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Forsman X Fiffe

This week sees the release of Michel Fiffe's official continuation of Rob Liefeld's Bloodstrike series, legally (and affectionately) known as Bloodstrike: Brutalists. Meanwhile, Chuck Forsman has set up shop at Patreon, where he's currently serializing Automa. While the majority of their conversations take place at the conventions they often share a table at, some of them make their way into print: like this one you're about to read.

Michel Fiffe: Today we have Chuck Forsman here, the creator of The End of the Fucking World.

Chuck Forsman: You can forget every other book I’ve done, that's the only one people talk about.

Fiffe: Oh, boo fucking hoo.

Forsman: We’re here with Michel Fiffe. Creator of Copra and working on Bloodstrike: Brutalists.

Fiffe: Let’s focus on you first, on your career. First off, how’s it feel when people call you a sell out?

Forsman: The only person who calls me a sell out is me. And you.

Fiffe: That can’t be true.

Forsman: No, I don’t know. I can’t -- Ok, I’m getting real here. Can you sell out nowadays?

Fiffe: [Laughs.] Oh, man, you just went deep fast. Jeez, I was kidding, sorta. You’re right, though, that term doesn’t really have much weight these days.

Forsman: I get a little bit of hate online. Just like trolls and stuff which I’ve never experienced before. It comes with the territory of having something on Netflix. I’ve become less human to some people.

Fiffe: When you say troll, what are they making fun of? Did the read the story, did they even know it was a comic first?

Forsman: I’ve had people pick on the comic and stuff, which is not good for my self-esteem. It’s a weird thing. My skin’s getting tougher but it still hurts even if I do my best to ignore it. Because it just validates all the shitty things I say to myself, my private thoughts. My first thought is yes, they’re right, I’m a piece of shit, I don’t deserve any of this.

Fiffe: So are you staying offline more these days? I know I try to. My attendance comes in waves, only because it can get to be a little too much.

Forsman: I’ve pulled back a bit, I feel like just putting less personal stuff out. I can feel myself putting up a little bit of a wall.

Fiffe: Well, I’m happy for your success despite the crippling anxiety it brings you.

Forsman: No, I’m fine. I’m fine. Don’t do that to me, don’t you put that on me! I’m fine.

Fiffe: Let’s talk about some comics then. You’re working on AUTOMA.

Forsman: I call it my Terminator 2 comic, sorta. Me doing a sci-fi type thing with a lot more personal drama. It’s hard for me to explain my work. I’m one of those assholes that likes the work to speak for itself. I’ve never been good at doing the one line pitch. I can do it for other people but for my ownstuff, it’s just such a jumble of thoughts and ideas in my head, I can’t comprehend how to pick out what to say about it. I’m putting that mess onto the page and organizing it. With that said, it’s a cyborg from the future comic but with, like, feelings.

Fiffe: You serialize it on Patreon monthly?

Forsman: Yeah, I’m trying. I’m taking a month off, just because I did some travelling and that threw me off schedule. I try to do 20 pages [an issue]. I think we’re the same in that way. We enjoy that grind of a regular deadline, which seems to come by way of monthlies. It’s much easier because it’s black and white, not like color like last year with Slasher. Good to focus back on inking. You just wrapped up Bloodstrike, right?

Fiffe: That’s right. Just went to press. It will exist soon.

Forsman: And this started last year, correct?

Fiffe: Approximately, yeah. You were there! We were on our way to HeroesCon, bin diving the previous week, and I was out to collect as many missing Extreme Comics as I could. You know me, I have this habit to first collect everything in order to then enjoy it. I fell in love with those Bloodstrike issues all over again. You were literally next to me when I read those comics and I thought: “What the fuck, this great.”

Forsman: The thing about you that I like is that you'll take a thing like Bloodstrike, get obsessed with it, and want to fill in the blanks. That’s your conceit right? You’re filling in those two missing issues, plus a zero issue?

