Friday, January 18, 2013

interview 001: michel fiffe

by Alec Berry

For those unaware, Michel Fiffe is a cartoonist currently self-producing a monthly action comic book titled 'Copra'. If you'd like more info on the book itself, check out this piece I wrote over at Comics Should Be Good. Anyway, I'm excited about the project, and I have interviewed Michel in the past, so I figured now was a good time to catch up.

Alec Berry: You’re a fan of the Ostrander/McDonnell 'Suicide Squad' run obviously, how did that and any other influences inform your approach to 'Copra'?

Michel Fiffe: Oh, yeah, I love those comics, the Ostrander/Kim Yale stuff. That title had it all and it still holds up remarkably well. The basic set up of the old Suicide Squad is what I’m re-purposing but I’m also trying to capture its spirit. I’ve always been into Frank Miller and Walt Simonson, so those are strong influences. It really jumps all over the place, but mostly I'm tapping into the mainstream guys I've always loved: Erik Larsen, Norm Breyfogle, Tony Salmons, Klaus Janson.

What about those guys are you tapping into? I picked up on a 'Savage Dragon' influence,with the book's tendency to riff and improve upon some established archetypes. But what about Breyfogle or Salmons?

I like the energy in their work, which may seem like the most obvious thing, but I’m surprised at how little I see it anywhere else. Their work is full of life, there’s a bold energy at work there,and I wanted to tap into. That approach works better in an adventure story and under these deadline parameters. As for archetypes, well, I’m playing off more obscure characters and mixing them up with original ones. It just lends to the unpredictable nature of who shows up, who I want to work over. It's loving irreverence on my part.

So is it safe to say this is your big, old love letter to the comics and creators you enjoy?

It’s a blunt scrawl, yes.

Doing 'Copra' monthly ... is that a test for yourself, sort of akin to your thoughts on cartoonists cutting their teeth with anthologies?

I suppose it can be seen as a test. The schedule's not the unknown quantity though, it's the material. The real test is if readers respond to this type of story, or my version of this type of story. Basically, I didn't want to die without the world having seen my version of Deadshot.

I ask because you've mentioned “breaking the Kirby barrier” and living in that deadline grind. You seem to have some sort of interest in that.

I do, I have a strong interest in producing a lot and producing it efficiently but still having it be as good as I could make it. Making comics is enough of an unforgiving time consumer as it is, so I figured out a way to not freeze up every step of the way.

How far ahead did you work out the book before announcing it and selling the first issue? Talk about the pre-production of a project like this and paint a timeline.

I'm basically an issue ahead. I have a month to produce it all, so it takes a week to complete every major step in production: writing, art, color, formatting. Then there's distribution and online stuff. It honestly didn't seem real to me until the first issue was complete. Looking back I should have waited to have a few issues in the can, but where's the fun in that?

Well, that seems like its part of your experience with this. It almost would seem off if you gave yourself a lot of lead time.

Right, like the heat’s not on if I take my sweet time.

I've read 'Copra' and have my own interpretations, but what do you want to tackle here that can’t be/isn’t tackled in commercial comics?

It doesn't matter because they're in another world, you know? They have other concerns, so my opinions on what they're doing are beyond moot. I do know that working at my level, I don't have a corporate or editorial edict to work within or against. That's a benefit.

So you’re just doing your own thing, unconcerned with any bigger pictures?

I’m guessing you’re asking about either the context or the subtext, or the bigger meaning behind the comic?

I’m not the person to do that, to break it down like that. I think the fact that this comic exists, that I’m just one guy trying to make a solid comic series with no frills, no fanfare, can be seen as a statement in itself. But as to what the meaning behind it is? I can’t say with clarity; I’m in the middle of saying it.

How do you approach direction and motion when constructing action?

You don't really care about this, do you, Alec? I dunno. Does it look cool? That's all I care about these days. Is it keeping my interest levels high?

Ah, I mean, I do care. This is an action comic and the way action is composed seems to be an important feature. I mean, is there anything past it just looking cool in terms of your thought process?

I don’t mean to be glib. I care, too, of course. I over think these things to death, and I’d hate to grind this to a halt by rattling on about the importance of a punch’s direction. I map out a fight, I stage the action and their consequences, and I strive to have it make sense, have it be clear. I want the violence to be not romanticized but made larger than life by the hand of vulnerable, ridiculous, dangerous characters. I aim for ballet and probably land on butchery. A page turn is important, a widescreen shot versus a staggered tier is important, shapes, powers, personalities, these are all useful. Half the first issue is one big fight scene, but I planned the hell out of it. Every single detail was considered.

What about color? I know it looks cool, but that’s a trademark move of yours at this point.Is there any further thought into why you color your comics in such a way? Just a style thing?

Color serves these stories well, too. Superheroes need color to work. That’s why black and white reprints don’t do it for me.

Sales wise, how has 'Copra' fared compared to say 'Zegas' or 'Deathzone!' ?

It’s doing better than I ever imagined. I just went back to print on the first two issues, which came from left field. The original print run was based on my 'Zegas'/'Deathzone!' sales, so this has been more than a pleasant surprise. Totally caught me off guard.

Do you feel there’s a ceiling, or limit you can sell, because you’re distributing the books yourself, or is that not a concern?

I've thought about it, and it feels wrong to say no to more business, y’know? I don’t want less readers! Realistically, I can only print as many as I can afford to. That’s the bottom line. And since I’m doing all the office work myself, there is a bit of a warning sign that I should ideally hire someone to do it if it gets any bigger. This is still small enough where I can stuff envelopes myself, manage money and deal with the printer and the retail stores, all while taking care of the customer service stuff. The positive side is that I don’t have Diamond taking a cut. Or a publisher. Or a collaborator. I oversee the majority of things.

The ultimate hope for this project?

To find it in the dollar bins at Koch's warehouse in Brooklyn? Maybe a collection down the line, or another 12 issues after the first year. Honestly, Alec, my ultimate hope right this second is to get #4 out the door in time to make the printer schedule.

'Copra' #3 is now on sale. Visit Fiffe's website for more information and back issues.

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