a column that’s really a blog published on a site with “professional” qualities, kinda

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Hey.

I’m writing this somewhat regular column now for Comics Should Be Good. It’s titled ‘The Orange Won’t Peel’.

If you’re at all interested in my thoughts / experiences with comic books, follow that.

It’s been fun so far. A commenter, named Perplexed, once posted “what the fuck is this?” in response, so you know I’ve struck something.

Anyway, click the link below and check back often. I plan to peel the bastard clean.

Thanks.

LINKhttp://goodcomics.comicbookresources.com/category/the-orange-wont-peel/

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Typed out

I place a lot of pressure on myself, especially when writing. Anyone interested in the craft does so, but I’ve reached a point where it nearly encumbers 100% of my efforts. Blame anxiety, hidden beneath the cheap guise of “writer’s block.” Blame the stooge (that’s me) unable to overcome.

I’ve known for some time that my habit of procrastination wasn’t the norm, yet never could admit to myself such difficulty as a possible condition. Until recently. Labeling something a “condition” may sound dramatic, and it is, but I truly believe at this point I suffer an abnormal amount of anxiety when faced with the process of writing. Over the past year, I’ve consistently taken easy assignments (reviews, features and fluff) and changed them into two/three week productions concluding only in first drafts – which is extreme on its own. Yet what tops it is the idea that, while putting off such pieces, I’ve still thought about them over the total course of said time, telling myself “today’s the day,” instead to just fall asleep each night, reviewing a 24-hour cycle full of unnecessary walks, apartment cleanings and conversations – a repeatable occurrence that only contributes to the overall stress and guilt I feel.

There’s something chronic about this, so I’ve easily chartered a pattern, rolling from one project to the next enlisting said procedure, and I truly believe, at this point, it’s hindered the development of my writing and postponed professional advancement through possible new assignments and working relationships – not to mention hitting deadlines. Which is sickening to consider, so I try hard not to.

It’s probably clear to most who have followed me over the years that I possess a bad habit of proclaiming great excitement for a new venture to then only dissipate shortly after. A great example of this would be The Chemical Box, a podcast I co-host with Joey Aulisio. At this point, there exist more “hiatus – we’re back” episodes of the show worth counting, and while on each comeback installment Joey and I assure our absence is due to “busy schedules,” I should retract those statements. Maybe Joey’s been preoccupied by life events, but it’s wrong to claim the same excuse on my end. Yeah, I’m a student, yeah I work … but I could read comics. I could easily squeeze an hour and chat. It’s the same case with writing. The time and want exist, yet hesitation commands.

And why does it? I obviously enjoy these things, and I’m fairly certain at this point writing is the only thing I’d like to do with my life. I should be, at every fucking second, behind the keyboard, pushing the pen, yet, ironically, the thing I love the most grants me incredible discomfort, so I sprint away rather than embrace. And I believe I finally know why: the fear of limitation.

Writing subsists on the judgement of its quality, and writing, no matter who you are, depends on the reading part of the process, in which the judgment occurs. This freaks me out. I’ve never handled criticism well – whether social or professional – and I’ve found, over the years, that I need approval from external forces, otherwise I’m clueless as to where I stand (a juvenile quality, undoubtedly).

With this comes the obvious determination to impress, and for the most part I’ve managed to do so in multiple forms (academics, work ethic, etc.). Writing, though, I stand on uneven ground. As hard as I try, as hard as I want, I still see my own work as average, claiming the same gripes, ripping off the same sentence structures, and it’s more and more a truth with every word committed to a tangible surface. Suddenly, it’s not about a given home run with every attempt, but rather a public trial of small successes and gigantic blunders.

My anxiety originates here, feeding back until the distortion sounds so ripe I believe it best not to even try. Because, without my words externalized, I can still pretend they say more than they may actually. I’m backing into THAT corner; a place where a label means more than real product. Imagine the following conversation:

me: “yes, I’m a writer.”

stranger at a party: “well, what have you written?”

me: “well, this one article two years ago …”

It’s a point at which a person identifies  themselves without actually doing anything to earn the identifier. Like naming your band before learning a G chord. And I’m about there, selling the USA Today brand hard even though I’ve barely written anything in two months, let alone for them.

