Last fall I was one of several people approached for suggestions regarding a Toronto comic artist with a penchant for mythological beasts to do art for a documentary fantasy show going into production. The series, Beast Legends, looked at the real science behind mythological beasts to see if they were indeed possible. I heard no more of it until this week!
According to the cover story in this week's Toronto Star Week TV magazine, this Wed. July 7, Best Legends premiers in Canada on the History Channel (It will appear on the SyFy Channel in the States later this year and is distributed worldwide by the BBC).
The production wisely tapped current Flash artist and former Shuster Award nominee Francis Manapul for the art chores.
And to my delight, it seems they wanted more than art. They wanted Francis to star as part of a Indian Jones-like team traveling the world and researching legends. How awesome is that>
There isn't much of a web presence for the show yet but Francis was kind enough to post his own version of the press release over at francismanapul.com:
BEAST LEGENDS brings together the ‘Beast Seekers’, an expert team of specialist investigators. This elite, engaging group, a learned kind of League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, is made up of:
Kathryn Denning: Myth expert, anthropologist, archaeologist and professor at Toronto’s York University.
Scott Edwards: Professor of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology and Curator of Ornithology at the Museum of Comparative Zoology, Harvard University.
Stephen Leonard: Adventurer and Veterinary Surgeon based in Bristol, England.
Francis Manapul: Philippine-born, now Toronto-based, renowned comic book artist.
In each of the six hour-long episodes, the Beast Seekers investigate a different legendary beast, travelling the globe to the actual locations that spawned the stories of these Beasts. They track down clues to find the truth behind the legends. The Beast Seekers uncover historical and eyewitness accounts, and zero in on archaeological and other physical evidence to assemble the most accurate picture possible of what these monsters would be like, where they would live and how they would behave, if they really existed.
Armed with every piece of information the team has discovered, BEAST LEGENDS then moves to the ‘Beast Lab’ to build the creature, first as initial sculpts and wire-frame forms, and finally bringing it to life in stunning 3D CGI.
And then we unleash it on the modern world…..
It's a fun idea and I think Francis was an inspired choice. He's always entertaining to watch at Cons whipping his brushes back and forth as a beautiful, haunting watercolour and ink wash painting emerges. And as a bonus, he's always really sweet to speak with.
I suspect we'll get to see a much more gregarious side of him and co-host, veterinary surgeon and "adventurer" Stephen Leonard, on this show. The first six-episode season will delve into such beasties as the half-eagle, half-lion griffin, the colossal, squid-like kraken, a giant shark spoken off in hushed whispers on the island of Fiji and the wild man of Vietnam, what the Starweek article refers to as a "tropical Sasquatch".
Hosts Leonard and Manapul each pulled in their own direction, with the artist constantly considering how the things might have looked and Leonard more interested in the biology of how it could have existed. The remining team members match the field-gathered material with scientific research and speculation to to create a workable 3-D model.
Then, like any good Ray Harryhausen adventure, the magic of modern special effects unleashes the model on the real world (and our hosts) at the end of each episode! Apprently the show has unearthed some surprises, like he fact the legend of the griffin goes farther back than it's assumed medieval origins to the mountains of Mongolia!
More on Beast Legends and Manapul here.
Beast Legends premiere episode airs Wednesday at 10 pm on the History Channel.