If you’re not reading “COPRA,” you probably have messed up real bad. From creator Michel Fiffe, “COPRA” is the indie comic spanning 31 issues about a “band of misfit renegade mercenaries.” The series is a love letter to the history, art, and medium that is comic books. This April, Michel is set to release “COPRA: Round 5” from Bergen Street Comics which collects issues 26-31 of the series. To learn more about the series many of us love and others wish they were loving, we were able to talk to Michel about the release of “COPRA: Round 5.” Michel discusses the start of the series to now, writing team books, and what to expect from “COPRA” going forward. We also have two exclusive pieces of art from the sketchbook portion of “Round 5” to share as well, courtesy of Fiffe. Thanks, Michel!
How does it feel to be getting ready to release “COPRA: Round 5” now, with 31 plus issues of content now under your belt? What has been the biggest change in the series since that first issue and issue 31?
Michel Fiffe: Uncharacteristically proud is how I feel. I normally can’t stand to look at my stuff once it leaves my desk. But there’s something about these issues where things were clicking for me story-wise, I felt like I had a really good handle on the characters. The level of familiarity with a long running cast is very new to me, and the only way to arrive at that point is to go through it. You can’t cheat that level of intimacy.
For anyone who has been reading the series in these collections what can they expect for Round 5?
MF: These six issues in the collection cover a lot. Longstanding plots are resolved and new major stories are launched. Familiar faces pop up, new characters are introduced, twists and turns. I was going through a period where I was writing as user-friendly as possible, so that a brand new reader should be able to jump in and enjoy it without feeling lost of left out. That’s not a typical scenario, of course, but you never know–!
I know when I am talking about series like “COPRA” or Matthew Allison’s “Cankor,” part of the pitch for why they should be reading it is that it’s a series that their favorite creator is probably reading. As a creator of a series other people have so much respect for what are series you are currently reading and enjoying?
MF: So many, there’s a lot. Too much, actually. I can tell you what I’ve been reading recently. “Twilight of the Bat” by Josh Simmons and Patrick Keck was incredible. I was jealous it was so good. Been reading tons of ’90s Avengers comics, mostly because the futility of competing with the unstoppable X-Men franchise is really interesting to me. I’m a bad Eleanor Davis fan because I’ve yet to get her latest book but goddamn if she isn’t a killer cartoonist. I’m looking forward to “Why Art?” Did you catch the latest Uno Moralez? That thing is a masterpiece.
You are pretty consistent with putting out these collections. As you have made that move are stories and arcs something you consider more in writing and how they might collect in this format?
MF: In a way. I try not to linger on one storyline too long. I’m aware of how the collection reads. I mean, Round 5 begins with issue 26; I left out the previous 25th anniversary issue because it’s a standalone flashback story, it would’ve interrupted the flow between collections. So I’m sensitive to both formats.
If I had a time machine I think two key tasks would be to go back in time and buy some sort of stock in Disney or Apple and also buy extra issues of “COPRA” #1. The first issue easily goes for a couple hundred dollars on eBay and at shows. As a creator how does it feel to know people value your work that much? Also are you sitting on a stock pile of #1s to retire with?
MF: I wish. And I wish I could’ve held back some “Deathzone!” copies, too. Is it flattering? Sure, but I also realize it has very little to do with me anyway. Its taken a life of its own.Continued below
If someone has found their way to being a “COPRA” reader I would hazard to guess that they have a love for independent comics and/or are “experienced” comic readers. Do you find with a series like this you can write to that audience that is much more like yourself?
MF: “Write for yourself” — isn’t that the adage? There’s some overlap between me and my audience’s tastes but that’s culture these days, that’s everyone, everywhere. We all like stuff. It’s reassuring that readers can still enjoy my work while not having to know a shred of 80s DC minutiae. That’s been proven, much to my relief.
You have mentioned in the past “COPRA” being a series that would not work in mainstream comics. With the, albeit still slow, rise of independent comics do you think we are any closer to an environment where “COPRA” would work?
MF: Well, it’s tricky. I think it could and it couldn’t work. The factors and conditions are flexible. Of course a major publisher wouldn’t ordinarily give a complete nobody alternative cartoonist a title to develop. However, a perfectly competent cartoonist with a proven track record and a unique POV? Let them commandeer some books. It can yield some interesting results. DC is doing it with Way. Marvel is doing it with Piskor. It proves the companies can easily cultivate some really cool shit. That’s a super optimistic scenario, I know. “COPRA” works because I’m left alone; some of these companies operate by not leaving things alone. It’s the nature of the game these days, all eyes on you. I want to be proven wrong.