Fiffe: At first it was a sort of challenge to myself; let’s see if I can make my story make sense. I’m too close to it to tell. I tried my best to be reader friendly, but... I’ve been thinking about this a lot, I think in comics, and culture in general, what’s being sold [to people] is an experience. That’s a corporate buzz word, right? People simply just love stuff, they wanna love something. As long as those primal demands are met, that’s enough. It’s not crucial to have either clarity, or depth, or that personal touch for something to survive and be loved. It’s not essential, in other words, and that bums me out in a way because I’m always looking for that extra touch. Maybe I’m too critical.

Forsman: That’s something I struggle with a lot. I mean, I’m not as critical as I’d like to be. I don’t do deep dives and figure out why I like this, why I don’t like that. It would kinda drive me nuts. I don’t have the mind for that. But I do think about that, I think there’s something to that, because – well, before we made comics, and we were hungry and we were falling in love with comics, we had our era of whatever we were into. Do you think it’s as simple as that, because you know how the sauce is made? Or is it sausage? [Laughter.]

Fiffe: I always hear both.

Forsman: I stopped reading superhero comics many years ago and during that time, computer lettering took over. So when I got off of my ass and gave that stuff a chance again, digital lettering was a hard barrier for me to overcome. It still is the thing that stands out, pounding me in the face. I find it very distracting because in my mind it doesn’t gel with the pages. So with stuff like that, I’ve somewhat gotten past that a little bit.

Fiffe: You feel generous with it?

Forsman: I’ve gotten used to it. But if I was coming up reading comics now, I’m sure that wouldn’t faze me at all.

Fiffe: Some of these comics aren’t made for me. Occasionally I give a crossover an optimistic go, knowing full well what I’m playing with. I want the shiniest, poppiest thing, I want to be entertained by the mainstream. And... I can’t connect with any of it because my values are just different. Like I mentioned, we just like ALL the stuff ALL the time.  We don’t care where it comes from, we don’t care where it’s going, we just care about now. And I have to say, that’s really appealing, but that goes against my nature. I mean – speaking of Bloodstrike – I get obsessed and go deep into that obsession. I do that to a lot of things, and sometimes those things don’t necessarily need or deserve deep diving.

Forsman: I find that interesting. What do you think pushed you to make that book? Aside from getting it approved, because those aren’t your characters, what pushed you past that? I mean, I’ve done that, I’ve gotten obsessed with a book and think I’m going to pitch this “something something” but I always get to a point: “Why am I doing this? I don’t care. Why would I give this away? I’ll just do this story myself?”

Fiffe: It’s funny, before COPRA, I had this idea of taking every mid-grade DC mini-series from the 80s and combining it all into one large story, revisiting all those characters left in limbo. A big book of Slash Maraud, Haywire, Thriller, Cinder & Ashe, you name it. Just a bunch of bin fare. I wasn’t gonna really do it, but I would fantasize about it, daydream about this weirdly ambitious idea. I just wanted to see where these characters were at. That impulse obviously led to COPRA, and it also led to Bloodstrike. I was reading all those old issues and I had the same reflex, wondering what happened to specific character moments that were left unresolved. That’s how it came about. This type of project – it has to take a certain level of mania and commitment to make it work -- it has to come from a place of passion to even be worthwhile.

 

Forsman: It’s almost like you have a puzzle solving disease. [Fiffe laughs]. That’s something I don’t have. I see that way you talk about DC Comics, or Extreme comics, I marvel at how you can hold all those threads in your brain and piece it all together or find what you need to make it all connect. That is something I lack. My comics are written flying by the seat of my pants. Often, I have to reread an issue I did before because I forget stuff. So that’s amazing to me that you keep all that shit in your brain. Does it make you sad? [Laughter.]

Fiffe: Definitely when you put it like that. What the fuck have I been doing with myself?

Forsman: That’s sort of what Mark Gruenwald was, right?

Fiffe: That’s right, yeah. Don’t get me started on my love for that man. 

