Today Michel Fiffe is best known for Copra, the acclaimed Suicide Squad-inspired adventure story that he self-publishes. Before he made Copra, Fiffe started self-publishing with the series Zegas. It only lasted three issues, but the stories of siblings Emily and Boston Zegas take place in an unnamed city and combines quiet realistic stories with dynamic styles, wild backgrounds and interacts with the story in interesting ways. I made the comparison to George Herriman’s Krazy Kat who had wild backgrounds and used them to convey a feeling. Zegas doesn’t take place in a science fiction city, but it captures a lot of the energy and craziness that comes from moving to a big city and experiencing urban life for the first time.
Fantagraphics has just published a collection of Zegas, along with a brand new story Fiffe created for the collection. He continues to publish Copra, with issue #31 out now and a fifth collection coming out early next year from Bergen Street Comics, and is creating a new series Negativeland on Patreon. In addition, this week brought the news that Fiffe is working on Bloodstrike, the 1990s comic created by Rob Liefeld. This interview was conducted before that news broke.
It’s about the Zegas siblings, Emily and Boston, who struggle with little things like love and death and employment while living in a hyper-surreal backdrop. Their environments are weird and sometimes larger than life, but they still have to scrounge around the sofa for lunch money. Zegas is also the comic that prompted me to self-publish, a move that has immeasurably changed my life for the better.
You started this back in 2011 before Copra. What were you doing when you started working on this?
I had been working on a historical project that required merciless research and was drawn in black and white. I was also editing a year’s worth of back-up stories for Savage Dragon for Image Comics. The former led me to do something more free-form and colorful, while the latter forced me to solely concentrate on my own work and creations. Zegas was the relief I needed.
I wanted to tell personal stories but didn’t want to do strict autobio comics, which by nature typically look very grounded, very modest. I wanted Zegas to look the exact opposite of that, throwing the reader off with design-heavy layouts and lots of vibrant, untethered colors. I found that combination appealing. And it was a combination that, after completing the first couple of stories, I didn’t see anywhere else.
How would you describe the setting of the book, which has realistic characters and stories but takes place in a fantastic setting? Or do you think of it that way?
Well, that’s the thing, I wanted to mess around with tones and shapes and panel structure as a way to balance the low-key nature of the stories. They’re almost too vulnerable, the stories, so maybe I was building a some sort of guard with the approach. I haven’t examined it too closely but that may very well be the case.
“Almost too vulnerable”? Do you think of yourself as either Emily or Boston? Or both?
I shouldn’t have said that. Scratch that. They’re not vulnerable at all. They’re tough as shit, these stories. Tough and glamorous.
I feel like it’s hard to separate the setting from the way that you use color and the stylistic choices you made. The only comparison I can think of offhand is Krazy Kat, where Herriman really played with light and design in the setting.
That’s interesting. Krazy Kat is one of those peripheral influences. I like the idea of George Herriman more than the work itself – mostly because I’ve read very little of it. I’m way more into Cliff Sterrett’s Polly and Her Pals, but you wouldn’t know it because I draw traditional proportions, not “big foot.” That strip is incredible. I’m still moved by it.
I was living in New York, but I should be clear, I was more interested in depicting what one’s first impressions of any metropolitan area would be like. Bizarre architecture and conflicting lights and certain level of activity, all that. But I also didn’t want it to seem like some dystopian future sci-fi city, either, nor did I want it to hog all the attention because let’s be honest, is nothing worse than when a city is “a character”?
Why did the series end?
Copra took over. Copra was originally slated for 12 monthly issues between Zegas #2 and 3. I was expecting to get back to Zegas after a solid year of Copra. As it stands, I still have plans for “issue three” floating around.
How did the collection end up at Fantagraphics?
They reached out to me about putting together a project and the most logical, natural fit was Zegas. Only a few hundred copies of the original run exist – and they’ve been long gone – so I wanted these stories to be in the world again. I created brand new pages to finish off this volume, actually, and it was great revisiting Emily and Boston’s world.
There are new pages in the book as you mentioned; was it easy to get back into the rhythm and style of a Zegas story?
It was more pleasant than I expected, yeah. I made those end pages to give some sort of closure to the entire book, since those stories were originally written with the expected momentum of at least another issue to bring it all home.
Copra is still going strong, up to issue 31. Bergen Street Press will be releasing a fifth collection, “Round Five,” due early next year. I’m also serializing a new comic story, Negativeland, on my Patreon page, which also serves as a place where I get to rant about process and old comics I love.