The hardcover collection “The Flash: The Dastardly Death of the Rogues” has landed on store shelves, and with the writing of Geoff Johns and the art of Francis Manapul, it conveys the velocity of the Fastest Man Alive with ingenuity and grace, whether he’s dashing across the rotors of a helicopter, snatching bullets out of the air or dismantling a careening car before it hits the ground. It’s not easy to get rising artist Manapul to sit still — the Philippines native and Toronto resident is well known for his globetrotting as co-host of the television series “Beast Legends” — but I caught up with him recently to discuss his need for speed and the rich ink-wash tones he brings to bear on the Flash.
GB: There may be no character that is more inherently kinetic than the Flash. That must be an enticing opportunity for a comic-book artist.
FM: I had been dying to do the book. I had been a fan since I was a teenager reading the stuff that Mark Waid and Mike Wieringo worked on. That’s where my love for the character grew. They were introducing new powers and he was finally able to vibrate through objects and all these nifty things he could do with his speed. When Geoff and I started the book he told me of his desire that every issue show something different and cool with his powers, showing how speed is done. One of the things that I feel we did a great job on was to portray speed and not just with speed lines and lightning — it was with story and situation, like when he’s running through the helicopter blades or putting the building back together. When you get that point of reference for just how fast this guy really is, it feels a lot faster than just adding more speed lines. There’s something about reading it that way, too; when you’re reading the book you’re seeing stuff that no one could see because it all just happens in milliseconds. You have an interesting inside look.
GB: What did Flash mean to you as a fan?
FM: Of course growing up the first superhero I ever read was Superman. You’re drawn to that right away, but you grow up with Superman and Batman and they’re there, they’re visible all the time. But the Flash was the hero I chose. It’s like the first one I picked up of my own free will. Superman and Batman are always there. To me, Flash seemed more relatable. Superman is god-like and Batman is just nuts. Flash is a regular guy who got powers and he’s trying to do his best. I think that makes him a character you understand. He’s more of a balanced character. He’s not leaning too far to one side or the other. With Flash, he feels more like you, the reader.
GB: Green Lantern and the Flash were also, in the Silver Age, very much the center of the science push at DC. These weren’t men of magic and there was always something pragmatic and engineering-minded about the way they pursued their superhero adventures.
FM: That, all the science fiction stuff, felt like more a backdrop thing to me. The things I liked about the Flash, the real draw for me, were the people around him. Whether it’s Iris or those great villains, that was infinitely more interesting. The science thing adds a little something-something to it and there are certain aspects of the speed force that people are always trying to tap into and trying to recapture in the way that the Flash did. It is less magical, like you said, and that makes it interesting. It’s almost like a Frankenstein thing except the lightning hit him.
GB: When you start with a blank page, there are so many different ways you can go, but because of their own limitations or expectations, many artists end up following the same paths. Your stuff has a quality, however, that takes you in different directions and with different choices even as far as the materials and medium. Is that a point of pride for you?
FM: I think the key thing to any book is really storytelling, and it’s more about the content of the panel and the clarity of the story. I think it’s just one of those things I learned throughout the years when I was younger. It’s almost like you’re a running back and you want to make big plays and celebrate in the end zone, but that comes with a high probability of fumbling the ball. Now that I have a few more years under my belt I know the important thing is getting the integrity of the story on the page. I’ve taken a more conservative approach to my art with regards to storytelling. And what happened after that is, to push myself as an artist, I came up with different techniques and was open to a different medium, whether it’s watercolor or pencils. I push myself in that way but my main job is to tell a story. Once I made that my main focus, it seemed to work out a lot better. As an artist, as a fan, as a reader of the medium, it just makes more sense to take a conservative approach with the story.
GB: That’s true in so many things, I think. When you’re young, you show off, but as you become more serious about the craft and more understanding of the history that’s come before you, you become more in service of the material. You become confident enough to let the work come first always and then find your expressions of self on top of that, in a way.
FM: Exactly. There’s a reason the triangle offense works for the Lakers. It takes a while to get the hang of it, and when you’re young you want to freewheel it and freestyle on the court and do whatever you want, and that can look awesome but you’ll eventually get shut down and you won’t win a lot of games. What we’re doing with the Flash in terms of how we tell the story, we want to win every game. We want every issue to be an immersive experience, and if that means I have to show off less, that’s what we do. With Geoff, what makes him such a special collaborator is the fact that he adjusts to the artist that he’s working with. When I get a script, it’s like reading a story that I would have written for myself and my art. We’re so in tune with how we like to tell a story, I never feel like I’m out of my zone when I read a script I get from Geoff. That’s what makes him great. A lot of artists feel the same way about him. If you read his Green Lantern, it’s completely different from the Flash. That’s what makes him so great.
– Geoff Boucher
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