Forsman: He was sort of that guy who kept it all in his head. Didn’t he start the Marvel Handbook and worry about cleaning up continuity and all that stuff?

Fiffe: Totally. I’m all about that. Especially now. Continuity, exposition, I dig it. It’s not a sexy look, no one cares about that shit.

Forsman: That’s not true.

Fiffe: Everything now is about starting over, and rebooting and refreshing the brand. It’s a constant reset and it’s exhausting. To balance the scales a little, I’ve been angling more towards the calmer, assured, list-making aspect of that material. You were talking about your process, how it’s by the seat of your pants, but it comes across as clear, concise, compelling, and I think with Bloodstrike I tried to do both. There’s the continuity porn underneath a cool, direct story. Maybe it’s the other way around.

Forsman: The Extreme fans are gonna love it.

Fiffe: I’ve always struggled with clarity. I don’t have an editor for COPRA, same with Bloodstrike. And that’s cool in that way that me and you like “auteur” comics – I hate that term, by the way – but you know, we like cartoonists who do it all in their rooms, alone, and their comics are these little messages in bottles sent out to the world. There’s something romantic about that, but it can make for terrible comics. And I don’t want to make those. I want them to be personal messages to people, yeah, but I want those messages to be understood. So that’s what I struggle with. Whereas with, say, Revenger or The End of the Fucking World, it’s all got this clear, strong POV running through it. No fat, no frills. I admire that. I’m always striving for that. It’s always been a priority to me but my results prove otherwise.

Forsman: A lot of people like your stuff, so you’re not doing anything wrong. Not to peg you, but I think that’s what a lot of people like about your work...

Fiffe: Well...

Forsman: ...is that --?

Fiffe: [Rudely interrupts because he can’t listen to nice things.] But like, we always talk about being our own harshest critics. I am really cruel. It could be paralyzing if I think about it too much. I don’t wanna go down that road, because then I’ll get nothing done... and that option isn’t interesting to me. I want to work harder, I want to get better, I want to work constantly, and that’s how I preserve the bandwidth to do this stuff. Otherwise I’m gonna get exhausted and depressed and burnt out. I do not want to do that.

Forsman: That’s something we bonded over, the work ethic. And that ties into how critical we are of ourselves. If I stop working for too long, I’ll convince myself that all my work is shit and I shouldn’t be doing this stuff. I won’t be able to move again. I think that part of it is wanting to keep a monthly deadline, always producing work. That’s one of the reasons I do it, because I’m scared of stopping. I mean, you get that momentum and you don’t wanna stop. You know what it feels like when you’re not working.

Fiffe: Are we covering up for something?

Forsman: On the flipside, I’ve recently been thinking that all my stuff is getting bad because I’m sticking to the schedule and I keep pumping out work, I feel like I’m not taking enough care in my work. Part of me wants to pull back and take a break and start on something completely new that I’ll work on in a vacuum. That’s super counter to the mode I’m been working in. Basically, I can find a way to insult myself in any scenario.

Fiffe: I’ve come to discover that while we like those old comics and the breakneck speed they were produced at, we don’t necessarily have to operate that way. We can channel that energy and that spirit, but we’re not factories. We don’t have to churn this stuff out. We can self-motivate, but quality control is important, too.

Forsman: My good friend Max de radigués , he’s a Belgian cartoonist. He was sort of one of my mentors a while ago. I remember watching him work and he said just to keep moving forward and not look back and not dwell on a page. “The next page will be better, it will always be better.” And just hearing someone say that really helped me get work done. That can be freeing when you allow yourself to put your warts out there. I know it’s not a perfect drawing but I’m telling the story and using the facility I have and being okay with the sense I have. It’s a weird balance, how much to care and how much to move on.

Fiffe: Do you ever feel like Dan Pussey?

Forsman: [Laughs.] What’s his story arc? Does he get really famous?

