Continuing on from our first entry this past Friday, here is the second part of my HeroesCon interview with Michel Fiffe, creator of the self-published and much lauded action-adventure comic, COPRA.
It’s funny, the way I discovered your work actually came through a friend of mine at first, as a word of mouth sort of thing. Then I firmly jumped in when Oliver Sava starting writing about it on the A.V. Club, and you ended making a ton of these “Best of 2014” lists, which is pretty exciting right? That sort of vindication has to be rewarding.
It’s nice, it’s nice that people like it, absolutely. Oliver’s a great supporter.
Everyone wants to make a superlative list at some point, right?
Yeah, that means a lot to me personally, and it actually translates into more readers. I think word of mouth has really worked a lot on COPRA, without any huge marketing muscle behind it. That’s been the primary thing, people are just excited about it, and that’s super flattering. To like it so much – in today’s aggressive marketplace – that they spread the word out of genuine enthusiasm… what more could you want?
That’s literally what’s happening, though the only hurdle is, of course, availability.
That’s the only hurdle right now. Bergen Street Press has been working hard for a couple of years now to get over it. We don’t want to make it super exclusive, this isn’t a super limited boutique item by any means, but it’s also not as simple as pushing a magic button for books to suddenly appear. Others have that magic button.
When you made the collections, which have obviously been a great way to pull in readers, you went with Bergen Street Press, and that’s Tucker Stone’s outfit right?
Yeah, that’s Tom Adams and Tucker Stone, they’re co-owners of the store, Bergen Street Comics and they started publishing and putting out “compendium” collections of the issues early on because I started selling out of the issues. So they met that demand, they helped me meet that initial burst of enthusiasm. I was too caught up creating the next issue. My financial model is that one issue pays for the next, there’s no room for reprints, that’s not within my budget. Bergen really helped make it more available and more accessible to people. The compendiums led to an official collection, the current “Rounds” as they’re called, which collects six issues at a time. That’s the kind of thing that we’re trying to get into all the comic shops across the country.
It’s showing up in stores in Atlanta, and I even think I saw copies in the UK over Gosh Comics perhaps.
Yeah, we get a lot of orders from all over the world.
Did you just have a relationship with Tucker and Tom, is that why you went with them as the distributor and publisher and go-to guys?
I trust them and respect them, and I couldn’t happier with that specific team of players. Their point of view and their involvement with the comics industry is something I can get behind.
In regards to availability though, is digital not in the cards?
It’s not NOT in the cards, it’s just something I still have to manage and deal with. There are just so many issues with it, the platform, the way it looks, the time to get everything in order. I’m still dealing with the print issues, that’s a huge thing for me, just getting one of these out every four to six weeks. I barely have any time to do anything else BUT this issue. When it comes to digital, I want to be as hands-on as possible, and that’s a time sucker. I wouldn’t rule digital out, but at the moment it’s not a primary concern. Having said that, I don’t want to exclude anyone from reading it, I understand there’s a large portion of the readership that’s gone digital because its more convenient, but personally I haven’t related to that model. So, it’s not a priority. I don’t feel like it’s something that’s burning in me to address anytime soon.
But there is an argument you made yesterday (on a panel with Klaus Janson) about the visual of the comic as a physical object. When you go digital, you do lose that. I mean, you can put everyone of those pages, including the back cover and back matter into a digital copy, but it’s not the same.
It’s not the same, and I want to be clear that I don’t want to impose my fetish of the newsprint comic on anyone. But readers do have the option to buy the issues or NOT to buy them, and that’s the risk I take. I’m not forcing people nor am I trying to change the industry “back to the glory that it was”. I’m just doing this because it’s a model that I’m familiar with and I aesthetically like. It’s a much more intimate thing. I just don’t read that many digital comics. That’s not how I absorb this stuff. I would feel weird putting it out in the world if I’m not sure of it myself.
The comparison has been made, and COPRA has been compared very favorably to works like Cerebus, and that’s a comparison that I find to be really quite apt in that you’ve taken an analogous set of characters, like Dave Sim did with Conan the Barbarian, but by Round Three, you’ve expanded that world and its character set in a way not dissimilar from his work in “High Society”. Is that a comparison that you find interesting?
It is, mostly because Dave and I were born on the same day.
