AICN INDIE COMICS Q&@: Majin Fu checks out COPRA #1-6 and interviews the creator Michel Fiffe!!!
@’s by COPRA’s Michel Fiffe!!!
MAJIN-FU (FU): You’ve said before how DARK KNIGHT RETURNS and BATMAN: YEAR ONE were two of your favorite comics from an early age. How do you think these books have influenced you throughout your career? Is there anything that influenced your work but you didn't realize it until later?
MICHEL FIFFE (MF): No matter what phase I was going through in my comic book reading experience, DKR remained a constant favorite. It's simply a well made comic with a clear, strong vision. Easy to criticize, and as revered as it may be on a cultural scale I think it's actually underrated as a smartly done, layered story. Sean Witzke knows what I'm saying. So yeah, I like that comic.
FU: COPRA’s action sequences are some of the most memorable, visceral sequences I've seen in some time. Could you explain some of the ways you choreograph and create a fight sequence?
MF: I put together a fight scene same way as I do any other scene, in that my aim is to be clear and move the story along. I have a limited amount of pages to work with in each issue, so even if a fight seems to be going long, it's always moving the story forward. I recently wrote this post about my favorite fight scenes; they're all pretty different and I think I get inspired by every single one.
FU: The characters are all fairly realized without usually saying much (except Man-Head, who frequently narrates this first arc). Do you favor a minimalist approach when it comes to characterization, or is that just a natural progression of the cast of COPRA?
MF: Well, I try not to overwrite or have captions be information dumps. I do have a few narrators that I switch up depending on the scene. So far, Man-Head seems to be the most terse.
FU: The energy coupled with precision in your mixed media art is wonderful. Could you share a bit about your coloring process?
MF: I use color pencil and water colors mostly and I color directly on the inked page. I sometimes use whatever's near, really. A crayon, a ballpoint pen. If it looks good, it looks good.
FU: We've seen some other artists take a crack at illustrating your characters. Are there any people in particular you'd like to see draw the world of COPRA? I don't necessarily mean drawing actual issues of COPRA, but is that something you had ever considered?
MF: In the issues, no, but a drawing or a pin up? That's always a big thrill. I would love to get a bunch of cartoonists to draw these characters. I would just have to save up some money to pay them!
FU: COPRA seems to be an amalgamation of everything from antihero comics of the 80s a la Ostrander's Suicide Squad to European album art (Vitas comes across very French for some reason?). Was this combination of different flavors intended from the beginning, or did the final product arise organically from the creative process?
MF: My only intention was to make a comic I wanted to read, which is a longstanding rite-of-passage cliche to any cartoonist frustrated with their work. I just happen to like certain comics that have nothing to do with one another, and I'm sure I'm channeling those tastes. I love Garcia-Lopez but goddammit I love Blain, too.
FU: Have these inspirations spilled over into your other work like ZEGAS?
MF: That's always been the case, yeah. No matter what I do, it's the same struggle between what I want to create and what actually comes out.
FU: Let's talk about ZEGAS. How excited are you to be working on the book again, in print form no less?
MF: Very excited. Different set of characters, different narrative tone. That cast has been around a little longer, so I feel confident in leaving them be for longer stretches. I'd love to drop in on them once in a while and tell different facets of their story.
FU: How much do you enjoy the process of self-publishing? Is it something you wish more creators would do, or are you just happy having all the creative control for these stories in your hands?
MF: I enjoy it as much as I can; it's part of the job, part of the creative process at this point. I can't speak about what creators should or shouldn't do, though. We all have different reasons and circumstances.
FU: If you could have an action figure made of one character from COPRA, who would you pick?
MF: Gracie. I love her. Wir would make a good Transformer type, though.
FU: Are there any characters you really wanted to put into the series (COPRA) but decided to hold off for a later issue?
MF: Yeah, I have a few more characters I'd like to squeeze in there. You may have to wait until issue 50 to find out.
FU: What is the best comic convention you ever went to?
MF: The first one I went to, in the convention room of a hotel next to the Miami Airport in '92. It was glorious. I had my Marvel trading cards signed by Special Guest Erik Larsen, who said "hello" and "thanks."
FU: What is your favorite part about making your own comics?
MF: My favorite part is seeing them in print, seeing them after opening the delivery box. For that one instant, I can breathe easily. Then it's back to making the next one.
FU: Do you have any extra stimulus while working on your comics (music, television, etc.)? Please elaborate.
MF: Music sometimes, but usually podcasts. The latest archive I'm going through is the Legacy Music Hour, where 8 & 16-bit video game music is featured and discussed. I swear it must have been created just to give me a reason to wake up every Wednesday.
FU: What about the world of comics is most exciting to you at the moment?
MF: Tom Scioli's Satan Soldier continues to leave me in awe. I'm excited to see Lee Weeks work on DAREDEVIL again. Any time Hellen Jo draws anything I curse the skies in jealousy. What's really getting me excited is Mills & O'Neil's MARSHAL LAW. I've always felt lukewarm about it the few times I've tried it. I got some back issues recently and they're blowing me away. It's so beautiful and so well written. I'm about 25 years too slow on that one.< br>
FU: One more thing: Are you a Jack Kirby fan? If so, please elaborate as much as you like.
