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Monday, March 21, 2016

DC in the 80s interviews Michel Fiffe. Round 2

For those of you who don't know, Michel Fiffe is the creator/writer/illustrator of the smash indie comic book series COPRA. Not only is Michel Fiffe the one-man creative force behind COPRA, but he's also an avid and well-read fan of 80s comics (the concept behind COPRA was heavily inspired by John Ostrander's Suicide Squad [1987 - 1992]). Fiffe was one of the first followers of the DCinthe80s tumblr blog back in 2013, before we realized who he was we simply knew him as a connoisseur of 80s and 90s comics. Despite his frantic schedule of writing and drawing EVERY issue of COPRA on a monthly basis, Fiffe was generous enough to sit down with us and chat about DC comics from the 1980s.

When we last left off in the first part of our interview, Fiffe was telling us how his comic buying habits in his early teens were based on the characters being featured or the art in the issue itself... 

DCinthe80s: I'm more or less in the same boat - I was actually unaware of who was writing what when I was younger. I was buying issues based on the comic book character or team. I only put it all together when I was in my early 20s and I really started to examine the comics I enjoyed. We're pretty lucky as Millennials. I think one of the big advantages in our favor now is that a) we have a disposable income so we can go back and pick up the stuff we first missed, b) our generation is pretty up-to-speed on sharing information electronically (so recommendations about great books come easily), and c) nearly everything is now available in TPB form - so we can get it cheaper as reprints (versus chasing back issues). Which DC books from the 80s did you 're-discover' as you got older? What do you recommend as 'underappreciated gems'?

Fiffe: The funny thing about "disposable income" is that this is pretty much as cheap of a vice as they come. I think comics in general should be low cost entertainment, so bin diving for old gems is sort of perfect. As for recommendations... Thriller is the big obvious choice because it's reached cult classic status. I've beat that drum to death at this point. No one wants to hear what I think of it -- go out and buy it already! I would also recommend Haywire, written by Michael Fleisher and drawn by Vince Giarrano. Kyle Baker inked the first few issues which really complemented Giarrano's open, breezy style. The story itself has a lot of cool ideas and moments but it sort of meanders. The final issue has beautiful Bill Wray colors. Another series I'm fond of is Tailgunner Jo a fantasy comic written by Peter B. Gillis. Don't let that deter you, though Ty Templeton inked Tom Artis for the first 2 issues and that's all you need. These three titles represent the last time DC published these weird stories within their mainline imprint that had no commercial appeal. None of them tied to the rest of their line and editors must've been losing bets left and right.


DCinthe80s: A little off-topic here, but you also mentioned your discovery of alternative comics. What indie material left a lasting impression on you? What would you identify as 'underappreciated gems'? I definitely see a bit of Hernandez Bros and Daniel Clowes influence in your Knitting Factory flyers, concert posters, zines and other early Alternative comic work. 

Fiffe: I can't stress how much of an influence Evan Dorkin was. I was deeply hooked from the word 'go'. Milk & CheesePirate Corp$!Vroom Socko, DORK, you name it. I then discovered his Bill & Ted run and there was the proof: you can do independent work and work for the Big Two. I mean, this was as a teenager, I had no idea what the realities of the industry were. But yeah, Dorkin is so genuinely hilarious and so are his comics, y'know... it translates. World's Funnest remains one of the best comics DC has ever published.

Aquaman by Evan Dorkin. Excerpt from Dork.

DCinthe80s: Your blogs (zegas & and really fascinating. If anything was ever a love-letter to the comic books of the 80s and 90s, these would be it. You don't just say "I like this" or "this is good", you explain "I like this because..." and "this was good because..." and really examine/study/deconstruct the material. You focus on design, form and color combination - it's really a study on style and composition. "What it comes down to is that sometimes you just gotta read comics for the art." You've done examinations on the work of Kyle Baker, Eduardo Barreto, David Mazzucchelli, Dennis Fujitake, Jorge Zaffino, along with a few others I'm forgetting to mention. Specifically, of the more 'better known' 80s artists out there, I'd say you had an affinity for Ernie Colon, Howard Chaykin, Frank Miller, John Byrne, Norm Breyfogle, Klaus Janson, Jerry Ordway, Mike Mignloa, Jose Lopez Garcia, Jim Aparo, and Walter Simonson. Any glaring omissions here?

Fiffe: I'd say add the Hernandez Bros. to the list. Two of my biggest influences. They're not mainstream, they're not alternative, they're beyond all that. They're the tops dogs. If you wanna get technical in regards to the blog, then Jaime drew a couple of Who's Who entries and he & Gilbert contributed to that huge jam piece in the History of the DC Universe. [Hourman and Jay Garrick]

Jaime Hernandez Phantom Girl art

DCinthe80s: I think my favorite material from your Michel Fiffe blog was your series about your attempts at 'breaking in' during the late 90's. My absolute favorite quote from this segment is your meeting with the late Dick Giordano
"Then I went into Artists Alley, right to Dick Giordano’s table because even though I knew he wasn’t an active editor, he had a history of working with many of my favorite artists such as Ditko, Miller & Aparo. If anyone there would’ve appreciated good, solid storytelling without boobs and blood, if anyone knew the difference between moodily crouching over a city and taking a dump, it would’ve been Dick Giordano."
 From the same article series

"I mentioned that I wasn’t too hip to what was going on in comics back in the mid to late 90s. I had no idea what the Vertigo imprint meant or what “Preacher” was but I flipped through it and saw that it had no superheroes... perfect!"

