Karim Friha was born in Maisons-Laffitte, France, in 1980, and he took a liking to comics right away. While he fell in love with the artistic period of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, that didn’t keep him from enjoying The Simpsons, Calvin and Hobbes, Batman, and the works of Tim Burton among a bunch of other pop culture icons. Rise of the Zelphire is his first solo graphic novel series, and has been translated into multiple languages, awarded as an official selection of the Angoulême International Comics Festival in 2010.
We asked him some questions recently leading up to the release of the first book in the Zelphire series.
Was ZELPHIRE your first comic project? If not, what got you started in making comics?
KF: It’s my first comic book as a complete author, writing and drawing. Telling my own stories was a dream since I was a kid. When I was about 20, I started going to conventions here in France with my projects, meeting publishers. I started working on children’s magazines, and few years later started working on animated movies and cartoons.
Years ago, I did the art for my very first comic book written by Sylvain Runberg (author of Warship Jolly Roger) called Astrid. It was a set of funny short stories for kids that took place in barbarian times. It was our first step in comics for both of us, for him as a writer and me as an artist.
How did you get interested in drawing? Do you have training, or are you self-taught?
KF: I’m self-taught. I have been drawing for as long as I can remember. As a kid, I used to read a LOT of comic books that I would borrow from the local library. I used to create my own characters and stories within the universes of these comic books, or within my favorite cartoons and video games. This is how I learned to make comic books as a kid: by doing my own stuff in pre-existing universes that inspired me.
What was your inspiration for ZELPHIRE? What was the original idea you wanted to achieve?
KF: It can be described as X-Men meets Charles Dickens (or Jules Verne). It’s about rejection from society for being different, fear of the unknown, and dealing with childhood trauma. Sylvan, the main character, tries to hide his condition, but other characters discover their powers in the course of the story. The universe is an imaginary 19th century, with all of the inequalities and social issues of those times.
It takes place 20 years after a dictatorship, and the children of that reign are coming back.
It’s also about the link between the mind (soul?) and the body. If the mind is hurt (by a trauma in childhood), then the body reacts to protect itself, giving the person “powers” (although I don’t like to use that term, but I can’t think of anything better).
It’s also a lot about family. The biological one, and the one we choose.
Inspiration comes from Tim Burton and Guillermo Del Toro, the X-Men and Batman, to Victor Hugo (Les Misérables) and the painter Goya. I wanted to mix superheroes with classical culture.
What about ZELPHIRE have you been most proud of, or excited by?
KF: I was so excited to have the opportunity to do my own book, with my own words. A childhood dream!
I put all I had in my heart into this book, all the things I loved, and I did it like it was the first one, but also the last one! Fortunately, it was very welcomed by the readers here in France, with a lot of reprints, and it has already been translated into Spanish and Italian, too. It was selected at the Festival International de la Bande Dessinée d’Angoulême, the biggest comic book convention in France.
So, for a first book, with more than 4000 other comic books published in France each year, I was very very happy.
Do you have more story ideas for the characters?
KF: There are already three books in the series, with a complete story in each one of them. But when you finish the third, you realize that you really just read a big 3-part story. Yes, I have others ideas for the characters, but as an author, I wanted to work on some different ideas. Different universes, new characters. Since Rise of the Zelphire, I created another series called The Flame and the Storm (La flamme et l’orage), a 3-volumes-series about teenagers rebelling against an occult kingdom in a fantasy world.
What are you working on now?
KF: I’m working on a new series of books, a collection called Montmartre After Midnight. Each book tells a complete story about teenagers facing supernatural and scary things in Montmartre, one of my favorite areas in Paris, where I live. The first story is called The Hope-Eater (Le mangeur d’espoir). It’s kind of like Stephen King meet Miyazaki in Montmartre.
What would you like to achieve someday?
KF: When I think about my stories, and when I write them, it’s like a movie in my head. With music, photography, editing, everything! So I would love to see my characters in flesh and blood on a big (or little) screen!