When was the last time you truly got excited when reading a comic? There might be an exciting creator-owned book here, or an OGN that blows your mind there, but by and large, monthly comics have gotten so boring. The Big Two pump out your photorealistic superhero comics at such a high rate you’d be hard pressed to find something different. It of course does happen, but not nearly enough.
And then comes a comic that blows you right off your feet which happened to me with COPRA, a comic written, drawn and self-published by Michel Fiffe. Having only recently discovered it I took it upon myself to review the first eight issues with number 9 out this week. So, is it good?
COPRA #1-8 (Copra Press)
COPRA cover art from #1 through #8 drawn by Michel Fiffe
Since November 2012, Michel Fiffe has been doing it all on COPRA, from writing to art to stapling the buggers. Much like a film published on the creator’s dime, Fiffe has the ability to take wild chances that are both exciting and pleasant to look at. While the story is about a superhero mercenary team, something we’ve seen quite a bit of recently, it’s how the story unfolds visually and who they are that make it so fresh and new.
In a lot of ways this book reads like Fiffe is a man with a can of spraypaint and nothing to lose. He’s doing some impressive things with the art in particular — from playing with how panels play with each other to perspective — and there are pages, panels and elements at work here I’ve never seen in a comic before. When pencil lines show through the art, it gives the work a texture that sets it apart from mainstream comics.
So what’s COPRA about? The first six issues have COPRA tracking down a mysterious artifact that’s come from another dimension. The main piece was found stabbed into the forehead of an unknown person which was stolen when COPRA was carting the head off to headquarters. Long story short, an entire town was demolished by the thief who snatched the shard as it gives the controller incredible power. Characters in COPRA have powers that range from heavy hitting sluggers, ninja fighters, and sharpshooters to a guy who wears a robot suit. Oh, and they each have their own personal issues to deal with, too. The heroes are just a level above normal in their superness, but in a lot of ways it’s not their lack of superior power that limits them, but their emotional baggage that keeps them from being archetypes.
The seventh and eighth issues delve a bit away from the main thread; issue #7 is a reflective piece that outlines the issues of each hero as they contemplate the ramifications of issue #6. Issue #8 however, changes things up completely again, this time a full on action-packed extravaganza. By the time you’ve reached #8 you’ll see Fiffe is always improving and always changing things up from pace, layouts to the intentions of each issue.
Why can’t Dr. Strange do cool stuff like this?
Ultimately, the story isn’t too complex, which allows Fiffe to unleash crazy concepts and more importantly for the characters to have more meaning. In some sense this series is like Joe Casey’s Godland in that characters are bombastic and ideas pop in and out at differing intervals, but it still lives in a realistic and damaged world. In that regard, it reminds me of Michael Avon Oeming’s The Victories in that it’s the characters and their place in COPRA, however damaged they are, that’ll keep you compelled with the story. Of course, comparisons are the lazy man’s way of explaining things, so let’s break this puppy down.
Notice the coloring on that shirt.
The art in this book is awe inspiring. Fiffe has a way of drawing gears and gadgets in complex detail that makes the smallest of things, a wrist gun for example, interesting and fun to look at. While the character Wir is inside a mech type suit you’d be hard pressed to find a panel where it doesn’t look organic and malleable. The suit is always changing ever so slightly with all its pieces drawn in high detail. And yet, characters have a minimalist style as well. It’s as if Fiffe focuses on certain spots of a character and then leaves the rest to his color to add texture.
Look at the detail. LOOK AT IT!
There are cases where an artist has a hard time differentiating characters, either due to an inability to craft distinguishing faces or bodies, but Fiffe has no trouble here. In fact, I’d say every character in this book has extremely distinguishing features to the point where their eyes and expressions aid in telling us who they are, on top of what they’re saying and doing.
One character design that particularly pops is Gracie Kriegeskotte. She wears a black costume with white piping that Fiffe uses to show where all her limbs are. The black is so dark, without the white the image below would be a black blob, but using the white makes everything clear and sharp. It really makes her pop, to the point where her rather mundane ability, namely fighting, is made all the more interesting.
Fiffe also plays around with movement quite a bit. When characters are throwing, thrusting and jumping Fiffe nicely implements speed lines that go a long way to making things look interesting. In fact, one hero, Count Compota, has powers that warp an opponent’s field of perception. How cool is that power? When he utilizes his powers characters shift and multiply to convey their perception changing. It’s a cool effect and is another example of Fiffe playing around with art to show the reader something new.
I’m not sure what Fiffe uses to color, but it looks like multiple different tools. Marker here or colored pencil there, it changes up quite a bit, but the coolest aspect of his color is seeing the lines. Where it looks like colored pencils you can see every stroke, which makes it all look handmade and thus much more endearing. Some of these digital color companies Marvel and others utilize make things look practically like animation. There’s nothing wrong with it, but to see the workmanship in every stroke is a thing to behold.
Speaking of worksmanship, the layouts are at times breathtaking. Take for instance the bottom half of a page below, with the heroes flying across the city in one panel and then swooping down into another panel. Fiffe could have easily drawn the entire page as the city, but instead he’s chosen to draw the city in these two panels, while the white streak of movement crosses over in between the panels. This enhances the thrust downward and also makes this movement seem perilous. Oh and it’s flipping awesome!
There are multiple cases throughout this series where Fiffe chooses a layout that’s conducive to the scene. Action sequence with hand to hand combat? Four simple widescreen panels to keep the movements of the characters clear and concise. God knows clustered, confusing fight sequences are rubbish. Is magic involved? Prepare yourself for some 3D coloring or added depth to a panel to make things go completely bonkers. It all adds up to make the comic that much more exciting to read. Essentially, anything goes when reading this book. Conventional goes out the window and anything can happen, from bubble or block lettering on sound effects and dialogue to water colored sunsets peeking through windows.
There’s also plenty of violence so buckle up for heads getting holes blown through them, grenades being stuffed down throats and plenty of mangled extremities.
Now that’s a hole you can’t fill.
- Nothing else looks like it
- Compelling characters
- The story is slowly being revealed on purpose, but your interest will wax and wane throughout
Rating this series as a whole is a tough one. There are ups and downs to the pacing of the story, but imagery is always interesting and moving the story forward. The first six issues perfectly set up COPRA and also conclude the first story arc. That said, there have been moments where I wonder why I should care or even been confused as to what is really going on.
But that’s a minor complaint when you weigh it against how original and fresh this series has been. With each issue I feel like the art and story are only getting better. Like a soldier learning a martial art, Fiffe is gaining more and more steam as the series progresses. Issue number one is good, but by issue number eight he’s at the top of his game, with so much innovation going on you’ll literally gasp while reading this.
Is It Good?
Yes! Comics are exciting again! With every issue this series only improves. If you consider yourself a comic book connoisseur you owe it to yourself to pick this book up.