather Wizard shows up. Are you getting to define that character visually at all, or was his design already in place?
To: That's all Francis. He already designed the Rogues that he's going to use. I remember it. He designed them months ago. He was preparing for this whole story of the Rogues. He had them designed even before the Captain Cold story arc. So all that is actually his.
Right now, I am the soldier, and Francis and Brian are the generals. So I'm keeping my head down and working hard as I give them a helping hand with the comic. And I'm hoping that helps me bring attention to my own work.
Nrama: As a fan of comic books, how does it feel to get to draw the Flash and portray his speed and work in this character's world?
To: It's been really interesting, because it's really daunting but it's also really, really fun. He's such a beloved character, you know? And I haven't drawn a lot of the Flash, especially not while he's running. I'm still working out how I want to have those scenes look and how the lightning and the speed lines look. I want it to look different from someone else.
That's been a challenge, as I'm trying to make it my own. After all, the Flash has been drawn already by so many great artists.
But I think it's fun that I get to come on for the Rogues, being here for the introduction of Weather Wizard and other characters. I haven't read the script for #11, but I know we're starting to bring them all in over the next few issues because it's all leading to them being back together again.
Nrama: Yeah, Francis and Brian told us that the big Annual in September will feature the story of what connects the Rogues. I suppose Francis is already looking toward September, when he'll be drawing again. But for now, he told me last week that he woke up and realized he didn't have to draw that day. He could just write. And he said he doesn't remember the last time he had one day where he didn't have to draw.
To: Yeah, I see him all the time at the studio. It's been the best thing I could do to help him out. He's been so stressed. And I'm sure a lot of the writers and artists from the New 52 have been feeling it too. We're closing in on that first year of the New 52, and there are a lot of artists that I know who are starting to show it, you know? They've been making their deadlines so consistently since last year. They've been working to hard to make sure their book is out no matter what. And I'm sure a lot of them are starting to feel the pressure and tiredness of having to stay on such a tight deadline for so long.
Nrama: How has it been working on Batwing and working with Judd [Winick] since the last time we talked, when it was announced? Your issues are just starting, right?
To: Yeah! I just started, and Judd's been really encouraging, which is awesome. And that's what I really need, is someone who encourages me. And if I have that, I can get the confidence to tackle it. And it's been fantastic working with Ryan Winn and Brian Reber on Batwing. They've done a superb job making the book look as great as it does. It wouldn't be anywhere near the quality it is without them on Batwing.
But I'm really enjoying the character. I love drawing him. And I'm getting the hang of drawing his costume as I get more comfortable with the character. I feel like, for me anyway, it can take a few issues to really feel like you can draw the character without struggling or erasing. For Huntress, I didn't feel like I was completely comfortable drawing her until issue #5! You just have to warm up to the character and see how their little quirks and their little looks and their facial expressions work. And I'm hoping to really get comfortable on Batwing and start to really make an impact on the comic.
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