How 'Flash: Year One' Artist Is Revamping a DC Origin Story

Flash cover-Publicity-H 2019
Howard Porter/DC
Fan-favorite artist Howard Porter discusses his new approach to the hero.

As Barry Allien begins his first year as a quick-footed superhero in the new comic book storyline “The Flash: Year One,” superspeed has never looked so sharp.

The first part of the storyline, which appears in this week’s The Flash No. 70, showcases a new approach from artist Howard Porter, as he returns to a character he’s been drawing since the mid-1990s to collaborate once again with writer Josh Williamson. As the two retell the origin of Allen’s super-fast alter ego, Porter’s visuals — accompanied by colors from longterm Flash color studio Hi-Fi — bring in new influences and new tricks to show how the police scientist’s life changes as he discovers life in the fast lane.

Heat Vision talked to Porter about the run — no pun intended, really — and has exclusive preview artwork from this week’s issue, both in black and white, showing off Porter’s crisp work, and colored.

What you’re doing in “Year One” feels very different to your collaboration with Josh in last year's “Flash War,” or your earlier work on the character; it's very deliberate in terms of pacing and layout, in a way that plays with the readers’ perception of time. Readers’ perception of emotion, too — you can feel Barry break free when he runs at speed for the first time because you show him breaking free of the panel borders on the page. The most obvious question, then, is where did this approach come from?

Honestly, all credit should go to Josh. It was all his idea for using a 16-panel grid to convey time and Barry’s emotional state. We discussed the approach at length, even before the first script was written and we’ve used the grid throughout the story in obvious, and also subtle, ways. So when you use the term deliberate, you definitely hit the nail on the head.

Almost every mark I put down in this arc is intentional, with purpose, and inspired by the script. I wanted this arc to be one hundred percent about the story, and I feel that if I were to do big splashy pages everywhere, while it would be fun, it would just be a distraction and diminish the impact when those types of shots are actually warranted.

The most immediate precedents I thought of in relation to what you're doing here were Frank Quitely and Dave Gibbons’ work on Watchmen

I am a huge fan of the European artists, specifically the ones you named; Quietly, Gibbons and also the great one, Moebius. More of that seems to be coming through these days. What I find important and appealing has changed as I have gotten older and more experienced, so you are seeing that as well.

One of the things that drew the Quitely comparison from me was that each page of “Year One” holds a lot of information, and the pages with a higher-than-usual amount of panels — as you said, you’re working on a baseline of pages with 16 panels at times — even more so. I’m curious about not only how long each page takes you, but also, what’s your process for creating a page?

I would love to say that I do a page a day, because I know editors will read this and it may impact future jobs! But it’s more like four to five on a good week. 

I do have a very specific process: I read through the script a couple of times, and thumbnail anything that comes to mind while doing so. Then, I usually have a conversation or two with Josh about any questions or ideas I have. I’ll then rough out the entire issue, and review them with Josh. Then, we are off to the races! A line drawing of the page magically appears and then finally the heavier inked version.

How do you decide what information makes it in, and what to leave out? Are editors continually asking you to take it easier on yourself?

As far as what makes it in? Everything and more. Josh has given me a lot of room to play. His scripts have boiled-down panel descriptions and a bit of dialogue and he gives me the freedom to attack it any way I like. There isn’t anything I leave out as far as the story elements, but I may occasionally add a panel. I never take away. I tend to overbuild the environments and often find myself putting in too much, then painfully removing elements trying to just leave the essentials.

What level of control or collaboration do you have when it comes to the color in your work? Hi-Fi is doing work that perfectly compliments what you’re doing — I’m thinking specifically of the scene that follows Barry getting struck by lightning in the first part of “Year One.” Are these based on conversations between yourself and Hi-Fi?

There is constant communication between all parts of our team and throughout all stages of the process. Occasionally, we have specific ideas for the color treatment to help with certain storytelling aspects, but mostly we just hand off the pages and let Hi-Fi do their thing. I am such a fan of their work and want to see their take, not mine, and it always comes back looking better than I imagined.

The scene you referenced was entirely Josh's brilliant idea, and I think it really sells the feeling Barry has coming in and out of consciousness. We also had a conversation at the start about ways we could help differentiate the different time periods in the story and also an overall look for the arc, which hopefully will make it feel unique.

So, “Year One” is just the latest collaboration between you and Josh, as I said before; I’ve spoken to him about how much he loves your work, but I’d love to know what it’s like for you to work with him. What is he doing right for you, as an artist?

I have had the good fortune to work with the greatest writers in this industry, and Josh is without a doubt, one of the best. I adore his scripts — they always have heart, soul and depth, as well as the action we comic fans crave. There is a musical rhythm to them that I find particularly brilliant, and very clever. 

He’s also the perfect partner; his creative process is very inclusive. He doesn’t hand you a script and walk away — Josh is there supporting and encouraging experimentation throughout the entire process; most importantly, if I stumble and miss the mark, he is there to catch and put me back on track.

”Year One” is also a continuation of a long association with the Flash; you worked with Geoff Johns on the character a decade or so ago, and even before that, you worked on the character with Grant Morrison in the classic JLA run you both created. What is it about the Flash that’s so satisfying or enjoyable that keeps you coming back to the character?

Perhaps it’s the character’s positive outlook that I find so appealing, or maybe that my earliest comic book memory is [1963’s] Flash Annual No. 1 with [classic Flash artist Carmine] Infantino’s “How to Draw the Flash” page. But it could just simply be that I wish I could move fast enough to travel through time on a treadmill.

It’s probably all those things — tied together with strands of lightning, speed lines and the greatest villains in the DCU — that have kept my unwavering enthusiasm for the Flash family intact through the decades of stories we have shared.

The Flash No. 70, part one of the “Year One” storyline, will be available in comic book stores and digitally May 8.