The goods news comes, though, in the form of my recognition. It’s slowly becoming clear where I stand, and what’s more promising, is that even in the face of this conflict, I still hold a passionate interest in writing. I just need to do it. More than I ever have, pushing out whatever bad, ill-formed thoughts and phrases stand within me until I grow conformable with this unkind process, hopefully to one day contribute at least one thing worthwhile.

But, fuck, man, that’s daunting. I’ve psyched myself out, already, just thinking about it. But that there is my problem. I think too much. I think about whether or not what I’m writing matters. I think about who is reading. I think about how I should edit. I think about how it all sounds. And I think these are all good thoughts, important to anyone writing, but it’s also clear such thoughts have blocked me, keeping all sensors on. Allowing that internal editor full command.

A few weeks ago, I had lunch with a writer-friend, and he gave me a solid piece of advice: “submit to the process.” That neatly-packaged line clung to me because it’s exactly the action I should commit. I’m at a point where, yes, nearly 99% of what I craft will suck beyond any belief – causing all sorts of readers to smirk, jeer and taunt, or better yet ignore – but without the plunge that 1% of potential will shrivel, gasp and die. It should get a chance, and while it’s likely it’ll never blossom the way I’d love it too, it may still grow into 5 or 10%. I mean, not to gloat, but with the few accomplishments I hold at 21, it does seem I have some sort of talent for this thing. How many kids write for USA Today, anyway?

It’s one thing to know it and another to perform it, so let’s not consider this another “comeback” piece. Those are far too many. Let’s just consider this a letter of acknowledgment, typed out against my gut. Written in the form of exercise.

That’s enough for now.

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My Top 10 – 2012 Edition

R.I.P. 2012

2012 – 2012

It’s over: 365 days of ups and downs. I’m unsure what 2012 signifies in my own personal journey at this point, but I can say it was another year of learning and lessons complete with the expected depression, doubt and general dissidence. Aren’t they all?

I managed to pull it together and figure out a few new personal tidbits, though I haven’t dealt with the negatives yet. I’m aware at least, right? That’s something.

Could I list and heavily describe my insightful discoveries right here in this blog post? Sure could, but why? I know them; that’s cool enough. I’d rather write about comics, anyway (plus, that’s what you care about).

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10. King-Cat #73 – John Porcellino

I love this dude. The issue delivered a cuckoo bird. Not short, poetic bursts of emotion or hardy, reflective haikus. Nope. Instead, Porcellino drags us through a lengthy piece on cuckoo birds and his obsession, crafting a better, more real diary comic than the handful I’d read this year. And for someone completely uninterested in birdwatching, the story only has more of an affect. Only then do you realize the dedication and focus necessary to either commit to such a stakeout or draw such a comic. That says a lot about Porcellino, revealing a tendency possessed by our author and sharing something personal while also straying from a more direct, potentially heavy-handed approach. Also, it’s a further example of comics as documentation, and I respect the way Porcellino has made King-Cat such an extension of himself. It lives beyond the page.

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9. Zegas #2 – Michel Fiffe

“Slice-of-Life” acting larger-than-life. Beautiful colors. Touching stories. Huge pages. We all love this dude.

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8. The Sky In Stereo – Mardou

The saddest thing I’ve read all year, Mardou takes this tale of hometown discomfort and drug use and places her readership right alongside the cast, creating this sensation of universal familiarity (especially proving the point by using a UK township). Through body language, a wash of short, black lines and a general 90s aesthetic, she fabricates a sense of sorrow and grime so vivid it propels the work. The Sky in Stereo may appear a little typical of alternative comics, what with the frowns and self-awareness, but the conflict feels larger than hometown entrapment and youth disarray. There’s something cosmic about the work, and the conflict jabbing our protagonist feels more like a test of fate than self-destruction.

Read it. It sticks with you.

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7. Lose #4 – Michael DeForge

After the initial read, I sat lopsided, dumbfounded as to what Lose #4 is. Like much of DeForge’s work, it’s grotesque, oily and pimple-ridden, but #4 was disinterested in some of that visceral immediacy; it works from the inside out after planting its seed. I spent days with the flashbacks, reliving a handful of its images as the disease slowly took root.To translate horror and disturbia in such a way just deserves applause, and like always DeForge’s pacing is sharp and such a component of the delivery.

