Michel Fiffe's COPRA: the One-Man Written, Drawn, Self-Published Villain Epic
CREDIT: Michel Fiffe
He did it.
In a world where it’s still a great challenge for entire comic book creative teams to get a book out on a regular basis, Michel Fiffe produced 12 issues of his offbeat, action-packed supervillain team Copra entirely on his own…and we mean, he did everything, from story to art to self-publishing outside of the Diamond system employed by almost every comic company.
Let’s take a moment to contemplate that.
For Fiffe, it’s Miller time – Copra is taking a short rest with its finale out (you can catch up on the series with compendium volumes available here, here and here). If you haven’t checked out Copra, it’s one of the craziest comics of the year, an all-out homage to John Ostrander’s run on DC’s Suicide Squad about a team of villains forced to work for the government – only with more psychedelic dimensions, surreal villains and mad twists than even that all-time classic had to offer, with heaps of giant sound effects, experimental pages, and visual hommages to all manner of great 1980s comics (you can also check out Fiffe’s Suicide Squad fan comic “Deathzone” here).
With Copra #12 wrapped, we talked with Fiffe about his accomplishment – and got a ton of great comic recommendations in the process.
Newsarama: Michel, you've written, penciled, inked, colored, lettered and published 12 issues of a monthly comic book. How does that feel? How are you doing? Mentally, have you cracked yet?
Michel Fiffe: I was hoping to crack by the end of it, but no such luck. It did feel like a marathon, though, and I can say that I got through it by not thinking about the race but by simply moving. Things needed to get done, so I had no time to ruminate.
Nrama: Why the hiatus?
Fiffe: Why the hiatus? Because I need to take a moment to plan more stories and catch up on other projects... and I just wanted to live like a human being, man. Since this is a one man operation, from the drawing to the shipping to the customer service, no hiatus would result in me being truly exhausted and in hacked out, shitty comics. The world has enough of that. It's been scientifically proven that shitty comics need not exist.
Nrama: Over the course of the 12 issues, which characters came to be your favorites to write and draw?
Fiffe: Sonia is the main mouthpiece, the team leader, the one I can speak through easily. But I also really enjoyed writing Man-Head, whose life I summarized in a couple of issues. I aim to do that to most of the major players, actually. Drawing them? I like them all, no joke. I like the variety of a team book.
Nrama: How do you feel this experience forced you to evolve, as a writer, artist and...well, everything? Do you have a renewed appreciation for the process of putting a comic together by "committee?" For that matter, what do you feel is particularly unique in the vision of a comic done by someone who's a writer/artist, as opposed to one or the other?
Fiffe: I've always respected what went into "committee" made comics - even participated in a few - but I excel when being left alone. Thing is, my inspiration largely stems from work produced under that factory style system, but waiting for any sort of permission to move forward would've killed Copra.
The one thing I found crucial is that I get to move faster if I'm making all of the decisions as opposed to checking in with anyone. That may sound obvious, but I mean every last decision is up to me. I decide how fast I should produce, how efficiently, how intensely I work. Waiting for even a single step would've stalled things too much. The only things I had to wait around for were my proofreader and the printer's delivery; both were terribly quick.
Nrama: Looking back, what do you feel was most successful about your experience with the first run of Copra? What do you feel you would have done differently?
I got to do an action comic the way I thought it should look, written in a way I though it should read, and making it specifically tied in to the comic storytelling idiom. Not the familiar character nods, but the storytelling tools specific to comics. There's almost nothing quite as dull as a comic that wants to look like a movie. What a remarkable waste of everyone's time that is. I wanted to create an experience unique to comics by way of a superhero story.
If I could've changed anything, though, it would've been to up the print run considerably. I did not see the tide of interest coming. I was making comics for the few folks already familiar with my work. Selling out of issues sucked; it's not as romantic the headlines make it out to be. I wanted to get books in people's hands!
Nrama: Also, what was the biggest challenge in distributing Copra outside of traditional comic shops -- a few picked up on it, obviously, such as Chapel Hill Comics where I got my fix, but what were the difficulties in making people aware of the book, and getting it out there? Do you see yourself doing things differently for future releases?