Yeah, so it just means we’re both stubborn and hard headed, and we’re gonna do what we want no matter what. But the COPRA/Cerebus thing… I imagine it’s more accurate than I’d like to think, but the main difference is that Cerebus started out as a parody. And my book…well, I personally fucking hate parody comics of that nature. I like Cerebus, but I especially mean modern indie takes on this sort of stuff. It’s low hanging fruit. You’re going to make fun of superheroes, good job, you’re wasting your precious time on earth doing that. Who cares? You’re not gonna outdo Marshal Law. I love that comic to death. There was a lot of anger behind that book, but it didn’t look down at anyone. Now, you either like superheroes or you don’t, and it’s perfectly fine to dislike it. In fact, you probably shouldn’t. I have zero interest in making fun of this stuff. From the first page of COPRA, it was serious business to me, serious business while fully realizing and basking in the absurd nature of this material.
That’s a difficult balance to achieve – seriousness without being overtly grim.
I just don’t want to wink at readers. I respect the readership too much to be winking at them – like, hey get the joke? Isn’t this DUMB? It’s like, fuck that joke, it’s a terrible joke. And I think Dave Sim wised up to it early on, because he was parodying Conan and the goofy barbarian genre, but then it took on a different identity all together.
And I feel like that’s where you’re headed too. Round 3 is stunning, and I think when it hits a collected edition, I think there’s going to be a lot of talk. I don’t know how else to put it. I don’t want to speak too highly here, but I think that’s going to be when – people already notice it, but I mean, my god, that chapter when Wir goes back home…
Yeah, that’s a favorite. I was worried about making that one too because it’s so bizarre, even within the norms of COPRA, you know?
It was so touching and so raw. It struck nerves for me. And then Gracie in Miami, and you’re working out some of your own feelings about the city and you even say as much on the back end.
Yeah. Every issue pretty much has at least one autobiographical component in it. And I find that interesting when I read older comics too, whether they meant it or not, I think it comes through. Especially for the older creators who really had no other option but to express themselves through The Brave and the Bold or something. But for me to actually write this stuff, I have to put some sort of personal experience in it. So every issue, there’s something there that’s really personal. But I also don’t want it to be too obvious, though.
Let’s talk about Round Four or the presumed Round Four, about what’s coming up, what’s being developed. Spoiler alert: Dutch got it at the end of the latest issue. And clearly there’s another team that’s sort of gaining up on the COPRA side of things. At least that’s what it seems like. There’s an organized group of evil doers. What can we expect in the next couple of issues; I think there are two left in this round?
I have two left. And then I’m going to have a 25th issue anniversary-sized thing, that’s going to stand apart from the narrative, the main arc. And then starting with issue 26 that starts another arc all together. I’m going to work in six issue chunks, but there are going to be main storylines in that. I think I’m going to go up to fifty issues, so 25 will be an anniversary issue, as well as the halfway point.
So there will be an endpoint that’s set in stone?
Yes, I do have an ending set, I’ve mapped it out that far. I’m so excited for it. Knowing that it’s going to end and that everything is building up towards it makes every step of the way that much more fun for me, much richer.
So what can you tell me that we can expect in just very general terms, without spoiling anything, for the next two issues? Is it going to be a battle between the team and this group of guys that are coming after them?
It’s going to be COPRA vs COPRA. That’s all I’m going to say.
You’ve got two other narratives occurring in these books, you’ve got Dieter VDO’s back cover story for Man-Head…
Which is non-canonical.
Let me ask you how that got arranged first. Are you and Dieter friends?
Oh, I’m a big fan of his work. He did a Savage Dragon story for this collection of back ups I edited. This was ages ago. Anyway, Dieter… I like spreading the word on him. I think he’s great, one of my favorite cartoonists. I wanted to have unique back matter for this current arc and he was the first person I thought of to do something. Instead of pin ups, though, I wanted a serialized narrative. Thankfully he was on board. His own weird version of COPRA? Who wouldn’t want to see that?
So what is going on between your narrative and his narrative in these orange and white pages? There’s something appearing in the sky…?
When can we expect the next issue to hit?
Maybe 4 weeks, a month? After the show I’ve to get back to drawing it. I’m not really ahead, schedule-wise. As soon as the issue is done, it’s practically in the readers’ hands.
Entertainment Editor for The Beat covering film, television and the occasional comic book. His work can also be found at GeekRex.com and can be heard on the GeekRex podcast. Also, your go-to Grant Morrison/Love & Rockets/Hellboy/Legion of Super-Heroes expert.