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Wednesday, March 23, 2016

DC in the 80s interviews Michel Fiffe. Round 3

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 second part of our interview, Fiffe was telling us about his personal goal of reading every John Ostrander comic out there...

DCinthe80s: This brings us straight into Suicide Squad territory (and, by association, COPRA). COPRA started as you needing to take a break from your then-current comic project, Zegas, in order to get your Suicide Squad 'fix' out of your system, and it turned into Deathzone. One of the biggest things I've noticed (and like) about you is that you are really big on attribution. For instance, the opening sequence of Deathzone has a roll call of all the characters as well as the original creators and other creators that helped 'define' them. Until I reviewed this, I totally forgot that Steve Ditko was responsible for the creation of a good majority of those characters. I know you're a big fan of Ditko's - which Ditko creations would you appropriate if you had the chance?

Fiffe: You mean one that I haven't already? I can't come up with another one. The Odd Man maybe? I would just be forcing it at this point. Actually, the Question is a character I've always wanted to tackle. I got it out of my system with the earliest version of Zegas, actually -- painful stuff to look at. I would still like to make some Vic Sage comics.

Sketches of Vic Sage/The Question by Michel Fiffe:

DCinthe80s: On that note, I'm going to boldy state that you're not the biggest Vertigo-era Shade, the Changing Man [1990 - 1996] fan based on this quote:
"And they had Shade as a member! Not the milquetoast poet that’s currently being dredged up… I’m talking about the real deal SHADE! C’mon, any team that would have Ditko’s Shade the Changing Man as a member is OK in my book." [You Look Different Now, 2011]

Have you ever read Peter Milligan's Shade, the Changing Man in it's entirety? If so, what would you have done differently?

Fiffe: Milligan's Shade is a fun read, at least the first twenty-some odd issues are. That's all I've read. I generally like that specific era in DC comics, those pre-Vertigo books. Things like Animal Man and Hellblazer. They all took their cues from Alan Moore's Swamp Thing, which is one of the greatest serialized comics from any period. I love those Swamp Thing comics to death. Anyway, Shade was fine tuned to that time and there's nothing anyone can do to improve it. It's its own thing. I personally have an affinity for the Ditko version, which was more of a straight-ahead sci-fi adventure with little to no introspection.

DCinthe80s: I'm also understanding that you were pen-pals with Steve Ditko. That's huge! The fact that you were able to have a mentoring relationship with a legend like Ditko is an article on it's own. What was the big take away from your correspondence with Ditko?

Fiffe: He's the closest thing to mentor that I've had and even that is stretching it. After all this time, I can't pick out a specific lesson because I feel like it's all a lesson. Ditko leads by example, and as the man has said, all we have to do is read the work, it's all in there.

DCinthe80s: In the same vein, I'm going to ask which Kirby creations you enjoy the most and would like to take a stab at writing. I know that you've expressed interest in his fourth world material and even contributed to the more recent Captain Victory and the Galactic Rangers series - Captain Victory essentially being the continuing adventures of Orion (of Kirby's Fourth World Universe). Were you a fan of Kirby's Fourth World revival from the 80s?

Fiffe: I enjoyed them from a distance, in that they looked nice, particularly the Paris Cullins stuff, but I never dug deep into the revival. I liked them in their cameos, y'know, whenever Darkseid would pop into Superman or when Lightray and Orion joined Justice League America. I've always associated Mister Miracle and Oberon with the Justice League International, since that's where I first met them. It wasn't until Walt Simonson's Orion series in the late 90s that I got into the non-Kirby material.

DCinthe80s: So, back to COPRA. You've received some gushing endorsements - Chris Sims (of Comics Alliance) is a big fan, Oliver Sava of the A.V. Club is another big fan. For the last few years you are always on the BEST COMIC SERIES list(s). Sequart even wrote a review of your series. (I always felt that you've "made it" after Sequart gave a favorable review of anything you've done.) COPRA is very much modeled after Suicide Squad. You kind of mash all of the best of that era into a comic book series, but give it your own personal spin. I've only read rounds 1 & 2, but I understand that everything after issue #13 delves more into the characters (solo stories). Most of them can easily be matched with their Suicide Squad counterpart, but here are a few I'm not 100% sure on: Wir = Shrapnel or Calculator, Sniper & Brawler = Punch and Jewelee, Dy Dy = Marvel's MODOK, I have no clue who Vitas is based on, Castillo = Marvel's Punisher, and Xenia = Marvel's Clea or DC's Enchantress.

