Michel Fiffe is the mastermind behind the one-man indie phenomenon Copra, the superhero black ops opus that relaunches at Image next week with a brand new #1 and jumping-on point for new readers. The once completely self-produced comic that was initially described as “post Ostrander-Yale-McDonnell Suicide Squad done right” has firmly evolved into an exploration of art, its creator’s influences and id, and the toll that this kind of bloody work takes on those tasked with doing it. It’s the best adventure comic on the stands and has frequented the Beat’s Best of the Year list multiple times.
In the between time since Copra went on hiatus with its 31st issue of August 2017, Fiffe embarked on a fascinating exploration of continuity and mythos with Bloodstrike: Brutalists, as well as a critically embraced journey with the famed GI Joe franchise, Sierra Muerte.
He’s also a dear friend who I often shoot the breeze with at conventions about all manner of comics related ephemera. In part 1 of a casual chat, we capture a little bit of that kind of discussion before we dive deep into Copra in tomorrow’s second installment. It’s been four years since we last had held an official interview between us, let’s see how the years have changed things…
I’ve noticed a lot of 80’s Marvel art coming out of your twitter account lately, particularly the Avengers, are you in a deep binge right now? I’ve always admired your commitment to taking on an all-encompassing approach whenever you get these hankerings, honestly making you one of the first people I know who reads comics the exact same way I do.
Fiffe: I’m always in the throes of a bin fever, this time it’s for the Avengers. It all started when I kept playing the Sega Genesis soundtrack to the Avengers game. That got me excited for straight up, meat & potatoes super heroes, and who best symbolizes that? Kinda goes back to Gruenwald, in a way, since I’m also focusing on books that he’s edited.
That was the first Sega Genesis game I ever got. I was transfixed by that thing, really stretching back to the first time I saw in the arcade at the Augusta Mall. I think it informed a minor obsession with Whirlwind…I loved that helmet and that mid-drift, it looks kinda like a Copra villain in a way. He was the only one I could get to before my quarters ran out is probably the reason.
Fiffe: I’m familiar with the Genesis version of the game, yeah. That version’s sound is the best, the music sounds incredible. The arcade version had superior scene transition art, though.
But I take it this is still the Roger Stern Avengers we’re talking about? I gotta finally read that. I’m currently on Shooter and enjoying it well enough, “Korvac Saga” and all. My OCD is so awful about this, I was trying to read everything from that year on Marvel Unlimited, and I flamed out quickly. A total fool’s errand. Maybe I’ll just catch up to you though.
Fiffe: Oh, god, don’t do that. You’ll burn out fast. Reminds me of the guy who runs the supermegamonkey site with the full Marvel chronology. 1994 broke him.
Is there anything on the horizon that you’re looking to get next out of the quarter bins?
Fiffe: Other than Avengers? I’m trying not to get too caught up in list checking because I easily get manic about it. Instead, I want to have that sense of being pleasantly surprised as I rifle through a bin. I then have to absorb what I get as soon as possible, while it’s still fresh. I sometimes come across comics that I “need”, but if I’m not feeling it, I leave it behind.
Speaking of that, I’ve never asked do you consider yourself more of an 80’s DC guy or an 80’s Marvel guy, or is it a little from column A/B? I always figured it was the former, but you’ve got a heavy strain of Gruenwald in you too, so maybe not.
Fiffe: I always thought of myself of an A/B kinda guy, but I’ve looked back at the comics that really made me fall in love with the form and DC wins out by a mile. Miller, Gibbons, Giffen, Ostrander, Aparo, Mignola… it was all DC. Byrne actually got me buying Marvel regularly when he left Superman, and that teed me up for the pre-Image era. But post-Crisis DC will forever have the best comic book smell.
This morning I was thinking about the fact that 1989 Keith Giffen might be my favorite all-time year for one creator. He launched the JLA-JLE split, tee’d up Emerald Dawn, dropped the nuclear bomb that is 5YL, and even pulled off a dual Legion/Invasion spin-off in L.E.G.I.O.N., a god damn legend really. You might have a different thought on the subject though, Byrne rocking it out in early throes of the Superman relaunch might best it (plus that was, not quite, but closer to a one-man show).
