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Thursday, March 17, 2016

DC in the 80s interviews Michel Fiffe. Round 1

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.

self-portrait of Michel Fiffe

DCinthe80s: So, 2015 has been a very good year for you. COPRA is receiving tons of (well-merited) accolades, you had a gig as a writer for a Marvel Comics title (All-New Ultimates), you've breached issue #25 of your self-published COPRA series (which is now available on comixology) - but we're going to talk about none of that today...

You're about 2 years older than me (I was born in 1981), and after reading your blog and your interviews, I'm realizing that you more or less had the same experiences growing up as I did: first exposure to a comic book was older reprint material? check. no easy accessibility to a comic book shop? check. first exposure to the collectible market were Garbage Pail Kids trading cards? check. collected Marvel Impel trading cards? check. wasted your money on Image comics? check. took a hiatus to 'discover' music and girls? check. discovered (and consumed) the 'indie press' a bit later? check.

You mentioned that one of your first comics was a Dave Gibbons Green Lantern reprint story and you credit it as being one of the comics that helped you learn how to read. While that may be one of your earliest comic books, I didn't read much about you being a Green Lantern fan. Are you a Green Lantern fan? On that note, who would be your favorite DC character? What else did you 'cut your teeth on' as you were reading comics in the 1980s?

Michel Fiffe: I liked Green Lantern more when I was a kid, even before I started reading comics. I loved the Super Powers toy and the enclosed mini comic. But yeah, I find that the Green Lantern issues drawn by Dave Gibbons are near-definitive, and I'm not the world's biggest Len Wein fan, either, but those comics look so damn good. I actually did have one Super Powers proper comic, which was my introduction to Jack Kirby. But anyway, when I started getting really into comics I was on a steady diet of John Byrne's Superman titles and both Norm Breyfogle and Jim Aparo's respective Batman work. I would come across things like Blue Beetle and Booster Gold. The former I didn't get far into (again: Wein), but I was really into Booster Gold. It was a fun, little side book that didn't seem to have much consequence, and that really appealed to me. I liked that the entire run was mostly self-contained and that its creator, Dan Jurgens, was pretty much left alone the entire time.

DCinthe80s: I also read from that same The Comics Journal interview that your 'trifecta' growing up was Justice LeagueSuicide Squad and Marvel's Daredevil. What was your favorite version of the Justice League?
Fiffe: Oh, the Kevin Maguire stuff, without a doubt. There's no comparison. Justice League International is just the best. I sort of hate that history has relegated it to the "bwahaha" era, which the series creators have no problem perpetuating themselves. It's so much more than a cutesy, shit grinning humor book. It had great action and drama, it had a wide variety of personality types and conflicts, and sometimes it got really, really dark. It's such a well rounded and gorgeous book -- it's a genuine joy to re-read. I got a thrill back in the day just by looking at the covers, and I still get that thrill. I should mention that the Luke McDonnell-drawn Despero story arc during the Detroit era is a top contender, just for its sheer insanity.

DCinthe80s: Were there any story lines/cross-over events that really stood out for you? I have you laughingly referring to DC's Millennium as "a big old mess", but you loved it nonetheless.

Fiffe: I was on board all the crossovers from Legends up to Eclipso, but yeah, I like Millennium a lot. That's been a punching bag since day one. It seemed like an editorial nightmare but on a rudimentary level, as an 8 year old? C'mon, it was aesthetically pleasing to see all those superheroes in one comic. Plus it's kind of cool to have a totally egocentric Steve Engelhart tie a huge company crossover into a couple of Justice League stories he wrote a decade prior. I'd say Invasion! and Armageddon 2001 are the two that always battle it out for Best Event Ever. By sheer scope and editorial focus, though, Invasion! usually wins.

DCinthe80s: Having access to Frank Miller's Dark Knight Returns at the age of 9 was a huge leg up on me. What else were you able to get your hands on?
Fiffe: My early collection was so spotty because, again, I rarely made it out to the comic shop. When I did, that's when I would get the pricier, slicker stuff, all the prestige format material. Not many of them, mind you. I only had the third issue of Dark Knight Returns for years, and honestly that one issue was enough to be pivotal in the way I looked at comics. I also only had the second issue of Batman: The Cult, which is basically Jim Starlin being weird. I personally like the Cult a whole lot, it's sort of a mess, but it was definitely cool to have this garish, totally bloody Batman story. Bernie Wrightson and Bill Wray made a great art team. I'd be remiss not to mention the Suicide Squad, especially since that's what I mostly bought when I would hit up the comic shop. I bought back issues, little by little, and it was one of the couple of titles I had almost a complete run of. The rush of combing a bin and seeing the cover of Suicide Squad #10 (1988), "Up Against the Wall", for the first time... I mean, you cannot beat that.

Michel Fiffe with original art from Suicide Squad #10

DCinthe80s: You were an avid comic book fan throughout the beginnings of the 'comic card collecting bubble' in the early 90s - which was probably the apex of the comic collecting bubble (and the start of the gimmick era). I have a quote from you in which you are waxing nostalgic about the Marvel Universe Impel cards from the early 90s: "I think there was just this fever in the air in general, that jittery pre-Image charge that Marvel Comics had... and the second series of cards really captured that." As you read more of the article, we are reading that you are actually a HUGE fan of the art from these cards. What do you remember from this pre-Image era? Were you collecting everything and anything - or were you noticing a decline in the quality of comics? 

Fiffe: By the time that pre-Image stuff rolled in, my buying habits were a bit more solidified. I was what -- 12, 13 years old? I would still try out new books, but I definitely had favorites I was loyal to. Up to that point, I mostly bought comics for the art or the characters, therefore having a "good story" wasn't the selling point for me. Not like I wasn't sensitive to great writing; I knew that Frank Miller stories were more exciting to read than the usual stories. I recognized that John Ostrander wrote amazing Suicide Squad comics, but I wasn't crazy about his Firestorm material. But still, I bought most comics for the art, and so I was ready-made for the Image boom. In retrospect I can lazily point to the diminished quality in the writing and art as being the key factor in my comics disinterest, but really, my tastes were also changing. And by the time I discovered alternative comics, good writing mattered to me. Good everything mattered. The small press met that criteria. My tastes and my income, which is to say lack thereof, affected my comics consumption. I was pickier, brutal even, totally ignoring most of the mainstream of that era. All the while, I still cherished Cosmic Odyssey.

one of Michel Fiffe's favorite pages from DC's Cosmic Odyssey series

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: which 80s comics he 're-discovered', which 80s comic book artists influenced his style, and anecdotes about breaking into comics during the late 90s.


  1. Great interview so far. I began serious collecting in 1987. I had a Flash Australian reprint, which was of the Trial of Barry Allen, and it was awesome, so I went off to the newsagency, and lo and behold, Flash Number 1 with Wally West was on sale. I bought it. But it was Blue Beetle and Booster Gold I liked the most, as well as Firestorm and Suicide Squad. However, the glory was all the Justice League International.

  2. Really enjoying this interview. Totally agree with the JLI being relegated to "bwahaha". That entire era was really so much more than that! That run certainly had its silliness, that much is for sure... however, it jumps from soapy sitcom to... Despero destroying Gypsy's home, killing her family (!) in the process seamlessly.
    Looking forward to the next installment.

  3. Great article! Looking forward to the next instalment.

  4. Good article. I completely resonated with that comment on Suicide Squad #10. I first read it digitally, but after reading that issue, I knew I had to have it physically. Ordered it online and later got it signed by Ostrander. One of my most prized possessions.