COPRA group shot

You've given a lot of attention to Rax/Shade the Changing Man, Gracie/Vixen and Guthie/Duchess. Is it kind of your way of saying that you felt their tenure with the Squad was too short (both had very short runs in Ostrander's Suicide Squad) and felt they should've been explored more? Waller, Deadshot, Boomerang, Bronze Tiger and Count Vertigo are kind of the backbone of the team - and you do use them sufficiently (Sonia/Amanda Waller you use exceptionally well). Are there any plans to add more Ditko homages to the team? [I'd personally love to see the Creeper or Hawk & Dove]. Also, if Sniper & Brawler are who I think they are, that means you don't think much of Punch and Jewelee....

Fiffe: DY DY is actually inspired by SUDE with a touch of Krang. WIR is inspired by Haywire. Spot on otherwise. Good call on Sniper & Brawler. I do like Punch & Jewelee, but I just didn't have the urge to put my spin on them. I ended up fleshing out Sniper & Brawler in issue 25, though; I was real happy with that. Vitas was originally based on Dumas, [Mark Shaw] Manhunter's nemesis, but he quickly turned into his own thing more than anyone else. As for focusing on specific COPRA team members, it's based on what the story demands, not as an exercise in wish fulfillment. Ostrander fleshed out the characters awesomely, especially for such a packed team book. So yeah, I wish Shade stuck around longer, but that's the beauty of those Squad books -- the creative team having to constantly be on their toes, at the mercy of the ever moving goalpost. I have the extreme privilege of having no editorial overseer.

 The Vitas/Dumas connection:

DCinthe80s: You've given a lot of fantastic interviews on your thoughts about Suicide Squad, so I'm not going to ask you the same old questions. Instead, I will tell you that I enjoy COPRA's DIY aesthetics and the fact that it's self-published. This really speaks to me (as someone who is a fan of DIY culture). Your success with self-publishing COPRA has been compared to Dave Sim's success with Cerebus. Do you think you'll be taking limos to comic conventions anytime soon? Since we're in an 80s mindset, I'm actually seeing more parallels between your success with COPRA and the success of Eastman & Laird's Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles craze back in 1984 (when back issues of TMNT were super-rare and selling for a small fortune). Why it's different in your situation is because your print run is low because your printing model was dependent on you selling out the previous issues:
"If I could've changed anything, though, it would've been to up the print run considerably. I did not see the tide of interest coming. I was making comics for the few folks already familiar with my work. Selling out of issues sucked; it's not as romantic the headlines make it out to be. I wanted to get books in people's hands!" [Michel Fiffe's COPRA: the One-Man Written, Drawn, Self-Published Villain Epic, 2014]

Fife: Kevin Eastman & Peter Laird's success is a story that's tied to the '80s direct market structure and mania. They were totally an inspiration point back when I was trying to figure out self-publishing, and before then as a fan of their comics. It was just a couple of dudes who put out a comic that got some traction and forced them to expand beyond what they were used to. The parallel ends there because there's no COPRA Saturday Morning Cartoon (yet). So no limos to conventions.

DCinthe80s: COPRA on comixology could be a major turning point for awareness and readership. I'm guessing that you've withdrawn from your ideal that comics/graphic novels need to be held in your hands in order to be appreciated? [Michel Fiffe’s Copra: The Most Well-Known Secret in Comics, 2015]

Fiffe: I do agree that a physical single issue is the perfect vehicle for many of these stories, especially mine. Some comics work better online or as graphic novels or comic strips... it's really a case-by-case basis. I wanted COPRA to have a wider platform, I wanted it to reach that portion of readers who are exclusively digital comics consumers. It became less about what my idealized version was -- which I achieved by simply publishing it -- and more about not omitting anyone from the experience.