Fiffe: Yeah, well, sort of. Just to backtrack, Dan Pussey was a serialized story in Dan Clowes’s Eightball. It tracks the rise and fall of a popular cartoonist. It’s not necessarily based on one specific person, Clowes funneled all of his industry observations into Dan Pussey, the fanboy-made-good, a 90s hot shot who lives in an aggressively myopic superhero bubble. Clueless and quite successful, but what I relate more to his buffoonish sincerity. Do you remember the Art Spiegelman story? Pussey’s describing his new comic as Batman crossed with Star Trek and Art is impressed by its ironic stupidity but then reels in horror at the realization that Pussey’s not fucking kidding. [Laughter.] And we come from the generation that sees that sort of mash-up as super normal, as almost expected.

Forsman: Yeah. I agree. I think that’s what’s happening with us, is that we’re mixing all that stuff together.

Fiffe: In a way, it goes back to what I was saying about the modern experience and how that’s enough. “It just has to look cool, man. Why question it?” This current generation of cartoonists, we grew up reading everything. Eightball and Spawn and Akira and Calvin & Hobbes. We read The Comics Journal and we read Wizard and our threshold is pretty damn high. But even then, I feel like it’s not cool to really care about this stuff, ya know?

Forsman: I think that’s what attracts us to the auteur type of stuff, because when it is one person’s obsessive vision, you do get something that’s harder to get when it’s 3 or 4 people. You get a lot more oddities and intricacies that don’t come through when it’s being a built by a group. That’s why we favor working like that. Though I don’t want to become a Libertarian working alone in my tiny room. [Laughter.]

Fiffe: I think it comes down to making a living off comics. That’s paramount. So when it comes to that, who cares about these little theories? It’s like: get to work and stop thinking about this nonsense. I wouldn’t call it anti-intellectual, but it’s such a fine line.

Forsman: That’s the thing we fight with, though, right? There’s part of me that wants to stop being so artsy fartsy, and go do a portfolio review at some company or start inking something or do a nice kid’s comic for a big publisher, something my mom would like.

Fiffe: Which is not an easy thing to do! Writing a pop song is not easy.

Forsman: Of course! Yeah, I wasn’t talking about the process or that I could even physically do that stuff. I don’t have the chops to ink a Superman. I mean it’s not what they want.

Fiffe: You just called it artsy fartsy and that’s what I’m talking about. “Just get the job done!” But part of me, a big part of me, deeply believes that this is more than a job, there’s something more to it. What do you think about David Mazzucchelli being our generation’s patron saint?

Forsman: Hmmm, I don’t know. I guess I see where you’re going. Like, he started out in the factory being a penciler, inker, whatever, then disappeared and came back with that huge graphic novel, Asterios Polyp. Is that what you mean, that he bridges that gap?

Fiffe: Sort of. First off, he’s only in the conversation because the super hero community still touts Daredevil: Born Again and Batman: Year One. But I do think he’s a guiding light for us in a weird way because he had his cake and ate it, too, and that neatly fits into our generation’s expectations. He got to work on two massive, game-changing superhero hits, and then he went off to do art comics, which was a luxury. A total luxury, not many get that opportunity. We saw that as we came up being aspiring cartoonists. It’s a solid-ass template. Who wouldn’t want to draw one of Batman’s best stories and have indie cred?

Forsman: Does he like that work he did for Marvel and DC, was he into it? Like, did he want to be a superhero artist or was he more of a graphic artist who sort fell into it?

Fiffe: He was just an art student who needed a job, so why not comics? I think it was part of a learning curve. Having those hits not only afforded him his art comics career, but more importantly, it didn’t shackle him to the industry grind. Once the Batman smoke settled, what’s the next factory assignment? X-Factor? Fuck that. And y’know, It’s funny how Year One is still influential to this day. You see the ripple of it like nothing else from that time. It’s on par with Jim Lee’s influence, except it took longer to land.

Forsman: Yeah, you still see a lot of super hero artists who come out now and are obvious fans of his.