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6. Prophet – Brandon Graham, Simon Roy, Farel Dalrymple, Giannis Milonogiannis

A beautiful example of visual storytelling paired with an exciting epic. So much has been said, yet words aren’t necessary to understand Prophet‘s genius. You just have to look at it.

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5. Incinerator – Michael DeForge

Here’s my review.

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4. Butcher Baker, the Righteous Maker #8 – Joe Casey, Mike Huddleston

My #3 pick last year, this conclusion delivered. More so, maybe, than any other conclusion I’ve read of a comic book series. Angry, bulging and a true work of art, Butcher Baker will always represent collaboration, attitude and the true potential of comic books. Fuck, it’s a love letter to the medium, if anything. There’s so much to be said of it, yet I don’t feel like expressing here. So, some links:

Interview w/ artist Mike Huddleston

Butcher Baker, the Statement Maker

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3. Injury #4 – Ted May, Jeff Wilson, Mike Reddy

If you are the type of reader who enjoys to watch and witness rather than unravel a mixed bag of plot items, “Songbird,” Injury #4′s main feature, delivers. In fact, it may re-establish your faith in the medium and remind you of the power and control a comic book artist has in their intimate domain. Some may try to write “Songbird” off as more drug-themed slacker fiction or indie autobiography, and while technically it has those themes, May and Wilson’s tone for the story feels more like a war narrative than anything. A crew of teenage metal heads read as if they’re a platoon of soldiers preparing to experience heavy combat, and detention is their no man’s land.

There’s an epic scale brought to this familiar background, yet it’s funny in just the right places.

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2. Casanova: Avarita – Matt Fraction, Gabriel Ba

Everyone hated it; I loved it. Casanova transforms as Matt Fraction bites back against every pundit and reader who thought they could define his magnum opus. It subverts and destroys itself as Gabriel Ba produces the loudest, decibel-splitting work of his career. It’s fucking bloody and upset. It’s the truest shit he’s ever written.

God damn, I love this book.

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1. The End of the Fucking World – Charles (Chuck) Forsman

In which I re-post something I wrote months ago because I’m lazy.

This.

This right here is why I read comics.

Yet, while so won over and ready to spill praise, I’ve sat staring at the previous two lines for, oh, two hours. A few Twitter visits in between, sure, but staring, staring … I’m not sure how to start this one. I think that’s the sign of when you’ve truly enjoyed something, though. It’s easy to be negative or tear something down, but to convey enjoyment or state why exactly something spoke to you … that’s hard. Because you want to get it just right, and ultimately you know you won’t because, well, there’s too much to say.

Charles Forsman’s The End of the Fucking World, like John Porcellino’s King-Cat, represents what I’d love to make if I were an artist, and beyond that, it just exemplifies what exactly it is I love about comics. It’s lo-fi yet stylistic, subtle yet visceral – a version of Bonnie and Clyde bled through the lens of Gus Van Sant’s Paranoid Park, and it’s completely been sown into a series of eight page mini comics cut to match the size of your hand.

And even then, I’ve just sold this thing short using a cliche “this meets this” label.

TEOTFW follows James and Alyssa – two teenagers living the classic teenage experience as they sort of face down the impending doom of oncoming adulthood. Forsman tells their story by adopting both character’s perspectives, jumping between first person points of views with each issue, using each leap in narrator to define the other character. So far, five issues deep into this however long saga, we understand James and Alyssa in one, clear way. That they hang onto each other because they seem to be afraid of the alternative: facing the future alone.

The book in general riffs on this nihilistic temperament – something I guess you could say is synonymous with adolescence – and in numerous ways Forsman illustrates, I think, the disdain, fear and existential search the teen years bring about. He may do so through a few extreme examples, like shoving a character’s fist into a garbage disposal, but the idea certainly resides under the, at times, harsh visuals. The comic’s pacing puts me on my ass, though, because Forsman only has eight, substantially smaller pages to accomplish all of this, yet he’s nailed the mission every time. Much of this comes from Forsman apparent understanding of timing and how long is long enough for a scene or moment, and he’s also just aware of what exactly needs to be seen. Every panel has a job, here. You can’t say the same for most other comics.