Fiffe: Less than a handful of retail stores backed Copra from day one: Bergen Street Comics, Floating World, Zanadu Comics, and Mission: Comics & Art.
Their help was immense when I started out. From that point on, it was word of mouth, it was social media at work, it was people asking their stores for the book. It didn't go through Diamond, it wasn't published by a reputable publisher.
It was me making a comic and people liking it; simple as that. I personally e-mailed stores, some took, some didn't, but I was too busy to expand my reach. Bergen Street Comics stepped in and started publishing the compendium reprints, so that bumped it to another level.
I'm convinced that readers just need to be aware of the book to get into it, but sometimes that means having that book physically in stores, right in front of people's faces. That's my aim, to get a minute of every store's time; they'll see Copra is a book they can get behind.
Nrama: What advice would you give someone trying to create/publish their own book, and what was the best advice you received when putting this together?
Fiffe: Any advice would be biased, as my experience is very specific. Far be it from me to offer potentially destructive nuggets of advice, to wit, I took a huge risk; it's not my place to demand that from anyone else. Oddly enough, the best piece of advice given to me was to simply take the plunge and start self-publishing.
Nrama: What comics/creators have you enjoyed over the past year?
Fiffe: It's been a busy year so I haven't read as many comics as I normally do. But the few I have include Lee Weeks drawing 3 parts of Daredevil in the snow; it was gorgeous (but could've been a tight single issue, story-wise). Oily Comics put out great stuff pretty consistently, like Chuck Forsman's Teen Creeps, but my absolute favorite is Real Rap by Benjamin Urkowitz. I hunted those things down whenever I'd miss one. I suck, I should've subscribed.
Youth In Decline released two real badass Frontier comics: Uno Morales and Hellllllen Jo. Those two are my favorite artists right now, god stab their eyes. I really dug Ed Piskor's Hip Hop Family Tree,which I preferred to read in print and not on screen. Conversely, I preferred Tom Scioli's web version of Satan's Soldier. The screen really highlights the warped technicolor aspect of the strip. Either way, a fun read. Speaking of amazing webcomics, Connor Willumsen continually makes them. Newsarama readers may recognize him from his Punisher one-shot a while back
I'm a big sucker for anything by Dieter VDO. He's a treasure. Angie Wang is such a great artist and her color work is an inspiration. Same goes for Dash Shaw; New School took it a level further. Giannis Milonogiannis can do no wrong, except have a tumblr that drives me nuts with envy. I'm the first to champion a writer/artist, so I really, really tried to get into Aaron Kuder's Superman issue. Liked the cover, liked the art. Lala Albert draws the best profiles. Chris Mooneyham draws the best under-nose shadows. Brett Lewis and Cliff Chang did a short story in that Witching Hour anthology. Chang's scratchy side is a nice welcome and Lewis... well, Lewis is one of comic's best writers. Was he blacklisted or something? That guy can write anything and I'd be on board. Give that man an Avatar book.
Pat Auliso and Josh Bayer combined forces to make The Greater Good, a comic about Steve Ditko and yes, it was a goddamn hoot. The Private Eye by BKV and Marcos Martin I have to catch up on, but what I've read is great. Same thing with Catalyst Comix. Joe Casey's the right guy to make these properties interesting and recruiting McDaid, Farinas, and Maybury only helps the cause. Matt Seneca's latest, Minotaur, is his best yet. Sloane Leong, she does it all and does it well. I recently discovered the work of Dave Ortega, but what can I say? It's compelling stuff and I look forward to more.
Anyone who says comics are crappy or dead have no idea what they're talking about. Except Alan Moore. He's exempt, as he's usually right about such things.
Nrama: …I think you actually read more comics than I did. This is not something I’m proud to admit.
What's next for you?
Fiffe: More writing, drawing, sleeping, eating right, long walks with my new dog Sharker, collecting Jademan comics, and reading books - books, Zack!
Nrama: Anything else you'd like to talk about that we haven't discussed yet?
Fiffe: Read Copra. Start with the Copra compendiums, then hit me up for the rest of the issues. A collection is in the works but why wait? Copra #13 will return in the new year, so I hope to see you all then!
Catch up on Copra on Fiffe’s website!