Fiffe: My point is that Mazzucchelli had 2 megahits and then... y’know, it’s kind of sad that the indie world never embraced him the way he probably wanted to be embraced. To them, he’s just a super hero guy.

Forsman: They never let him past the gate.

Fiffe: Right! He worked with Frank Miller, for god’s sake – all those guys hate Miller. Mazzucchelli basically worked with the enemy, and that’s proven to be unforgivable. He might draw a page here or there in Zero Zero, he might have Spiegelman give him printing pointers, but –

Forsman: Spiegelman brought him in for City of Glass.

Fiffe: Yeah, but no one talks about that book anymore. So?

Forsman: Oh, my god, are you kidding me?

Fiffe: That’s a blip! No one talks about it!

Forsman: You don’t think that’s a pretty big – I guess in recent years, I don’t hear people talking about it. Ten years ago, me and my friends would talk about that book a lot. But yeah, you don’t really see it on store shelves, even though it deserves to be.

Fiffe: I don’t want to get it confused. I’m not saying it doesn’t deserve shelf space, I’m not saying it’s bad. I like that book! It’s just funny that all people care about is Year One. That’s it. He’s lucky to have that. But his career choices -- he made it possible, unwittingly, for our generation to do what we do, or to have the framework of his career as something to strive for on a broad level – whether we know it or not!

Forsman: When you were saying all that, it made me think of all the people in the last 10, 20 years, of Marvel and DC people who left and went to Image to make their own book. But I can’t think of anyone who did what Mazzhucchelli did, who just fucked off and did something like Rubber Blanket.

Fiffe: Can’t think of anyone in comics, no. Let’s wrap this up. Sounds like you got a bunch of stuff off your chest. You think anyone made it this far?

Forsman: I doubt it. But, yeah, let’s stop. I feel ill. Thanks for chatting. Maybe we can continue this soon. I feel like we only scratched the surface.

Fiffe: Oh, wait, do you have Dan Clowes’s address? I want to send him a Bloodstrike.


8 Responses to Forsman X Fiffe

  1. Alex R says:

    Great conversation! On the Mazzucchelli not getting indie respect tip, I remember in Art Spiegelman’s intro to some edition of City of Glass, he talks about how David’s work on Batman: Year One almost made superhero comics art. I wish I had the quote in front of me, but it was this super condescending thing you could infer to mean something like “for a McDonald’s fry cook, you’re very good and I can almost see you making something better.” I can’t imagjne anybody under the age of 50 writing something like that now.

    Maybe Geof Darrow is a sort of in-between example of the Mazzucchelli career, in that he started doing comics with Frank Miller’s big Dark Horse period and then he disappeared to France and Japan and eventually came back making these weird miniseries where Shaolin Cowboy kills zombies the exact same way for issue-long stretches and the simplified moral to the most recent series is “violence begets violence and maybe the protagonist of the only thing I’ve written in the past decade is a shit head.” It’s genre work and he isn’t trying to make Rubber Blanket, but he’s absolutely doing what he wants, whether it’s what the people who initially made him a success want.

  2. Mikey P says:

    I never wanted this to end. Please do it again.

  3. JT Wilkins says:

    These guys are the greatest! Super deep too!

  4. Joe McCulloch says:

    Alex – Darrow’s work with Dark Horse came after his introduction to French publishing… the portfolio he did with Moebius and the original Bourbon Thret album (the concepts of which later morphed into Shaolin Cowboy) were all done in the ‘80s… I’m pretty sure all of his profession drawing work before that was in American tv animation, so it’s a different situation from Mazzucchelli; I see Darrow as occupying the same weird in-between space in U.S. comics as Moebius himself, or really any of the auteur genre BD folks.

