Francis Manapul took center stage for his spotlight panel at Seattle's Emerald City Comicon for a laid-back and personal conversation between the artist and a few dozen fans with DC Comics Publicity Manager Josh Kushins taking an impromptu turn at moderating the panel. Manapul was cool under pressure, taking questions from the audience and speaking about his partnership with "The Flash" co-writer and colorist Brian Buccellato, working on the New 52 and his plans for the future of "The Flash."
Manapul started the panel off with a bit of autobiography, talking about hitting up comics conventions as a teenager, already hungry for a job as a penciler. He had his first work printed at 18 and was hired on at Top Cow shortly after high school. Aside from "The Flash," Manapul pointed to "Adventure Comics" with Geoff Johns and BOOM! Studios' "Seven Warriors," a French book recently translated into English, as some of the work he's most proud of.
He then talked about the unique writing process he and co-writer/colorist Brian Buccellato have developed that centers on the two Skyping for hours at a time. The two have been friends since working together at Top Cow and Manapul admitted later in the panel that as soon as he started working at DC Comics, he wanted to work with Buccellato.
"When I came to DC, I tried to get him to color my work," he said. "But since I was a new kid on the block, you don't really have a lot of say." Fortunately, as part of the deal to write and illustrate "The Flash," Manapul made sure DC let him bring along Buccellato.
The New 52's "The Flash" is the first writing gig for Manapul, which the creator compared to the New 52 itself. "It's like I'm in gear one again in this industry," he said. "It feels like I got rebooted, too."
Kushins asked Manapul how he became one of the few writer-artists to land a book in the New 52. Manapul said it might have been a way for DC Comics to keep him with his contract expiring, adding, "I think they rolled the dice because they really believed in my art and my storytelling abilities."
Manapul spoke about take on the Scarlet Speedster, adding after "Flashpoint" and "Blackest Night" that he wanted the character to be bright and optimistic, even though, ironically, they plunged his city into darkness for the first year -- but the Flash's hometown is about to change. Manapul and Buccellato return The Flash to the Central City after a visit to the Speed Force to find that it's changed. The co-writers want to make Central City the most modern, technologically advanced city in the DC Universe.
The creator noted some of his early artistic influences, saying how Jim Lee's comics were responsible for hooking him on art and admitting something clicked when the Filipino-Canadian artist discovered Whilce Portacio was also Filipino. ("I thought he was Italian, or something.") However, he credits "Conan" artist Rudy Nebres as being a big influence, pushing him to further develop his artistic skills by inking his own pencils.
"It was very humbling to be told that you're not a real artist until you start inking your own stuff," Manapul added.
On his writing influences, Manapul cited Grant Morrison and his work on "All-Star Superman" and Will Eisner, who he credits with helping close the gap combining illustrating and writing.
"The way [Eisner] thinks was so far ahead of his time that a lot of people are still trying to catch up," Manapul said. "Can you imagine what he would be doing …now, knowing where digital comics are going?"
He also gave props to Scott Snyder and Jeff Lemire before talking about the role Geoff Johns has played in developing his writing, beginning when the two collaborated on "Adventure Comics."
"He really knows how to bring the heart out of a story," Manapul said. "He said 'Aquaman' was about responsibility and he builds stories upon stories from one word."
Manapul also revealed to the panel room that the one word defining his run on "The Flash" is "hope." He also learned from Johns to "write what you know" and said the first arc of "The Flash" was all about being overwhelmed -- something he and Buccellato were definitely familiar with.
"It was a story about the Flash being overwhelmed and wanting to be a better hero and that was exactly what was going on when me and Brian were writing that," he said. "[We] were extremely overwhelmed with the responsibility of taking on this franchise. … If you're not overwhelmed after that, you must have like ice-cold veins."
Someone in the audience brought up the recent scene where the Flash phases an entire plane through a bridge, which Manapul said all started with writing a cliffhanger.
"We actually didn't have a solution for it, we only had a problem," he said. "When we wrote that issue and handed it in, we didn't know how we were going to solve it in the next issue."
The writer/artist considered other potential options to resolve the cliffhanger before being pulled towards the visuals of the Flash jumping towards the plane with it phasing through the bridge.
"I think if they ever make a Flash movie, they have to use that," Manapul said as the crowd agreed.
Kushins asked how often Manapul and Buccellato write themselves into a corner like the cliffhanger versus mapping things out.
"We haven't don't that since," Manapul said to laughter. "We stared at panel one, page one forever, trying to figure out how the heck he was going to save the plane."
Manapul also mentioned some notable changes to the planned 24-issue story, saying Captain Cold wasn't supposed to appear until later in the series and a cancelled issue that could have snuck in a Wally West appearance.
However, the creator was able to tease a few tidbits about the future of "The Flash" when an audience member asked, "How do you feel about time travel?"
"You will find out in issue eight," Manapul replied. "Flash is going into the Speed Force and we're redefining what the Speed Force is." He also said time travel is going to be a key component to the core of the character and shape some moral conflicts for Barry Allen.
Discussing the Flash's place in the DCU, Manapul said Barry Allen doesn't feel he's as good as Batman and Superman, but "he's going to realize how important he is to the universe and it's going to be a huge burden on him."
Manapul closed the panel on an ominous note saying, "Flash has to run and he can't stop running -- and that's going to be huge turning point for the character."