Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Artist to Watch - Francis Manapul

I'm starting a new feature on the site called "Artist to Watch." I'll highlight a comic book artist who I think is putting out some of the best artwork in the game right now. The individual may not be a new artist per se, but they are someone who I feel deserves to be recognized for the top-notch work they are releasing on a regular basis. The post will provide some biographical information, a bibliography, some art samples, and then a brief story about my first experience with their work.

I couldn't have picked a better artist for the inaugural edition than Francis Manapul.

The Filipino-Canadian artist got his break, and is most easily recognized, for his work as the penciller on Top Cow's Witchblade. He began working on the title in 2001 and stayed on the book until 2005, pencilling a total of 23 issues. Following his work on Witchblade, Manapul stuck around the Top Cow offices providing interiors for other titles such as Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, The Darkness and The Necromancer.

Since 2007, Manapul has been an exclusive artist for DC Comics. He's drawn interiors for Adventure Comics, Superman/Batman, and he just recently signed on to draw the new ongoing Flash title written by Geoff Johns.

Manapul has quickly turned into my favorite artist working right now. He refers to his style as "Americana." His figures tend to buck the trend of the traditional superhero model. Gone are the excessive muscles and gargantuan physiques of male superheroes, and he avoids the tendency to overly sexualize female characters. His characters are expressive and each one is unique when compared to the rest. His work is clean and it reminds me a lot of the artwork we used to see in the 1960s and earlier.

There are two things Manapul does extremely well. The first relates to movement. He draws motion better than anyone I've seen, and this ability is on full display with his Flash artwork. The Flash is a character who is always moving and most artists tend to draw him almost in a blur. When you draw the Flash this way you lose the little things that makes him such a cool character. It's important to show his speed, but at the same time include enough detail to see what the Flash is doing while running so fast. To illustrate my point, look at his cover to The Flash: Secret Files and Origins. Here we have a series of images where Barry Allen dons the Flash costume. The image is dynamic. You get a sense of motion yet you can stop and appreciate the little details like the costume exploding out of the Flash's ring, Barry pulling down the mask and before you know it the Flash is right in front of you.

In addition to motion, Manapul draws animals so well it should be illegal. Most artists will tell you that animals are tough. During his run on Adventure Comics, the script required Manapul to draw Krypto, Superman's pet dog, quite a bit. I couldn't stop staring at the images of Krypto in every issue. I told myself that if I ever met Manapul at a convention, and he was sketching, I would ask for Krypto. His illustrations made Krypto feel "real," but not photo referenced. He was even expressive, capturing the little tilts of the head that give dogs their personality. I've never been so fascinated with an artist's rendering of a pet in my life.

The first time I saw Manapul's work was in Superman/Batman #60. In this issue, the Man of Steel and the Dark Knight find themselves mysteriously transported to a city in an alternate reality that is an amalgam of Metropolis and Gotham City. In this reality, not only have the cities merged, but the heroes have as well. Superman and Batman find themselves facing off against the the Justice Titans, a conglomeration of the JLA and the Teen Titans. The cover hooked me and the interiors were even more impressive. Manapul drew issues 60 and 61 and both are worth checking out.

I couldn't be happier to know that Manapul is back doing interiors on a regular basis with the Flash. The first issue arrived in stores on April 14, 2010 and you should still be able to get a copy at your local store. With Geoff Johns on writing duties and Francis Manapul on art, this should be a run for the ages. No pun intended.

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