Copper by Kazu Kibuishi
Submitted by Xaviar Xerexes on February 6, 2010 - 16:47
Copper is a beautiful comic. Kazu Kibuishi takes such care in rendering landscapes both natural and fantastic, that one can't help but be drawn into the page to fully appreciate the environment of Copper. In particular, I think Kibuishi must love drawing moving water because it is almost a constant presence in the book (The comic "Waterfall" is both a great bit of illustration but also an insightful commentary on it).
Copper is a collection of separate short tales featuring Copper and his dog Fred that Kibuishi has created and posted to the web for several years now. As such it's one of the rare webcomics to update infrequently and irregularly and yet remain a popular and critical favorite. Having the entirety of all of Kibuishi's Copper comics collected in a book is a treat. The publisher, Scholastic, has done a fantastic job with the book design. The color, such an important part of the comic, is well done.
The strip was created as a tribute to Little Nemo in Slumberland, Peanuts, Calvin and Hobbes, and Tintin, and the mash-up elements were more apparent in the early strips. On top of this, I was single at the time, and I felt like I could relate to Charlie Brown and his situation.
Many reviewers compare the comic to Calvin and Hobbes in particular, because of the partnership between boy and animal and the easy blend of fantasy and the ordinary. What is interesting in reading all of the comics together and the introduction to the book by Kibuishi is how autobiographical in spirit the comics are. Kibuishi explains how he started the comics at a particularly tough time in his life which was also when he began to take seriously the desire to make comics. Certain themes in Copper, the push and pull between optimistic Copper and realist Fred, the journey without knowing the destination, the need to leap even knowing it's dangerous, these are all reflective of the life of an artist. Obviously nothing in the book is actually autobiographical, but I suspect Kibuishi reveals quite a bit of himself in this work.
I also thought Tom Spurgeon made a good point in his review of Copper:
In many Copper installments, Kibuishi presents his two characters noodling around some sort of slightly difficult, challenging but not hugely dangerous, landscape. The characters tend to have a goal in mind -- cross this area, explore this construct, ride this wave -- that may or may not seem important but never feels like it controls the moment. This free pass allows you to luxuriate in Kibuishi's pleasing cartooning, and also to relax for a time in the ease of a comic made up of characters poking around the page. It's a way of reading comics that's mostly missing now, one that depends on the act of processing comics itself as a pleasurable activity...
There is absolutely a relaxed pace to much of the book, although in part that is because most of the stories are a single page, presenting a brief snippet of time in which the reader lingers over, if only to take in all of the details of the art. The one longer story "Maiden Voyage" manages to still feel very similar, particularly because despite its apparently exciting story of building and crashing a fantastical plane, it is probably the comic most central to the theme of the fears and unknowns of metaphorically plowing ahead in life's journey as anything else in the book. I don't remember how I felt reading "Maiden Voyage" originally but in the context of the book, any excitement over how it will end is nullified by the overall pattern of stories in the book. It's still beautifully drawn though and has many moments that really do evoke that trade-off in life between caution and initiative (the sequence in Plane * Mart in particular).
Who is this book aimed at? A good question I suppose. Clearly I think there's a lot to appreciate in terms of the artwork, and I think many readers should be inspired or at least entertained by it. I think it's a great book for kids, who can read it purely as tales of adventure or think about their own journey towards adulthood.
The publisher provided a free copy of the book to ComixTALK for review purposes.