  5. I don’t think Mazzucchelli gets the “indie cred” he deserves because the actual work he’s done in indie comics isn’t that visible – no Rubber Blanket collection or anthology shorts collection, and hardly any stores geared toward bin diving any more for the next generation to find that stuff. City of Glass was out of print for a long time, is an adaptation of a work that will always cast a long shadow over it, and (TO ME) has a look that’s aged poorly. And Asterios Polyp is… fine? It’s fine, but it’s hardly a powerful example of what it is the way Year One is a powerful example of superhero comics. The writing is just too pedestrian. And plenty of indie fans aren’t interested in reading a superhero comic – it’s qualitatively uninteresting as a genre to lots of people. So you’ve got this big name guy whose case for “indie cred” all rests on one 7 out of 10 graphic novel starring a classic toxic masculinity-y protagonist.

    I love Mazzucchelli and I’m not trying to run him down, but I think his profile is pretty large considering his actual body of available work. I also treasure Hermann and Suehiro Maruo, but it doesn’t surprise me that those guys aren’t constantly talked about.

  6. Marc Sobel says:

    Great chat! I hope you guys’ll keep sharing this stuff. A few random thoughts on Mazzucchelli.

    I’m sure this is obvious, but Alan Moore is really the patron saint of that generation. Like a lot of creators back then (and now), Mazzucchelli was just following in Moore’s footsteps. His departure from Marvel mirrors Moore’s break with DC and was motivated by similar reasons – frustration with corporate meddling, lack of ownership, and a creative vision that extended far beyond superheroes.

    As for his indie cred, Matt’s right. Lack of availability is the KEY problem and it’s a little baffling. The lack of a Rubber Blanket collection is a tragedy. Same goes for his D&Q and other short stories (btw, the story I love most is his Angel short in Marvel Fanfare #40. It was his superhero swan song that foreshadowed everything after. I’m sure TCJ readers remember it but it’s mostly forgotten outside of us hardcore fans, which is a shame).

    Also, Matt, I think City of Glass is far better than you give it credit. I’ve read Auster’s The New York Trilogy a couple times and it’s the rare adaptation that translates so beautifully into another medium. One issue, though, is that the story has always been printed too small. A larger format would open up the artwork and let it breathe, though I do recognize that claustrophobia is part of the desired effect. Still, I think if that book were available at the same dimensions as Asterios Polyp it would raise Mazzucchelli’s profile significantly (at least in terms of his indie work).

  7. Alex L. says:

    The stuff about being a generation that loves both TCJ and Wizard is insightful, although it’s a development in comics I have some reservations about.

    On the one hand, I think it’s probably a net positive that the comics “canon” gets expanded beyond the old TCJ orthodoxy of the lineage: newspaper strips – Barks/Kurtzman/EC – Undergrounds – Raw/Weirdo/early-Fantagraphics. It’s good that younger cartoonists aren’t trying to just emulate Chris Ware or Dan Clowes.

    On the other hand, I can’t help but think of Gary Groth’s criticism of Quentin Tarantino’s films from The Baffler way back in the 1990s; that there isn’t much substance to them and they just represent a film nerd’s ultimate fantasy of getting to re-create all the movies he loves.

    I have the impression that with the ascendancy of somebody like Benjamin Marra, we’re witnessing a kind of Tarantinoization of “auteur” comics, where people are doing straight homages and love letters to the trash culture they loved in their youths, rather than processing those trash influences and transmuting them into something that transcends them in interesting ways rather than doing straight tribute (BTW, I’m not suggesting Forsman or Fiffe do this; I’m unfamiliar with their work; Copra in particular is almost impossible to get in Europe, although Abhay Khosla’s essay on made it sound very interesting).

    Also, I think it’s a bit of a revisionist narrative even with regard to the “first” generation of post-underground alternative cartoonists to imply that they didn’t also nurture a love of “genre” comics; Daniel Clowes is on the record as a fan of Wayne Boring and Curt Swan Superman comics. In fact, the way Clowes works with that kind of influence could almost serve as a model for how that kind of thing should be done.

  8. Alex R says:

    Joe— very true, didn’t even remember Bourbon Thret, City of Fire, etc. Talk about work that should have received a big (English) collection by now.

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