All together, this great, solid rhythm works its way into your reading. You feel the beat in Forsman’s storytelling, and it all sort of reminds you of how much can be done with less at your disposal. Which is sort of the bigger point here. I love that TEOTFW is printed on plain old white paper any of us could go and purchase at a Staples.  I love that it’s a mini comic. I love that it comes out monthly. None of it says high production or hype. No red tape. No middlemen. Instead, TEOTFW embodies the “let’s do it” mentality and just tells its story without any of the flare around it, as opposed to the gloss paper and PR of mainstream books or the hardback, book tour savvy graphic novels of high art. TEOTFW just goes in the face of all such examples of nonsense and extra and simply revitalizes the idea that, “hey, making comics is something open to every man, woman and child.” The lo-fi mechanics strengthen the ideal perception of comics being these very direct, timely expressions and reflections.

Yet, as I’ve noted, Forsman’s work doesn’t exactly live up to the minimal format, though, which is something else I truly love about this idea of comics being lo-fi and direct. There’s a dichotomy present, a phrase Joe Casey coined as “lo-fi futureshit.” I love that in these simple productions, these pulp mags, these Kinkos pamphlets there can exist ideas or emotions far beyond the grasp of the paper. That even though you may be reading something made on an HP printer and costs a dollar, you can spend a day, or a whole essay, reflecting on it as well as gain inspiration.

Something about such a dichotomy gives me goosebumps, and ultimately it’s kind of why I grow a little sad when I see such a push toward expensive book formats and year long waits for graphic novels. Suddenly, the production cost grows a little steeper, yet I’m not sure the truest impact comes along.

Because, to me, that’s the most amazing part about comics. Simplicity achieving complexity.

And above all the waxing thoughts of teenage conflict, storytelling or Peanuts art style transposed over seventeen year old deadpans (nod to Frank Santoro on that point), Forsman’s The End of the Fucking World hits me hardest because of its faith in lo-fi futureshit. Granted, I’m not sure if Charles Forsman intended any bit of such a thing, but when I read these mini comics, my head automatically goes there and I gleefully clap.

That said though, I would totally double-dip and buy a collection of this work because eventually I’m sure my copies of these comics will fall apart with age. And re-reading. Aside from my crazy beliefs on what comics are and how this series represents them, The End of the Fucking World showcases some wonderful storytelling, and it nails the bleak wonder lying behind the end of youth. I look forward to forthcoming chapters. Who knows what the future holds.

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Also, Shawn Starr drew this comic and made me laugh. Farewell, 2012!

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Digestate: a Food & Eating Themed Anthology

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For The Chemical Box, I reviewed the new Birdcage Bottom Books release. Click here to read.

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Spandexless Talks: Michel Fiffe of Zegas

This interview was done nearly a year ago, but I wish to post here it for the sake of posterity. It was originally published at Spandexless.com. Enjoy.

Michel Fiffe should be on everybody’s “watch list.” I know he’s sitting comfortably on mine.

Sometime during the span of 2011, Fiffe caught my attention via his involvement in the Erik Larsen-fueled passion project known as Twisted Savage Dragon Funnies, and from that significant seed I couldn’t seem to escape the guy. Whether it were thought-provoking essays or his own comic book Zegas, Michel Fiffe popped into my radar and quickly engulfed my line of sight like a bright, blinking red dot.

But, honestly, I’m not concerned. I’m glad he captured my attention because Fiffe produces the work I want to read – comic books with a point. But more importantly, comic books that take advantage of what make them comics. Zegas stands as a wonderful example of that, using a formalist approach to really experiment with what exactly makes a comic book narrative tick. Decorated in delicate line work and ash-fire color, Zegas tells the tale of a brother and sister and the numerous thoughts and worries they experience. That’s the best way I can sell it. The story is set against the backdrop of a sort of science fiction background – via one of those “apocalyptic events” – but really, at its core, it’s a story about personal concerns, and if anything, it comes off as more “slice of life” than sci-fi.

Luckily, I’ve had the opportunity to chat with Michel about himself and his comics. To say the man is a very helpful person would be an understatement. He gave me 100% of his attention, and I can’t say every creator would have taken the time to chat with me as he did. So, give the interview below a read. If it reads like it were conducted over some sort of instant messaging software, that’s because it was. I went for conversational here, and I feel I captured that, along with always interesting responses from Michel about his creative process and what he wants his comics to be.

Without further adieu …

Alec Berry: So, how are you?

Michel Fiffe: Good. I’m just trying to catch up on things. Gotta finish that coloring! Tons of scanning to do, too.

