By senior SPX Correspondent David Dissanayake
If you aren't reading indie-superhero hit Copra by Michel Fiffe, you really should be. The book is being touted as one of the best current ongoing series in comics by people like Tim Callahan and Matt Fraction to name just a couple of the big names who are talking about it. Putting it very simply, Copra is a riff on the Suicide-Squad/Doom Patrol outsider-superhero trope, but that description doesn't capture the psychedelic, balls-to-the-walls, multiverse-hoping, berserker awesomeness that is Copra. Fiffe self-publishes the book, working the entire operation himself. Copra is truly a one man operation; written, penciled, inked, colored, edited, published, and distributed by Fiffe himself.
I bumped into him here at SPX and I couldn't resist the opportunity to whip out my voice recorder and interview him about his hit series. Here are some excerpts from our conversation:
On the history of Copra and his inspirations the story:
"I started self-publishing Zegas, my first one-man anthology comic, but in-between issues, I did a Suicide Squad story for myself, and so I just dug out old issues. That's the stuff I grew up on. Ostrander, Luke McDonnell, Kim Yale Suicide Squad stuff. Also Nocenti's Daredevil. Doom Patrol came later, but Daredevil and Suicide Squad were the books I read, so I kind of mined that for exploration, just to do something a little looser, a little more fun. It wasn't the kind of stuff I was drawing, so I was excited by that, and I wanted to do something that employed that breakneck speed, you know, to just get the books out. Just draw it, don't be precious. And it was a new approach for me, because I would just labor over a script, and a re-write, and I would draw the hell out it, just to throw out the page. I did not want to approach it like that.
As I was working on my Zegas issue, I just knew I had to do a Suicide Squad comic. Clearly they're not my characters, but I have to do something with this energy that I'm feeling, with this wave of inspiration to do these ridiculous characters in these crazy scenarios, in essentially a superhero comic, a genre comic. And that's how
I wanted it to be standard size. It has to be a pamphlet, it has to be 24 pages, and it has to come out monthly. It cannot deviate from any kind of off-model situation. It had to have those parameters, and that's what I've been working within, and so far so good. Well, maybe it's not a strict four week schedule, but that's how I started, just taking inspiration from my youth."
"I was inspired by anything Frank Miller did, especially his Batman stuff. That's the Batman I grew up with. Then I discovered stuff like Love and Rockets, Eightball, and the Raw Magazine. I think Copra's like a weird blend of those aesthetics. Not strictly in the indie camp, but it's by and large a superhero comic filtered through my sensibilities.
On the future of Copra:
"There is a mega-arc. Originally it was going to be twelve issues, but I had so much fun doing the first couple, that by issue three I thought I could easily expand these stories and get deeper into the characters and really tell an expansive, deeper story and have fun along the way without milking it. I do have a couple years' worth left, but we'll see."
On the one-man process of putting together an issue:
"Yeah, I do it all myself, pretty much. An issue takes me roughly four to five weeks, and I kind of dedicate about a week to every task. Writing, drawing, coloring publishing. So everything takes about a week and a half. I just try to break my neck."
"I've tried to expedite the process. I've gotten down to no script whatsoever. I pretty much plot it out, write the dialogue, and then I just draw it with no layouts. Maybe I'll have an idea for specific scenes which require a sort of staging, but usually I just draw it. I letter it on the boards and color it on the boards, so what you see is pretty much what you get on the art with some minor digital touch-ups."
"I use anything that's available. Sometimes I ink with a ballpoint pen if that gives me a clear clean line. Old dirty brushes are awesome, also any ink, any marker, any colored pencil, paint, wash, I mean any of those things as long as I get it done and it still looks as good as I can make it. It's not like I'm creating shortcuts, qualitatively speaking, I just can't be too precious about it. It has to get out."
"For distribution, I call the shops I know, and those that take a risk on it and pick it up, and I'm totally grateful. But yeah, its just word of mouth. I email them I send them the comics. I have a couple small press distributors here in the states and in the UK that help me."
"I have two compendiums, Bergen Street Comics has been putting them out and each one collects three issues, and I have two so far. The first six issues are now sold out, but now they're back in print in these compendiums, and I still put out the monthlies. Print runs are at about 800 right now, and the compendiums take care of the newer readers who want to jump on so they don't have to dig for back issues, because they don't exist. I've sold them all out."
On future projects:
"There have been minor blips here and there, but it's understood that this is my main monthly grind that we'll have to get through. As long as I could do both, I'm not closing any doors. It's understood that Copra's my main gig, my main title, so getting that out is more important."
I need to get ahold of this schedule, because right now as soon as I finish an issue, I work on to the next, and then I also have to publish it and that eats up all of my time. So hopefully if I get a little bit of headway with this I could do all sorts of other things, which I'm open to do."
In our conversation I told him how I've seen his books all over, but they've been placed on the superhero racks rather than the indie section. I mentioned how on three separate occasions, in three separate cities on two different continents I've seen his book displayed right alongside the X-Men, the Avengers, and the Suicide Squad. "It's an honor," he said, "it's the ballpark I want to be in. It's the ballpark I'm creating this for, but I feel like it could also live in the indie shelf too and it would fit in just as well. Either way, I'm just really grateful to the store owners for carrying it."