Posted January 15, 2012 by Tony Tuason in MORE

The Comic Book Group 2011 Awards – Artist of the Year

CBG’s Artist of the Year  (2011) — Francis Manapul

(Check the other full list of the CBG Awards Winners here)

Francis Manapul

“Why Francis is the Man!”
By Jean Carlo L. Oshima

Why should Francis Manapul be the artist of the year? Is it because of his graceful and exquisite strokes? Is it because he manages to make even a boy from Krypton so human? Is it because he has a way with the ladies? Or is it because of his ability to infuse the Speed Force into every sinew of the Flash?

No of course not, it’s because he’s Filipino!

Ok that was a joke, but poor jokes, aside it’s really for all the other things I mentioned. I like Francis because he has taste when creating a sheet of comic book art. It’s brilliant. It’s what a comic book is supposed to be.

His strokes are brilliant, they are at once graceful and exquisite, he never seems to feel the need to be bombastic and act out. His characters are confident and well thought out. His scenes capture the spirit of the moment and take you along for the ride and make you feel what they feel.

I remember first encountering him as a young new hotshot for Lara Croft: Tomb Raider by Top Cow. Now Tomb Raider the comic book was an admittedly sub par comic book , but his art made it a treat. Even at such an early stage in his career he was able to make the lovely Lady Croft even more lovely, a small miracle that.

The next time I got wowed by him was in Iron and the Maiden by Aspen Comics (now known asThe Iront Saint). He managed to set the stage for an interesting 1930 gangster movie meets steampunk meets Escape from New York with a little Blade Runner dashed in. He managed to lay out a brilliant comic, short lived though it might be, and I could see he really improved his craft significantly. The lines were more refined and his characters were bigger than life.

But he managed to balance the characters and their particular quirks and qualities. Even the redeeming angel of the Maiden, had such a beautiful, graceful and fierce quality about her.  I recommend it as a comic to see Francis take things to a different level where he has to come up with so much design and style to a whole world. Those are some of the best comics to read, the ones without an established look and canon, where the artist has to create a whole world from scratch.

I remember very fondly that he has a way with the ladies, particularly brunettes. I remember ladies night out quite well when he did Witchblade 62-65. Det. Sara Pezzini and Patience at last meet and tag team to crack a string of supernatural murders. I love it.

I found that he had found the right stride with women. A lot of artists go a bit overboard and don’t know how to nail sensual and stylish and instead go overboard and I feel dirty reading a comic. It’s still one of my favorites, I love supernatural detective stuff, and he nails the ladies and their ass kicking abilities. The scenes are drawn with a feeling of motion and battle.

But at no time does he render Sara and Patience into your typical action heroines with big boobs, they have spirit and character and at no time do I feel like I’m watching a bad porno(something likely to happen in a Wtichblade comic), I feel like I’m there gumshoing with the best of them. So thanks Francis for the great date, even Patience’s cocktail dress was tasteful and divine(you’ll notice a very small but ingenious detail if you read the comic).

But time for less reminiscing and more on why this swag bastard of an artist should be artist of the year. I reiterate that it’s that ability to make his characters so human. It’s always in such small gestures or details, that’s a rare quality, to be able to say so much with so little, which is the mark of a great artist. Comic books are not a subtle genre, it usually involves some gigantic world ending events with absurdly good looking masked heroes saving everybody in the nick of time and still finding time to get the girl. So in a genre that involves some very fantastical people and situations and stretching the bounds of reality, it’s a rare treat to find someone who can infuse it with the everyday magic that we often overlook.

Especially when it comes to love. Love in comics is often an absurd affair, of course you’re going to fall in love, you’re both good looking and someone saved the other’s life. But he brings it back down to earth and somehow through that makes it more real and more magical. Excuse me if I don’t make sense, I’ve been having my thinking juice(a double Laphroaig single malt Scotch).

Bear with me and take a look at the following:

Adventure Comics Superboy by Francis Manapul

I mean come on, other comic book artist make human beings into superheroes, he makes the superhero human. Having a date in a diner with shakes, or boy meets girl at the front door? Who can’t relate to that? Or how is that not magical? It might happen a lot with the everyday person, but that in no way detracts from it’s value. It’s very sweet in an authentic and sincere way, not cloyingly. I mean Bella and Edward? Pathetic. You want a real teenage love scene? Just looking at Conner and Cassie makes me all gooey inside. Again it’s all the subtle details that make it stake Twilight romance through the heart. The way Cassie’s arms are forward and Conner’s are back, the fact that they’re meeting on the front door, gazing into each other’s eyes.

Shit, now I got something in my eye, excuse me…

Now on to the finale, the crowning glory, drum roll please!

The Flash, you can’t deny his prolific work. It was a huge wow for me. And I’m not into the Flash! But I couldn’t help but say, DAMN! He literally infused every sinew of the Flash with the Speed Force.

Flash Speed Force by Francis Manapul

That’s what I love about Francis and why he’s the man. He makes the Flash, the Flash! At no time is his artwork slow, clunky or cumbersome for the Flash scenes. He nails the essence of the Flash and treats us to one hell of a ride. It’s not easy to capture that, but he does it. You feel the drama and the speed, from the way he moves, to the angle, to the speed lines to the poses and most importantly the Flash’s expression. He connects me to the Flash and what’s going through Barry’s mind, the same as with all his characters.

I’ve occasionally drawn comparisons with Francis and Chris Bachalo, however Bachalo tends to lean towards the more abstract with lines that are far bolder and less refined. I love his stuff but it doesn’t capture the humanity that Francis does. Francis has an eye for scale and balance, at no time do they feel like caricatures or cumbersome.

Can you not feel the speed in that one sheet of comic? It’s glorious and I totally get the Flash in that moment.  The brilliant way he interconnects and weaves the images to create a tableau of heroism is something that really caught my eye. He isn’t merely talented as an artist, he’s brilliant and brimming with imagination.

I’d like to end with that in mind, Francis is the Man because he gets his characters and gives them heart and humanity. The scenes are brilliant and superbly laid out. They are well woven and aid the storytelling. His characters are filled with subtle and brilliant detail that captures who they are and make them who we become invested in. He says so much with so little, a gesture, a detail on a dress, the placement of hands and a single look says it all. So Francis, well done. Now all you lazy bastards make like the Flash and get his comics!

Tony Tuason

Tony is just your average guy who loves comics, toys, games, movies, and all those geek goodness.