AB: Yeah. Looking at the finished product, I’m sure you put plenty of time in. I wouldn’t know where to begin (laughs).

MF: THAT is the toughest part. I just want to just sit back and read a comic FOREVER and never think.

AB: I’m with you. I always wonder why I choose to get so involved with comics when, really, I could just read them and do other things

MF: I feel the same, except it’s borne from loving it so much. Like, you have to act upon it somehow. I can just read a comic series, but then I’d have to articulate my love for it somehow. Sometimes I end up just scanning and posting comics I dig, mostly old comics from the 70s and 80s … but you know, making them is a good alternative, too!

AB: You have spent your fair share of time on the “comics internet,” working I guess as a critic as well as interviewing people. Talk about doing that and then transitioning into making comics yourself and what you brought over from that.

MF: Well, I’m a cartoonist first and foremost. All the other stuff is just a way of sorting through my own interests and learning curves. The first interview I conducted was based on a personal need to find something out. I had tracked down the cartoonist Trevor Von Eeden and wanted to know what he was up to and how his career developed. You know, basic interview stuff, except it didn’t exist for him, so I sought it out myself. From that, I learned to somewhat voice my own views and approaches to comics. That Von Eeden piece, which I thought would be a one time thing for me, turned out to be a side thing for me, almost an occupation. It almost took over at one point, the interviews and retrospectives and all that. I had to pull back a little!

But yeah, I still find it important for me to explore, at the very least, my own interests. It’s not my duty to report or interview things/people in the industry. It’s solely based on my own need to see certain things represented and, hopefully, discussed.

AB: Which is funny, because I think you’ve managed to bring that need to “explore” over to your comics.

MF: I’ve never quite thought of it like that, actually. Funny you should notice that. I do like to experiment, though, and put forth things that may or may not work, but I certainly like to utilize the things in comics that make them comics, you know? I suspect these things come half intuitively and half by design.

AB: Tell me more about putting the comic together. What do you take away from the process?

MF: My process is all over the place. It starts with trying to tell a story I’m not too embarrassed to tell. I like the journey, sure, but sometimes I won’t enjoy the comic until it’s done. The high of completion will last a few seconds, then I reconsider my life options for a few moments, and then I diligently begin all over again.

I gotta say, though, sometimes the writing is so painful. I sweat over that the most. Just getting it right, you know? I labor over it, hoping never to kill the spark of it. During those kinds of writing sessions, I sometimes wish that I was just a penciler or something.

AB: I saw on your blog how you’ve adapted writing to more of a visual experience.

MF: That’s the best way for me to do it, where I carry the story through a conversation. I then edit it down to the essentials. You saw that page on my blog? That was one of the neater spreads.

AB: I thought it was a cool approach. For a visual medium, it makes a lot of sense to keep it visual from initial thought to finish.

MF: Man, I just can’t type a script. It’s redundant if you’re writing for yourself. Even when I see a comic book script, it doesn’t register to me. It looks like homework. It looks boring and restrained. I like working visually. Yet, I can’t stress enough how important the words are to me. I’d rather have a flawed drawing than a hoaky line of dialogue.

AB: Hm. It seems the consent from a majority of people is much the opposite. Everybody seems to champion comics for the nice art, yet if the story suffers, whatever.

MF: You just nailed my position in comics perfectly.

AB: Why is the creative process so magnetic – as in – why does it seem to suck people in even though it involves so much work?

MF: It’s magnetic to those with obsessive qualities, I think. That’s certainly the case for me. After something’s complete, I just can’t stand to look at it. All I see are the flaws, which makes self publishing interesting. I am forced to not only look at that older work longer than I should, but I have to then sell it with a straight face.

AB: So diving back in, working on the next project is your way to move on, pretty much?

MF: Right, right. Absolutely. I already feel like a slow worker, so I need to keep myself moving, even at what I consider to be a slow pace. Of course, I’m probably measuring my pace against those that do one task instead of them all. And writing about comics, or editing comics, or anything that has to do with comics, it’s all part of that, too.

AB: I get the vibe you come from more of a broad background in terms of comics and cartoonists. Tell me about the guys that influence you, but more specifically, what techniques you take from those guys and try to apply to your work.