MF: Don't let the fact that Kirby was a genius distract you from appreciating his work on SUPER POWERS. That first issue is still one of his best.
FU: And here’s my review of COPRA #1-6!
COPRA #1-6Writer: Michel Fiffe
Artist: Michel Fiffe
Publisher: Bergen Street Comics Press
Where collaboration has become a staple of mainstream comics productions, facilitating a market of constant fluid publication, works of singular vision tend to pop up from the independent market and remind us why we were interested in the first place: comics let us tell stories how we want to tell them! It’s not like reading a book by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby or Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely isn’t going to be a fulfilling experience, but their projects required a compromise between writer and artist. With COPRA there is only one creator, and the compromise lies somewhere between exuberance and calculation.
Michel Fiffe’s latest project is a highly-charged manifesto of love (or, to be more specific, the stuff Michel loves), spread on paper with a combination of meticulous precision and youthful tenacity. It’s clear that the creator had fun making this comic, which also makes it a lot of fun to read, but there is also an intangible sense of craftsmanship which permeates each page. Trying to explain why this comic is so well-made would be a futile exercise since others have done a much better job of dissecting its craft already, and you really need to read it yourself to understand the book’s appeal.
As for the plot, COPRA is a team composed of misfits out for retribution. The large cast of characters belies an enormous casualty count. While there is a lot of action, especially in the latter half of this story arc, the book is paced well, as quiet moments of character reflection and interaction layered with narration from multiple perspectives lend texture to the seemingly simple plot. Field leader of COPRA Man-Head is out for revenge after a power-hungry rogue agent named Vitas destroys his home town with a newly-acquired secret weapon. The team’s true leader Sonia comes out from behind her work desk to assemble a new team and go after Vitas, also another former agent of hers.
I hesitate to call this a superhero comic since so many of the characters seem so very fallible. There are no super-powered demigods soaring through the skies here, the most prominent feats of strength exhibited by a robot shell encasing an otherwise normal adolescent. Each figure in the varied cast is fully realized, no matter how long they make it into the story before exploding, getting shot, or being smashed to a pulp. The dialog has the curtness of real conversations in tense situations. Even a moment where two female members of the team are rating their male counterparts is funny at first, then you feel an underlying tension. This tense atmosphere is validated when a fight breaks out a few pages later. You never know what kind of sadistic killers are waiting around the bend, which is a good thing because the action in this book is a treat, expertly choreographed with an instinctual sense of focused chaos.
While COPRA does have an air of danger, it’s almost to the point of predictability. In a world modeled after something like John Ostrander’s SUICIDE SQUAD, you’d be surprised if another team of nefarious nemeses wasn’t waiting around the next corner. Yet while the rogue team formula prevails, Fiffe plays with it enough that it never feels too derivative. My biggest problem with this book is I want to analyze it, to try and quantify its appeal by inspecting the composition of every page, but then the book wears the secret formula on its sleeve. Where the strength of COPRA lies isn’t so much the plot, but in book’s raw energy, the incredibly dynamic and engrossing illustrations, and the cool characters (some dead ringers for others you may already know).
Michel Fiffe has an uncanny knack for shifting from quiet moments of character interaction to sudden bombastic action, where a nine-panel grid of hushed conversation eventually gives way to a four-panel action sequence reminiscent of Kirby. The pages are dripping with energy, from the meticulous illustrations of a sorcery dismantling cosmic scrap, to the visceral blows of a trained killer. The wide array of scenarios is portrayed via the rich palette of mixed media employed by Michel Fiffe. Simply browsing the book you might spot the splotchy smudge of an ink pen or scattered crayon scribbles. Through it all, you may notice the geometrical precision which pervades each issue, a testament to Fiffe’s ability to temper his enthusiasm for COPRA’s world with a careful attention to form and composition, the true language of graphical storytelling.
COPRA is simply comics in its purest form, coming from a creator who, like any good artist, creates for himself first and foremost. Forget any stigmas you may have about independent comics as pensive autobiographies or muddled joke books with bad art. Michel Fiffe is simply making the comic few other publishers can produce right now: a work of succinct joy, without any filtration from artistic discrepancies or editorial mandates. Sure, there have been comics of singular vision before (like MAUS or, more recently, PUNK ROCK JESUS) but none of them have been quite this much fun. This review neglected to give COPRA a more formal critique, not because the work doesn’t demand it, but because there will be plenty of time for that after you read it yourself.
Ask your local comics provider about ordering COPRA and ZEGAS today!
…or if you’re the do-it-yourself type, check out Michel Fiffe’s website here, where you can find regular updates for his work, and other cool stuff. Thank you for reading, and thanks again to Michel Fiffe!
Proofs, co-edits & common sense provided by Sleazy G
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