Ebb and Flow: An Interview with Francis Manapul

Born in Manila, Francis immigrated to Canada 20 years ago and now calls Toronto home. It was in the Phillipines, where English is taught as a second language, that he was first exposed to comic books and it seems that it’s been his driving passion ever since. He’s known for beginning his career in the industry with Top Cow, in particular the Witchblade and The Necromancer series, but it was 2007, that he signed an exclusive contract with DC Comics. Since then he has worked on The Legion of Superheroes, Adventure Comics, Superman Batman and of course, The Flash.

Francis Manapul

One thing I have to say about interviewing Francis was just how easy it was to be in his presence. There was this calm and collected air about him, that despite being surrounded by adoring fans and the pressures of making time for them, being rushed to panels and trying to squeeze in a few commissions, it didn’t seem to phase him.

He’s a natural. Not only is his art captivating in it’s beauty, but it seems to just flow through him. Even in his creative process (more below), it very raw and organic and he seems to let it all come with the tide. Worth noting is that throughout the entire conversation, Francis was not only working on a beautiful commission piece, but he was signing comics for fans in this seamless multitasking dance. It was pretty incredible to watch him effortlessly drift from one task to the other.

Kim: Hi Francis, thanks for agreeing to do the interview. I want to just start out with the DC relaunch, as it seems to be the topic on everyone’s mind. I have to say that I was a big hater initially, but now that I’ve sat through the panel and talked to some of the writers and artists who are here.. I’m starting to get on board.

Francis: You know what it is? I think maybe as a fan of the character it might be different, it might be a bit of an adjustment – and I think that as a fan, what you’re going to get is really enthusiastic work from people because a lot of us are getting a chance to really put our take on the character. So what you’re going to get is really raw and it’s going to be very passionate. You’re going to get some good work. I think.. I feel that this might be some of the best that we’ve seen in comics in a long time, but you might only realize that in retrospect, after you get over that things are different. I mean, change is scary.

Kim: Change is scary. Definitely. One of our first podcasts was about the accessibility in comics – and how it’s hard for new readers to get involved. I mean, how do you recommend something like Batman? He’s on issue #711 now. You can’t offer someone the entire back catalogue of Batman and expect them to read it, so this is exciting… or at the very least I’m trying to stay positive about it now. I hope that it works, I hope that they get more readers.

Francis: Yeah, I hope so too. It’s like, for me… I started downloading some comics from the Comixology App and they have a lot of free first issues. They’re great because I would read them and a lot of them I had never heard of them.. or heard of the creators, but now if I remember it when I see the trade, I will buy it. I think that’s the whole point of it, you know?

Kim: I have to say, for me… when I started reading comics, the majority were published by the Independent companies, but now that I’m working in a comic store, I needed to spread my wings a little bit. So, this is going to be really great for me (and other retailers) when it comes to recommending things, because I can just say, “Well, you can start reading the Flash or Aqua Man now – right from the beginning.”

Francis: Exactly. It doesn’t feel like an exclusive club anymore. Now, it’s like.. You know, if you’re a fan of Batman or Aqua Man but you didn’t know what his deal was, now you can! Right?

Kim: Absolutely. So, one of the questions we wanted to ask you was about your transition from artist to writer. You started working on The Flash with Geoff (Johns), and now with the relaunch, you’re going to be taking on both tasks (writing and drawing) – so we were curious to find out how that came about: Did you ask DC? or did they approach you?

Francis: Well, my editor at the time, Eddie Berganza, approached me and asked if I had any interest at the time and I said “Yes, absolutely.” I mean, for me.. I’ve always thought that to be.. I mean, I guess to most fans, they think of artists as just that – artists.. but for me, I’ve always looked at it from the perspective that I’m telling a story, only I’m doing it without words. So, it doesn’t feel like that big of a leap for me. There are guys that lean more towards the illustrative side of things.. or the writing side, but me – I just want to tell stories, so when the opportunity came about, it was something that I could just not pass up. I do know that at the same time, a lot of people are going to be a little apprehensive with a new writer and stuff..

Kim: But you know The Flash.

Francis: Exactly! The thing is, that they (DC) knew that I was passionate about the character and that’s what they really wanted. The thing is, I feel really invested in the character – not that I didn’t before – but now, it literally feels like it’s my shot to shine. That’s why I went about it in a smart way, I mean Brian Buccellato is co-writing (and is also the inker) the book with me and he has experience screen writing. By bringing him on board, he certain helps keep a properness to the writing. I like to think big and he sort of grounds it all and keeps it all cohesive. We work very closely, to the point that it’s hard to say who came up with what.. because it’s been so collaborative.

Kim: Is Geoff (Johns) involved at all? Have you been looking to him for any guidance? I mean, we all know that it’s going to be a new Flash and it’s your own take on it, but…

Francis: Well, I talked to him before. When I was first offered it, I called him and asked him if he knew that what I was being offered, because I didn’t want to step on any toes, but he was all for it. He’s been very supportive. He told me it was a great opportunity and that I had to do it. As far as advice? At WonderCon, I just asked him what his thoughts were on the character and how he perceived Barry Allan.. but in terms of plotting? We’re kind of just doing our own thing. I mean, Geoff knows the character so intimately – how could I not at least ask him what his take on the character and the relationships he has… so that’s what we talked about, more the feel of Barry and not so much what was going to happen to him.