MF: The most immediate examples I can think of are… well,  I like the naturalism of Jaime Hernandez and David Mazucchelli but also the energy of Walt Simonson and Tony Salmons, and we must not forget Cliff Sterrett and George Grosz. All that stuff moves me to make something of my own, but I try my hardest not to be obvious about it, but they all have sensibilities that I wrestle with. I like a number of things that are at odds with one another, and sometimes my comics are an attempt to reconcile those differences.

AB: Like, say, the difference between Hernandez and Simonson? Naturalism versus energy?

MF: Right, right. Like being aware of the power that a simple panel grid carries, yet wanting to make a flashy page design because it serves the story better. It’s not either/or for me; I want to utilize everything. Or having a scratchy, dirty line versus a clean and solid line. Both really appeal to me, so I try to use them when appropriate. What I try to do is try to control these urges, or channel them, rather, through a specific narrative. It’s the foundation I need to make sense of it all.

AB: Which makes sense when Zegas places stories in a post-apocalyptic world, yet the stories are more focused on personal drives and wants. You’re pitting the elements of sci-fi, high concept comics against the introspective comic, yet, through that combat, creating something whole.

MF: Sure, but it’s so not a sci-fi comic by any stretch. If anything, it’s a slice-of life with weird backgrounds. Keep in mind, though, that I hate the term “slice of life”, despite using it as a descriptive crutch sometimes. It’s about people and the stuff they worry about – that’s it. I can’t wrap a high concept around that,  you know? I can’t do it. It’d be restrained if I did so. Introspective, sure, I just hope it’s not boring or too self-indulgent to the reader. I know Zegas won’t be for everyone, but to those it speaks to, I hope it speaks to them on deeper levels. That is perhaps too much to ask for, but all I can do is try, and I’m the wrong guy to ask whether I’ve succeeded in doing so or not.

AB: Yeah. You mentioned that you wish to “utilize everything” when it comes to constructing your comics.  Why exactly? Why such a desire to be omnipresent in terms of the page?

MF: Because I’m a masochistic control freak and an empty sheet of paper seemed like an easy thing to control. It’s not, though, and it’s silly to think that it is. Entire lives are forever changed in trying to control that page! I’m about to be done with Zegas #2, which is why I don’t hate it as much as I eventually will, but I cannot wait to start up a few essays on comics. I hasten to say “essays” because they’re just… I’m just jotting down ideas and observations. It’s nowhere near as academic as some people make it out to be.

AB: It kind of is small, but it’s still creating in some sense. How do you feel about having your mistakes in the public eye? You know, developing creatively in front of everyone?

MF: Uh…. not comfortable in the slightest.

AB: (laughs).

MF: But that’s part of it isn’t it? It beats getting in front of an audience I think. I could never be a stand up comic, mostly because I’m just not funny. But also because that is… there’s just no hiding up there.

AB: Yeah. I think the closest thing to that in comics is selling your book at a show, but even then, you’re not performing. You’re just sitting at a table, and most people are nice anyway.

MF: No, it’s totally not the same.

AB: What sort of things do you want to represent, and how are books like Zegas going about that discussion?

MF: On an aesthetic level, I want to represent a compelling union of words and pictures that don’t express the typical stuff you see everywhere else. It’s not as reactionary as it sounds, really. I want to express specific things that I just don’t see anywhere else. As to how I’ll get that across on a practical level, I decided to self-publish. I decided to keep it print exclusive, too, which has stronger appeal to me. So far, the response to Zegas has been better than it ever has.

AB: I know you’ve done a nice array of work, but it seems like now, especially in the last few months, you’ve been amping up. What’s the plan from here?

MF: Well, Zegas #2 is my primary concern now. I’m managing this crowd funding campaign to get it printed. Overseeing every single aspect of publishing takes a lot of time, but I’m still working on making more Zegas comics. I’m treating every issue as my ultimate statement on comics, on what they can do, on what they can say, and as if it were my last comic. It’s a full plate, but it has to get done.

If you wish to learn more about Michel Fiffe, check out his blog and his Twitter feed.

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Change #1 | Kot / Jeske / Leong / Brisson

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Over at Chemical Box, I typed out a quick review of Change #1 from Image Comics.

You can read it here.

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Direct Message 06: Cable & X-Force #1

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So Chad threw out the idea of reviewing this, and I went along with it.

Click here for a negative review with a dash of genuine anger.

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