I am sure I spend more time rereading an issue of the series trying to figure what exactly you did to create whatever it is I am looking at on each page. At this point in your career and in the series what is your broad approach to your process on a page? For someone so skilled in different styles, brush strokes, coloring, abstract page layouts, gridded page layouts, ink splatter, and I could go on and on, how do you decide how to approach a page?
MF: It’s a combination of what the story requires and what excites me. Oh, and time. Time is a massive factor. Sometimes a design will go against my schedule but I committed to it and I have to make it all work. But really, it depends on the story and the mood. The layout designs and color choices can be conservative and equally effective, if not moreso.
Throughout the series you have had issues, characters and esthetics that paid homage to styles of creators like Kirby, Ditko, JrJr and more. It is easy to think in a few years people will be homaging the Fiffe style. For you what would that be? What do you feel you do better or more unique than anyone else?
MF: “Fiffe style” — that doesn’t even register. I can’t answer that, not clearly.
Again, publishing 31 issues plus 2 VS issues of an independent comics or any comic for that matter is great accomplishment. That is more issues than one of my favorite run in comics, Morrison, Truog and Hazlewood’s Animal Man. Looking back over your run do you have a favorite moment in the series or something that came out of creating the series?
MF: Outside the last few issues in Round Five? I have a fondness for issues 5 and 6, as that’s when it all clicked for me. I felt like I was on solid footing while opening up many possibilities. Innocent times!
The series when it began was very much a nod to the “Suicide Squad” formula. As its progressed it has become so much more. Why was a Suicide Squad like element one you wanted to focus on in the beginning and what do you feel the book has become now?
MF: I knew two absolute things: that the Squad was a concept with untapped potential and that DC wouldn’t let me get near them, not in a million years. I can’t stand the notion of something like that being held back from me – it makes me angry, it makes me ill – so I took it upon myself to shamelessly pull what many of comics’ finest pull: do it anyway. I basically did what John Byrne did with Superman back in ’86, but I did it on my own dime and with zero guarantee. That’s how badly I wanted to work on these “properties”. And sure, that Ostrander run is my bible, but “COPRA” naturally turned into something else, something I can’t quite pinpoint right now.Continued below
From “COPRA,” to your “Ultimates” run and now “Bloodstrike,” a majority of your work has been focused around the team dynamic. What is it about writing a team that appeals to you most?
MF: Oh, man, that’s a type, huh? And I never realized it. I just built up to that. My comfort zone was one-character stories. I then jumped to a pair of siblings with my Fantagraphics book, “Zegas.” I gravitated towards larger ensembles. Though a good chunk of the “COPRA” issues are character-specific so I have it both ways on that one. To paraphrase the late, great Mark Gruenwald, aren’t they all team books?
My 4 year old son is really into Teen Titans and watched me read through a lot of the Marv Wolfman and George Perez “Teen Titans Omnibus.” I was rereading through Round 2-4 in prep for Round 5 and he came over when I was reading through Round 3 and said dad “this is like your Teen Titans book.” Your work and yourself as a creator have such a reverence and love to the history of comics and comics as art and it comes across to those who read it. What is it about comics that make it the medium you want to devote your time and talent to?
MF: It was the form of entertainment that I discovered when I was 4 myself and it stuck. It had its spell on me to the point where I wanted to duplicate that spell. Nothing else had that power — not toys or television — and as I grew up, there was never a question that comics was what I wanted to do forever. Though there’s been some hairy moments, let me tell you.
You have done great work at Marvel (that “Secret Wars: Secret Love!” So good) and now have a highly anticipated “Bloodstrike” comic coming out soon at Image. What is it about “COPRA,” your independent title, that has you continuing to work so hard on it?
MF: Because it’s mine! That’s what I get to take home, y’know? I bust my ass to make all of my work as good as it can be, but “COPRA” was a bet to myself. I owe it my life.
We have seen many independent comics make their way to companies like Image or Dark Horse for the release of their collections. You teamed up with Bergen Street Press to put out the “COPRA” collections and have continued to work alongside them. What is the benefit of working with Bergen Street Comics Press? I’m also asking for a friend, definitely not me, they live in Canada, you wouldn’t know them, but could we ever see an omnibus style collection of the series?
MF: On a purely cold-blooded, mercenary level, the numbers with Bergen Street were undeniably better. On a deeper level, I like being one of their top clients for them to concentrate on, rather than be lost in the shuffle of a larger publisher. I trust them, I respect them, it’s the best deal in comics. And yes, to the omnibus-style collection.
What can readers expect from the series following Round 5? What would be your end goal for the series?
MF: There’s the satellite series, “COPRA VERSUS,” which will get its own collection once I’m done with it. As for the ongoing series, I’m at the halfway mark, more or less, with the larger “COPRA” arc. I’m aching to get back to it. So ready to tackle the next 31 issues and beyond.