Reader, I’m in love. I thought I’d better come out and say it right away, so as to leave you with no illusions of objectivity in the following review. I put down the first issue of Copra and it hit me like a lightning bolt, this is what I want from a superhero comic: outrageous characters, vibrant artwork, crazy action sequences, and a sheer sense of unpredictability that’s far too rare in the mainstream ‘capes and tights’ product. I have no idea where this comic is going, I’m not even sure if its creator Michel Fiffe knows, and I couldn’t care less because I’m far too busy craving my next hit.
Copra is Fiffe’s loving tribute to DC’s original Suicide Squad run, taking the familiar concept of the superpowered ‘dirty dozen’, lifting it free from the constraint of corporate ownership and twisting it through his uniquely surreal artistic sensibility. As you’d expect from such a premise, there’s a quite few cast members who are obvious parallels of existing DC and Marvel characters (like Deadshot and Dr Strange) but there are plenty of others who are products of Fiffe’s imagination or transposed from outside of comics - like the deadly androgynous martial-artist “Gracie”, who is clearly inspired by the model/singer/James Bond villain Grace Jones. This hard-boiled crew of anti-heroes is managed by the formidable Sonia, a government agent responsible for keeping them in line and tasking them with missions too dangerous or too volatile to be given over to conventional forces.
The first issue jumps right into the plot, with captions written from Sonia’s perspective giving just enough introductory exposition for us to comprehend what we’re seeing. Immediately after we meet the team we see an unsanctioned mission go disastrously wrong, killing off most of the characters and leaving Copra on the run from the US government and some super-powered villains with a fragment of a bizarre interdimensional weapon/magic-explodey-thing in their care. Issues two and three shows the team struggling with the fallout of the first issue and recruiting additional misfits to their cause, something that could have been quite dry compared to the first but Fiffe has seemingly committed himself to providing plenty of trippy action sequences in every issue (and hopefully that continues past #3, I’ve not read any further than that yet). Incredibly, Copra is written, drawn, colored, lettered and published by Fiffe to a strict monthly schedule, a remarkable work ethic that puts my own to shame, and he has planned to release a minimum of twelve issues.
Fiffe’s dialogue and captions are capably written but the real selling point of the comic is how his madcap imagination is unleashed through highly kinetic artwork, otherwise the Suicide Squad inspired central concept (which if we’re being honest is far from original) would struggle to stand out from the crowd. Fiffe draws with a rugged, confidently assured line and hand colors in a patchy, almost crayony fashion with pale tones contrasted against flashes of vibrancy, while uncomplicated layouts keep the eye moving at a brisk pace and allows his cartooning to speak for itself. His style is raw at times, perhaps a byproduct of the oppressive deadlines, but carries a looseness and electric energy that's perfect for the fast paced, action heavy plotting and psychedelic character designs of this comic. Copra might be lacking the glossy polish of the mainstream superhero comics but more than makes up for that in the sheer forcefulness of its bold, unadulterated personality.
Fiffe’s entirely solo effort in producing the comic’s content makes Copra one of the most intimate reading experiences I’ve ever had in a comic book and it’s also a high quality physical product, printed on durable card stock in one-off runs of 600 copies (with occasional reprint runs). Perhaps because of Fiffe’s tightly self-imposed schedule - which he describes as an attempt to "break the Kirby barrier" - Copra is able to recapture something of the thrill-powered* verve that was a hallmark of Marvel’s late 1960s output (where bullpen workers like Stan Lee and Jack Kirby were able to thrash out countless classic comics by pretty much winging it from month to month), a feat most other superhero comics since that era have failed to achieve.
With its artisanal production and unusual aesthetic, holding an issue of Copra in my hands feels special; it’s comics as cottage industry and for that alone I think it’s something to be encouraged. Give it a go, I’d be surprised if you regretted it.
Artist/Writer: Michel Fiffe
Price: $5 (single issue), $12 (three issue compendium)
* Credit goes to Mindless Ones for their coining of the “Thill Power” term in their analysis of Marvel's 1960's “Bullpen” and how the artists working under that formula churned out so many amazing comics under fairly crappy working conditions.