Fiffe: Giffen was the golden goose for a minute. They even threw Aquaman at him to see what he could do with it. Byrne’s a good comparison – the difference being that Giffen wouldn’t be deeply interested in forcing his creative hand too aggressively. Giffen plays well with others. It’s not surprising that they’ve never collaborated. I gotta say, Byrne was the first creator I noticed who both wrote and drew. I was a fan of those Superman comics just as a reader, but when I noticed his credits across a number of books, that was profoundly appealing to me.
Are you still reading Doomsday Clock? I know you were digging pretty heavily into it, like myself, which is probably a hard thing to admit sometimes among some of our friends, just because of the complicating factors surrounding it. But to be honest, once you came out as a booster for the book, it felt like a weight had been lifted off of me a bit. “I’m not alone!” that kind of thing.
Fiffe: Still reading it, still into it, still excited to see it wrap up. I get why you’re not supposed to like it, but I think DC shamelessly doubling down that they own those characters has freed them in some sort of twisted way. Before Watchmen just had an air of apprehension and sneakiness, while this one feels like a genuine love letter. It helps that it hits all the right fan buttons with me. I never get that sort of thrill anymore. Also, Gary Frank is kicking serious ass.
You’re the first person to ever point out to me that Frank is basically a disciple of Kevin Maguire’s, something I’ve never noticed in 25+ years of reading his work. It’s those faces especially, the way they both seem to catch people mid-conversation in just such a way. I can’t describe it, but you know what I’m talking about…
Fiffe: Absolutely. Back in the day, when I was a regular Hulk reader, I though Gary Frank was a more emotive Jim Lee. You know who else is a child of Maguire? Ron Lim. You look at his Psi-Force and tell me I’m wrong. Even his early Marvel work was riddled with corner mouth curls.
Yes! Infinity War was my first exposure to him, but the faces on Silver Surfer, Thanos and Drax have stuck with me forever. Though I’ll say on Doomsday Clock, I really felt the wheels coming off with issue 11, not sure if you’re there yet or not, but would be interested to hear your take if you are.
Fiffe: I’m still holding out for the final issue to have a better estimate. I wish it could go on forever, honestly.
You’re also a big music-head, and I feel like we always flirt with the idea of talking about it given my own background. What are you really digging right now? You strike me as the kind of guy who puts on music while he works.
Fiffe: I’m in the middle of a huge Killing Joke binge. Luckily, they have so many albums, I suspect I’ll be here for a while. I’m also always on the lookout for Ferrante & Teicher albums. I will buy whatever I find of theirs on the spot.
Ferrante & Teicher! Now that’s something I didn’t expect to hear, though I imagine that might be something that’s really helpful in terms of concentration or just chill out vibes. I might go for that in the future. Did you discover that yourself or was that the kind of thing that was played around the house when you were growing up?
Fiffe: An old friend turned me on to their album “Denizens of the Deep”. It’s them at their most adventurous and innovative. A creepy, beautiful record. I do love their 70s Vegas act, too.
When you put out the call to your Patreon supporters for music recommendations about a year ago, did you find anything you liked?
Fiffe: There was tons of good stuff but I didn’t retain any details. I listened to that in one shot, as one mix. I can’t remember names! Jeez, I used to read liner notes and thank-you lists and lyrics. Who has the time anymore? When was the last time anyone actually read lyrics, anyway?
A total lost art, but I hate to say it, I feel like the concept of the album has somehow lessened too with the advent of Spotify and other streaming services. I know they’re still out there, but that excitement of buying a new collection of songs feels like a deep relic of the past. Comics look downright thriving by comparison. Breaks my heart a little, I’m glad we had our formative years when we did.
Fiffe: Hey, I’m still just looking for a tape player that won’t eat my cassettes.
I know our big shared love, Giffen aside, is Mike Patton. Did you end up getting Mr. Bungle tickets for the NYC reunion show?
Fiffe: Negative. What a scam that was. Sold out in seconds and not even a minute later, scalpers were already selling them at crazy prices. I’ve been out of the live music game for a while, but c’mon, that can’t be normal for smaller shows.
Absolutely not, I was so tempted. But I think my days of traveling crosscountry for concerts are probably over. I do wonder if this might lead to something new though. I’d love to see this lineup produce just a straight experimental metal album, Bungle flirts with it so much.