The big thing I'm taking back from your experiences with applying to DC (and Marvel among others) is that they had a specific 'house style' and for whatever reason you didn't meet the criteria. Which is a shame - I really liked your 'homeless Batman' (reminds me of Kelley Jones and/or Sam Keith's versions of Batman). I would've purchased that comic in a heartbeat. I guess you got the last laugh, after-all? By the way, you should illustrate that whole feature - definitely Harvey Pekar material right there.

Fiffe: I don't think there really was a house style anywhere, ever. There may be trends and fads and sometimes a line of books can have a homogenous look to it, but I always think there's room for a little variety in art style. And that's where I always thought I would fit in. I can't think of why I didn't break in back then; there are so many factors at play. All I can say is that even at their most conservative, Marvel and DC have a wide enough platform to accommodate some wonderfully off model styles. They repeatedly published Mark Badger, for f**k's sake!

Michel Fiffe's defender of the night and seeker of spare change


DCinthe80s: You've also collaborated with Mike Baron on a pitch. Are you also a huge Mike Baron fan (you've often mention your love of Marvel's Punisher in your blog). What did you think of his DC material from the 80s?

Fiffe: I absolutely adore Baron's DC material. His Teen Titans Spotlight two-parter and his Flash run are fun, tight, and batshit crazy. Baron's lean script and oddball concepts work really well with Jackson Guice's stiff, awkward style. It just works! There's something about that combination. Those Flash issues are textbook in terms of taking an old idea and injecting totally different elements into the status quo.Baron was good like that. But you know, I've never taken the plunge on Sonic Disruptors. I'll trade wait that one.


DCinthe80s: So, not only are you self-publishing a monthly comic book, but you are also an accomplished comics journalist. Not bad for a guy who didn't go to art school: "I wasn’t going to school for comic book study; I got accepted into SVA and the The Kubert School, but I couldn’t afford to go to either one."

-written for The Comics Journal
-interviewed Jason Latour 

-interviewed Trevor Von Eeden
-interviewed Tony Salmons
-interviewed Mark Badger
-interviewed Ty Templeton
-solved the mystery of why Thriller was cancelled

-and, probably most importantly, interviewed John Ostrander

I've noticed that you have a deep appreciation and great deal of respect for Ostrander. A few choice quotes:

"While writers sometimes make it obvious that they don’t have the world view to back up their ideas, Ostrander dealt with class issues and race semi frequently without veering into soapbox, insensitivity or parody. I’m not suggesting a writer needs to cash welfare checks to tell a story about the poor with accuracy, or that writers need to shoot a person to write a crime story with any sort of command, but Ostrander touched upon the subject with considerable maturity." (You Look Different Now, 2011)

"Ostrander is such a smart writer, he plays the characters just right. He just nails their voices consistently. I never cringe reading his stuff. There are modern comics that make me physically cringe. Like they're trying so hard to impress you, they're self-consciousness is really off putting. Ostrander, back when these comics were for young people - little kids - wrote confidently, he didn't need to impress shit. You have to understand, Ostrander came from acting, he came from improv and the stage. He entered comics when he was 33; this was a man with a life, not some putz who'd been fed on pretentious Grant Morrison comics all his life." (Consider My Weapons: the Michel Fiffe Copra exit interview, 2013)

Have you went back and re-read any of Ostrander's other early DC material (ex: Hawkworld, The Spectre, Manhunter, Firestorm), did it hold as well as Suicide Squad?

Fiffe: Wasteland is particularly inspired and so the Spectre in a lot of ways. Firestorm, as honest of an effort as it was, suffers from having some of the worst artwork in all of comics in the form of J.J. Birch. That is some truly unforgivable horseshit. Anyway, a few years ago I set myself the task of reading everything he has ever written. The goal was to read everything chronologically and study his progression as a writer. It dawned on me that he is perhaps one of the best Batman writers ever, simply based on the smattering of opportunities he had to write him. But yeah, man, collecting every Ostrander comic? Rai and the Future Force almost broke me. I almost abandoned the entire stupid project when I saw I had to read Deathmate Blue.

Michel Fiffe was extremely generous with his time and this interview is so long that it needs to run in three parts. In our next installment, Fiffe discusses he was influenced by Ditko and Kirby, why he had so much trouble with the Legion of Super Heroes and...what you've all been waiting for... which DC characters the members of COPRA are based on.

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