Kim: Was he really excited when you told him that you were offered the title?

Francis: Yeah! He was all for it. I was really happy with how supportive he was about it. I mean, like I said – I didn’t know how he was going to feel about it. I just wanted to make sure he was cool with it cause we were suppose to do ‘Flash: Secret Origins’ and then this thing came about. And Geoff is really busy, he’s writing a lot of books.

Kim: How has your creative process changed since you’ve taken on writing as well as the artistic side of things?

Francis: I mean, it all starts with Skype . Cause, for Brian – who lives out in L.A. we have to conference a lot, get together and discuss plots. When we first started, we didn’t even write what the plot was going to be about.. we just wrote a story, and I know there’s a difference between the two. At the beginning, I was so excited and had all these things I wanted to do, so I came up with this pretty elaborate first issue arc and we pitched it, but the response was really only ‘okay’ and at the time I didn’t really know how long of a series we were going to have, so I wrote it as if that was all we were going to get. So then, I just took some time to think about what I would do if I had more issues – how would I expand things. When DC asked me what I could do in two years, it changed everything. So what I did.. was I started with where I wanted the character to be in two years and started working my way backwards. And once I started doing that, I realized that.. ‘Okay, this first arc needs to change.’ Our first pitch was literally just an emotional arc, where we were going to take him and then from there we started to expand on the ‘what’s actually going to happen’ and the ‘why.’

A First Look at the New Flash

The way that Brian and I work, is that we would plot out each scene and I would actually storyboard them and then from there, we would do the dialogue. We’re not bothering with writing a panel to panel script because it’s really a waste of time for us, since I’m already writing and drawing… but we still write a script, but it’s more of a plot script, kind of like the old Marvel style. So we’ll break it down like ‘This is what’s going to happen on Page 4-5’ and then we start breaking it down page by page. And doing it that way, allows me to edit it as I need to, to create proper pacing. I mean in our first issue, we had a scene that needed two extra pages to make it work.. and I was like ‘What am I going to do with the other half now that I’ve eaten up those two pages?’ – so I just had to stop after those two extra pages and went to the last page and starting laying that out and worked backwards and found a solution to make it work. When I’m storyboarding – it’s drawing, but I’m writing – I just happen to be doing it with pictures.

Kim: Here’s a bit of a question to veer off of topic. How hard is it to write the ‘Science of Superheroes’ and do you do any sort of research when you’re looking into explaining some of the phenomena’s that we find in comic books?

Francis: Well, it’s kind of funny because.. I don’t know if it’s always going to happen this way, but it sort of feels like everything is just happening to fall into place. So, we created this new villain and we wrote this whole backstory for them and we knew what was going to happen and it wasn’t super scientific with the way that it was going to happen but it was coming from science. It just so happens that I was watching this Discovery Channel show and was like ‘Oh my god!’ and quickly grabbed my notepad and it was so applicable to what we were doing, so then I suddenly found a way to expand that and make it more grounded in reality. I didn’t change the story at all, but it helped create these certain nuances that wouldn’t be there if it wasn’t for that. So, I’m excited – I’m going to have an opening panel with a close up of a pig’s snout and that’s all I’m going to say. I’m so excited about that! It was just sort of a coincidence. The Discovery Channel – that’s where it’s at!

Kim: Here’s a bit of a tricky question for you: If you could pick five characters from any of the Universes (Marvel, DC, Independent) to make up a team, who would you pick and who would you have on the creative team (writer/artist) to make it happen?

Francis: The Flash, Superman, Batman, Captain America and Spider-Man. That would be my team. I would get Geoff Johns to write it and I would have to draw. I wouldn’t let someone else draw that! I’d be a fool!

Kim: And my last question for you, Francis. With the whole DC Relaunch happening – which of the 52 Titles that they’re listed would you have wanted to be working on, had you not been given the opportunity to work on The Flash?

Francis: Not including the one I’m already doing? Umm.. I’m not even so much about the character when it comes to that, I’m more about who I would be collaborating with. Right now I’m a big fan of Scott Snyder, so I’d love to work with him.. I don’t even care what the book is. Jeff Lemire is also awesome. Animal Man looks amazing… and being that he’s an artist as well, he thinks visually.

Kim: Well, thank you very much, Francis. I have to say as someone who’s never read a Flash book in the past, I’m actually really looking forward to what you’re going to be putting out there.

Francis: That’s great to hear! See, it’s already working. Thank you.

If you want to find out more about Francis Manapul, visit his website: http://www.francismanapul.com/

or you can follow him on Twitter: @FrancisManapul

Want to see more of his art? Check him out on Deviant Art: http://manapul.deviantart.com/

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