Speaking of Patton, it never occurred to me until we started this discussion that discovering his music and all the different projects he’s tendrilled around into, and the various associated artists that can lead you towards (John Zorn, Bjork, Melvins, Melt Banana, Dillinger Escape Plan, the entire Ipecac lineup) is a lot like finding a cartoonist you really dig and the connecting with their collaborators and so on. At least that’s how it worked for me, it was a full-blown obsession in college.
Fiffe: It squeezed into the 90s just in time. I was deep into that stuff for a long time. They’re all just so prolific and my bandwidth can only take so much, ya know? Same with comics, to your point. I learned the hard way that maybe I don’t need every published work by Cartoonist X. Patton will be the first to agree that that’s unhealthy. I think he dares his fans to be loyal, actually. I know Disco Volante caused a big divide in the audience, but that’s one of the greatest records of all time. Top 3 for me.
I can only imagine if you were an Angel Dust fan, or just knew Patton as the “flopping fish video” guy, an often atonal, melody-free record would prove challenging as hell.
I’m sure at this point readers are wondering when we’re gonna get to your work, so let’s do that: In the between time since we’ve talked, you’ve banged out two full Copra arcs, the first spin-off in Versus and worked on two outside properties. In that time what would you say you’ve learned about your own creative process and the way you make comics?
Fiffe: I’ve learned that I can produce a complete package for a client and not have it be a disaster. About my own process — whew, that’s a lot to unpack. I’m still coming to terms with my return to the COPRA schedule. But I’m also relearning how to creatively pace myself.
To follow up, was the pace you were running at during the initial volume one you were dissatisfied with? I’ve asked Jaime (Hernandez) before about what’s to come in his work, and his response was something like “I don’t actually know until I start working on it”. Are you similarly-minded, or does Copra run in your brain 24/7 in terms of where things are going?
Fiffe: I lean more towards that approach than to a super detailed, fully thought out bible where everything’s figured out already. I like to have plenty of room for things to grow and organically. But with pacing myself, I meant more… gauging how much I should surrender to any given project. There are levels to that. Taking a break from my own characters made me reckon with my relationship to this medium.
Then again, maybe you meant the actual structure of how you present your stories and pace out those dramatic and action beats? Forgive me, I’m really trying to get in your head here.
Fiffe: No, it’s about something else entirely. There’s an inner conflict that I’m not quite able to articulate just yet. But the general feeling is that I’m going in the right direction. This feels right.
Working on those two properties (Bloodstrike and GI Joe) for two different publishers had to be a starkly different experience in some ways. I’d love to hear more about that. Though maybe with the first it was mostly working with Rob more than anything, which sounds pretty rad.
Fiffe: I’ve gone on record to say that Rob was a great overseer and supporter of the Bloodstrike project. That’s no secret. What a crazy thrill and honor it was for me to get to do that. It’s kind of like a Gruenwaldian Crisis on Infinite Earths by way of Extreme. I still really like the work I did there, which is weird because I’m a bit cruel about anything that I’m not currently working on.
It was the absolute best. And I really loved that short stretch of months where everybody in the Copra Press Club was going out of their way to bindive old Extreme Comics (myself included). It was definitely homework, especially as you got to the Napton written stuff, but watching you pull it all together in an approachable whole was really something.
Fiffe: Thanks, that’s great to hear. It’s all there, ya know. I packed Bloodstrike with as much story as possible and loaded every corner of it with material. There are layers to it, but it’s not up to me whether they get peeled back or understood at all. That’s just how I engage with comics, by revisiting and studying them, and if it warrants it, by looking for layers and subtext and patterns. It was the nature of what drew me into Bloodstrike to begin with, so I couldn’t do it any other way.
Speaking of the Copra Press Club, how much has that little family you’ve pulled together within the all too often nasty realms of social media added to your day to day?
I check in as often as possible and it’s largely a pleasant place to hang out in. It’s a good, non-toxic place to share and discover comics and champion creators. We hit the occasional bump but I can’t be a cop, man… it usually sorts itself out.
You’re probably wondering, where’s all the Copra talk? Come back tomorrow, my friends, for Part 2, where we discuss all things to come in the new Image published spin on everyone’s favorite revenge machine.