N.B. I’m still working on my review of THE HOBBIT: AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY. The roots of it are down, but I want to manage the difficult task of a complete and balanced review while not rambling or letting the overall length grow too long. Keep hope alive — I may be slow, but I’ve not given up reviewing!
Author and Artist: Kazu Kibuishi
Published online: 2002-2009, but more is still promised
Format: Single page vignettes
What’s the premise? A boy named Copper and his talking dog named Fred climb mountains, ride giant turtles, fight robots, dive for sunken treasure, search the skies for alien intelligence, have weird dreams, and generally wander through beautiful landscapes having gently-paced adventures.
What’s it like? Calvin & Hobbes without most of the real-life stuff, just the boy’s fantasy segments.
Worth my time? Definitely. It doesn’t take much time at all, but it rewards every second.
All of Copper can be read in a single sitting, which may cause you to lament that there are not more, and that the most recent one was published online as far back as 2009. Still, the one-off nature of each story means that we’re not left waiting in frustrated anticipation for the story to continue. No cliffhangers, no lingering plot threads, and a cast of only two very likable friends. Light reading, but not insubstantial.
Copper and Fred live in a dreamworld where the setting and circumstances all conform to the needs of the vignette. Copper looks about ten years old but doesn’t seem to have any parents or go to school. Yet he’s occasionally shown to live in a house and have modern amenities like television, a toaster, and video games. He even drives his own car! And helicoper! But perhaps in a world where they can footrace a giant shrimp up a vertical street I shouldn’t wonder that a ten year-old lives comfortably alone and can legally operate motor vehicles. With his talking dog as copilot.
It’s all good fun, though, and the brevity of the stories makes it easy to suspend disbelief and just enjoy the imagination on display. Copper has a pretty easy-going attitude, preferring to take the world as it comes and not worry about trivial things. He’ll wait patiently for just the right wave while surfing, favors simple and old-fashioned things, loves exploration for its own sake, and fixes old clocks for the fun of it. Fred, on the other hand, is often full of doubt, impatience, and nervousness. He’s more likely to make unwise decisions (like staying up all night playing video games) or be bothered by petty details (like the possibilty of falling to his death from a great height). It’s an interesting inverse of the trope of the stupid human and wise pet (a lá Wallace & Gromit). Not that Fred is stupid, but he seems more in need Copper’s care and companionship.
The stories swing gently between warm humor and thoughtful melancholy. A few end rather abruptly without the expected resolution; this one, for example, answers neither how they got stranded in the middle of the ocean nor how they escape their predicament (and makes me wonder if they’ll start reenacting Life of Pi!). Some, like this one where they find a blue crab on the beach, end almost sadly, with the hint of a moral, while this textless one seems to be about nothing more than the warmth of their friendship. Likewise the settings range from typical suburban neighborhoods to unexplained apocalypses. One story they’re watching TV, the next they might be in space, or playing guitar atop a pink cliff and pining for a girl trapped in a floating bubble. There are two recurring girls who appear in a few of the stories, and some of the settings have people in the background, but few of these have dialogue, and none of any importance. The only true characters are the boy and dog.
The art is beautiful and extremely appealing. Clear lines and a varied, well-chosen color palette make the pictures “pop” pleasingly before the eye, while maintaining the look of a traditional comic or cartoon. Some are shaded predominantly in one color, such as a blue waterfall scene, to create a certain effect, while others, like a city’s open market, burst with the whole color spectrum. I especially like Kazu’s use of lighting to enhance the mood of his scenes. He’s almost as fond as I am of the long shadows and melancholy glow of late afternoon. In this landscape of concrete bridges (and little else), he creates a slightly surreal effect that makes the scene feel like something from my own dreams, like I’ve been there before. The text is lettered in such a way as to be very clear to read, while fitting naturally with the style of the art and indicating the mood in which the dialogue is spoken by the characters.
There’s also a longer, more complete story that was published in the first volume of Flight, which you can also read online. It’s called Maiden Voyage, and it’s a treat.
Kazu seems to work on the comic in between his professional print projects (like Amulet and the Flight anthologies), which means he doesn’t produce them very often. But when he does, he spends lots of time crafting beautifully-drawn, self-contained stories that invite you to relax, smile, think a bit, and maybe reread. I hope he makes more, and am even considering ordering one of the print versions. Do enjoy.