This is Alec Berry. You might know him from his Direct Message bit he does with Chad Nevett. He'll be sharing his thoughts about comics with us. -BC
You could say I’m simply a fan, but the work of cartoonist Michel Fiffe deserves a bit of the limelight. His latest effort, COPRA, especially.
Written, drawn, colored, lettered and distributed all on Fiffe’s watch, this book lives by the monthly deadline just like any other American super hero/action comic, but unlike those others COPRA operates like a metaphorical “trunk-of-the-car” effort. It’s realer, in a sense, because of its intimacy and immediacy as well as its origin being one, lone man. Label this “pundit” as another localized, hipster jerk-off (though, I am far from that), but it must be admitted that such a schedule and workload kept by one guy, with work of as high of quality produced, deserves some kind of recognition. Granted, only two issues exist, and Fiffe could completely fuck up and squash his deadlines as the experiment rolls on, but for now, in this one instant, there’s something to cheer for here. The production values are sharp and fresh, and the storytelling, color work and draftsmanship all perform like some wild, rainbow-fed machine. There’s a spirit here which Fiffe calls “breaking the Kirby barrier,” and I think that’s something comics need more of.
So to be a little clearer, COPRA is basically a super hero title. It involves a cast of characters, and it tends to riff on the more well-known archetypes of the genre. It reminds me Erik Larsen’s Savage Dragon in that way, but as Fiffe has told me through email there’s more of an Ostrander Suicide Squad vibe mixed in there with some Miller and Breyfogle. The story so far sees the team being turned on by their government handlers after a routine mission goes haywire, and slowly we’re learning the seedy pieces behind the plot. I’ll say confidently that the story itself, separated from execution and craft, isn’t much. It’s familiar, and I haven’t yet found anything else to latch unto, but this tale is still forming and I’m pretty sure Fiffe’s main intent is to just make a cool, exciting comic book, so subtext, greater virtue and prays be damned. It’s more a visceral, slam-bang experience. You read it while you pre-game, psych yourself up and then hit the party.
The first issue highlights itself by being so about the action, and as reader you can’t help but come out enticed and electrified. It begins in the back of a truck as some in-group narration breaks the ice and delivers the goods, but after the slow grind of a few pages Fiffe quickly moves on to break his toys. The pages go from caption boxes to open frames, and Fiffe emphasizes the chaos by not restricting his panels to only one pair of combatants. Instead, the backgrounds make a play as other characters fight beyond the main focus of the shot. The entire scene livens up, and the action appears spontaneous rather than composed or patterned. And that’s a very important feature for an action comic book; it’s the base of the genre. If the fights can’t emote or frighten, what’s the point?
There’s also a wonderful sense and control of direction with what Fiffe does in terms of page design, but I’ll let blogger Terrence Moreau map that.
The other thing that stands out and truly signifies COPRA is the color art. Fiffe’s sort of known for this at this point, but all the same this project breathes some new life into what his coloring is. I mean, sure, it looks cool, but the bright hues, brush strokes and idiosyncratic flavor add up to something beyond the point of style.
A cool peach cream color tends to dominate the backgrounds in both issues of COPRA, and it’s this contrast that allows the hot flares of the characters’ costumes to stand out and signal the figures as points of excitement; the reader’s eye naturally focuses on those bright points. In terms of the action, those color tones amplify the drama and aid in suggesting speed as they bounce against the uniform background color. Brush strokes and prolonged lines outline movements and the swinging of weapons, providing a texture and sound to the entire thing. The flavor is all its own: pure style.This is some cool looking candy.
What about the writing, though? Well, it feels inclusive, but in a good way. To ground the reader and humanize his cast, Fiffe does his best to have the story exist with or without you. It just goes, and you pick up and connect the conversation bits yourself. Not that it’s complicated; it’s not. More so, the story just doesn’t need you. It would exist without a reader and is more focused on intriguing than simply feeding.
But, Fiffe does provide the invitation by narrating from the point of view of COPRA’s leader Sonia Stone. She’s the character with the most omni-present POV, yet she’s involved in the story itself, providing the reader a human element versus iterating plot points to you from some unknown voice.
Issue #2 features some interesting construction of the plot. The installment jumps around to capture and show a variety of scenes and settings, sometimes only spending a page or two on a particular moment or character before cutting to something else entirely. Partially, this helps introduce the truck-load of new characters Fiffe must introduce, but it also provides the plot a quick pace. It reminds me again of Larsen’s Savage Dragon. He, too, leaps around with his plots as he likes to check in with all sorts of stuff in any given issue. There’s a spontaneity with that approach, linking COPRA even further to the action genre.
Only two issues, but so far COPRA is impressive for all the reasons listed above. Fiffe may crash and burn before it’s all over, but for now I'm impressed. As my friend Joey Aulisio has said, it’s important not to get ahead of ourselves and overtly praise COPRA so soon, and that's true - we should disavow any hype and stay level, but, for now, it’s a good comic: immediate, raw and intimate. It's living up to its mission statement and gaining ground.
Like rock 'n' roll, COPRA isn’t about some team of government agents let loose; it’s about one cartoonist doing it the way the masters have, reveling in that grindstone tradition of production. Deadlines matter while the thrills are big; the creative process races against the clock; the work consumes its maker. THAT’S exciting. That's real and worth mentioning.
So while I give COPRA a positive review, mulling about the rest of my day, somewhere in a little studio apartment, Michel Fiffe potentially pours another cup of coffee and leans over the drawing table. There’s comics to make, he probably thinks. He's tired, maybe even stressed, but the work's worth it. This is the way it's done: back to the air, bent in a "C" formation with your nose to the board. The hours wash away. The deadline looms.