Michel Fiffe Breaks Out With Monthly Self-Published "Copra"

Over the last year or so, Brooklyn-based cartoonist Michel Fiffe has turned heads with "Zegas," his one-man anthology with an apocalyptic backdrop, as well as his fan comic "Deathzone!," a tribute to DC Comics' "Suicide Squad" by the '80s team of writer John Ostrander and artist Luke McDonnell.

Currently occupying Fiffe's time and cartooning efforts is "Copra," a monthly comic that leapfrogs off his last two successes. The self-published series follows a group of super-powered misfits on the run after a secret mission involving a mysterious impaled skull literally blows up on them. The first issue of "Copra" combines the bloody, kinetic action of "Deathzone!" with the heady ideas presented in "Zegas," with Fiffe's stylistic touches, from his fine lines and striking color choices, making his work in "Copra" pop off the page.

Fiffe spoke CBR News about the inspiration behind his new band of super-powered misfits, his "anti-mentor" Steve Ditko and the challenges of publishing a book on your own while maintaining a monthly schedule.

CBR News: "Deathzone!" was your love letter to the Suicide Squad, and the concept behind "Copra" seems somewhat connected to that earlier work on some level. What's the draw to this action sub-genre, with rogues and antiheroes banding together?

Michel Fiffe: It's a pretty universal concept, the gang of misfits. The better examples of these types of stories are character-based -- "Suicide Squad" being chief among them -- rather than straight up action, which could only carry you so far. I wanted to take a crack at it, but do it my way in my art style, and concentrate on the characters as people, while still being adventure-heavy. Throw in some odd fashion designs and a revenge fantasy, and you get "Copra."

Who's been your favorite character to design so far? There are already quite a few characters to choose from, but Vitas -- the trippy geometric-looking villain -- might be my earlier favorite.

Yeah, Vitas is a main one. Wir's armor was also pretty fun to design. I wanted it to be clunky, but menacing. Gracie's a personal favorite, as I'm trying to loosely channel Keith Haring through her costume.

Your one-man anthology series "Zegas" got a lot of positive attention. Why did you decide to shelve it for "Copra," and do you plan to return to "Zegas" in the future?

The shelving won't last long; I still have many stories to tell through that cast. It's just that the writing and prep work for "Zegas" takes considerably longer than anything else, and I wanted to switch gears by concentrating on something that didn't allow for that level of overworking. I'd like to get to the point where I'm doing "Copra" and "Zegas" simultaneously.

What's your personal history with superhero comics and who are some of your big influences in the genre? 

My love for the genre runs way back, since I was a little kid. I was bred on these things. "The Dark Knight Returns," I can recite that thing in my sleep. But I've never worked on superheroes unless the occasional commission called for it, so this is a stretch for me, a totally new thing, even though it feels familiar. I find, visually, there are many things superhero comics excel at and can be further exploited, so I'm stoked to work out these ideas on actual stories that compel me. 

I'm a huge Walt Simonson fan, probably to an embarrassing degree. I think there's some really innovative, lively stuff in his "Orion" run, which I'm currently revisiting. Klaus Janson's a big influence, too. If he's handling all of the art chores, I'm probably ogling it. I like rough inking, stuff that has life to it. Same thing with Norm Breyfogle, Tony Salmons. Erik Larsen I can't get enough of. His schedule for the past two decades also serves as an inspiration to get "Copra" done.

On Steve Ditko's 85th birthday, you wrote about your correspondences with him, and briefly meeting him, describing him as one point as your "anti-mentor." Do you mind talking about how he helped you develop as a creator and what it was like, talking to a legend whose work you respect, even though it sounded like the two of you didn't agree on much?

Yeah, we agreed on very little, but constantly defending my position made me refine certain ideas. I had to make sure I knew what I was talking about instead of just trying to win an argument for its own sake. It's a sort of exercise, really. That may be the extent of our relationship, but it's invaluable.

How important is it to keep "Copra" on a monthly, or near monthly, schedule? This has got to be tough, with you handling all elements of "Copra's" pre- and post-production.

It's very important that it be monthly, that it's made available to readers once a month. The goal is to deliver a well designed, fun, and accessible comic, on time, with no corners cut, no shortcuts. That's why I decided to go color instead of black & white, or a full 24 pages instead of 20. And since I'm basically my own distributor and publisher, I have the physical item at hand quicker than if I had to wait to be processed through Diamond and a publishing house. It's a very direct method, as direct a method as there is between me to the readers.

Can you walk us through your process a bit? Everything, down to the colors and lettering looks like it's done by hand. Do you use computers at all?

I give myself a week to complete each creative step. Writing with minimal layouts, loose pencils, tight inks, hand letter and hand colored on the boards. I do some minor digital coloring, but I don't necessarily have an aversion to Cintiqs or computers -- I just work faster doing it traditionally. I feel no pressure outside of getting the books done on time.

The teaser page at the end of the first issue looks to promise a lot of new characters and madness. How far ahead have you mapped the series, and what can we expect?

Twelve issues have been mapped out so far. I have a bunch more characters to introduce, too. I want to flesh them all out, individually and as a crew. I hope 12 issues is enough to do so!

"Copra" #2 is on sale December 12, and can be purchased through Fiffe's website: http://michelfiffe.com.

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