DCinthe80s: I read your interview with Comics & Cola. You've got some interesting comic storage management techniques. For starters, you bind your favorite work, which I think is brilliant.
"Having these comics bound in such direct, no frills hardcovers made reading & storage so much more enjoyable & practical, but I also loved the idea of a curated collection of essentials. For this specific set of books, I got the idea to hit up a few of the related artists to put their own touch on the inside covers." [Cloak & Dagger Bound & Obsession Unknown: Suicide Squad Bound]
Another curious storage habit of yours is to buy bulk lots of comics and just throw them in the dumpster afterward: "I like to buy old stacks of comics, read them, then get rid of them. Not even for trade or anything, they just gotta go." I admire that about you. I still have tons of stuff I'm convinced is worth something to somebody and I'm not willing to give away yet. I think that's the 90s Comic Book Collector Bubble mentality that ingrained itself into my brain. My favorite quote from the C&C article was this gem:
"I once bought hundreds of Legion of Superhero issues in order to force myself to understand what their appeal was."
That was laugh-out-loud funny. It's mostly funny because I can totally relate. I'm one of those DC fans who never 'got into' LoSH the first time and had a hard time getting into it. Reader opinions on the LoSH are pretty polarizing - you either love them or you were indifferent to them. I very rarely hear of anyone who 'casually' collects LoSH comics - and it's for all of the reasons you mention in your article detailing your struggles with appreciating the Legion. Your article is so perfect and similar to my experience, that I plan on providing anyone who asks about my feelings on the Legion a link to your article and just saying "this".

Fiffe: I feel bad because that write up is a little petulant, in that it's basically "I didn't like this: WAHH." At least I tried to examine why I didn't like it. I tried being constructive. It's a testament to those 5YL comics that I eventually came around and ate crow and now I find them irresistible. Even the stuff from before 5YL... the time Giffen got back on the book and did his Maguire riff. I can certainly see the appeal of the Legion now, whereas before it was a blind spot for me.  

DCinthe80s: Just to drive the point home about how much of a 'child of the 80s' you are, I'm going to also add that you were a Atari/Ninetndo/Sega kid, grew up loving horror films, really dug those Masters of the Universe mini-comics packaged with the action figures, and... 

I'm not too clear on this... but were you also a GI Joe fan?

Fiffe: Not really. I had a couple of the comics and they were okay. I traded the COBRA-LA 3-pack for some Garbage Pail Kids. Zero interest. Same with Transformers. Give me Masters of the Universe or Blackstar any day. I only drew those GI Joe sample pages because it was the only title IDW was putting out at the time that I saw myself being able to draw. But no, I have to nostalgic connection to that franchise.

Michel Fiffe: child of the 80s

DCinthe80s: You also custom-painted some Vans slip-ons, which is arguably the most 80s shoe you can purchase on the market right now. I realize you can't talk about it [or can you?], so I'm just going to post a photo of them for all to admire:

Fiffe: Wow, that was so long ago. I considered painting on shoes as a side gig back then, but I never pursued it seriously. I only did it for friends. It was really fun and something I'd like to still do. I would just have to find the time to do it.

DCinthe80s: I saw you created a poster for a Thurston Moore (of Sonic Youth) show. Did you get to meet/chat with him afterwards? Did any other cult status 80s/90s bands pass your way?

Fiffe: Tons of them, but a highlight was seeing Mike Patton twice. That alone made my stint there worthwhile. Oh, and Fishbone, who lived up to the hype of being the greatest live band ever. Also, Robin Guthrie from the Cocteau Twins played a solo show and even though I was unfortunately stuck working the door, what I heard was unbelievable.

DCinthe80s: Final question, now that you've seen the trailer to the new Suicide Squad film (montage of movie clips set to the tune of Queen's Bohemian's Rhapsody) is this something you're going to want to stand in line and see? Are you watching any of the other DC comic book TV shows (Supergirl, Arrow, Flash, Legends of Tomorrow, Gotham)?

Fiffe: I tried to get into Arrow back when Deathstroke was introduced and it just didn't click with me. I'm not going out of my way to avoid these shows or anything. I catch them when I can, but I am the SO the wrong audience. Maybe I'm not, but I sometimes feel like the worst fan because I don't feel that twinge of excitement that fans must feel when their beloved characters are embraced on a larger scale. Last time I sort of felt that was for the Brave & the Bold cartoon, which was recommended, I didn't seek it out. It was great! Batman vs Superman, though, comes out this weekend and I cannot even pretend to care. I'll go see Suicide Squad out of a sense of... loyalty's the wrong word? Look, I just want John Ostrander to get gobs of money. He's the one who made that concept worth a damn. Without John Ostrander, there is no Suicide Squad. Without Suicide Squad, there is no point to life.

...and this concludes our interview with Michel Fiffe. Thanks again to Fiffe for taking the time to answer these interview questions. I strongly encourage you to check out his COPRA ongoing series, which lives up to it's reputation of being everything a fan of the Suicide Squad from the 80s would want to see in a book. Another one to watch for is Michel Fiffe's Zegas, which has more of an 'alternative' feel and has been picking up stellar reviews all around. You can also check out Fiffe's blog here. Late to the party? Read the first interview with Fiffe here

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