By Kazu Kibuishi
96 pages, color
Published by Graphix/Scholastic Books
One of my favorite webcomics is Kazu Kibuishi’s Copper, so a collection of all the stories to date was going to be an automatic winner in my house. For fans who devoured all the strips online, there’s still an attraction for the print version; not only are they all collected in one place, but Kibuishi’s stories from the Flight anthologies are included as well, plus a step-by-step examining of how Kibuishi creates the comic. But more importantly, if you haven’t read Copper before? Think of a strange mixture of introspection, observations on the world, the comics of Jean "Moebius" Giraud, and Calvin & Hobbes.
Reading the strips from its inception, it’s fun to watch Copper (and his dog Fred) shift from someone whose goes from observing the strangeness around him, to adventure that only exists in his dreams, to finally stepping out and seizing the day. Copper and Fred jump from the top of one massive mushroom to the next to cross a massive gorge, fly a helicopter in search of the perfect melon bread, or sometimes just wander by something interesting and stop to examine it further. More often than not it’s Copper who’s the adventurous one, having to coax the complaining Fred along with him. If all we ever got out of Copper was his adventurous spirit, he’d be a good enough protagonist.
What I appreciate, though, is that Copper is someone who’s thoughtful and observant as well. When plans don’t work out well as he’d thought, he takes it with grace and dignity. He’s someone who eschews upgrades simply for the sake of doing so (rather than being needed), from clocks and signs to mega-markets and one’s home. There’s a certain peaceful nature that follows Copper around throughout the comic, and when coupled with his general level-headed reaction to Fred’s frequent freak-outs, it makes him an attractive protagonist to read about. And of course, even when he’s at his best, Copper still can get flummoxed from time to time. Sometimes it’s a decision that didn’t turn out quite like he’d hoped, other times it’s the cute girl in the pointy glasses that appears on occasion, but it’s a reminder that even he’s fallible from time to time.
While most of Copper is upbeat and fun, I also have to commend Kibuishi in occasionally having a darker strip. Those are usually helmed by Fred, suffering from self-doubt and quite possibly depression as he starts wondering what he’s really doing. "Good Life" and "Marketplace" are both examples of this, as Fred is internally torn up by doubts about his worth. It’s impressive, in part because for such a normally cheerful strip, Kibuishi has a dead-on accurate depiction of clinical depression.
Part of the attraction of Copper is also in the art. I love the detailed scenes that Kibuishi draws, from vast forest to underwater vistas. Even something as simple-sounding as a massive clock full of gears looks jaw-droppingly beautiful; there’s a lot of detail packed into the world of Copper, all with soft lines and soft but gorgeous colors. Reading at the end of the book how Kibuishi draws the book ended up being especially enlightening; looking at the coloring process is not only a reminder of how much work goes into a single page, but all of the finer details that might go unnoticed.
If you’re only familiar with Kibuishi through books like Amulet and Flight, you might be surprised by Copper. Don’t get me wrong, I love the other comics as well, but Copper has always seemed like a slightly more personal project for Kibuishi. Copper made me overjoyed upon reading it, and as soon as I was done I read it all over again. Highly recommended.