Webcomic Review: “Copper”

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!

copper_038_clockworkTitle: Copper
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.

Key Thoughts

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.

I think we've all had dreams like this at one time or another.
I think we’ve all had dreams like this at one time or another.

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.

In a plane they built by hand.
In a plane they built by hand.

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.


Webcomic Quickies: Steampunk mages, cowboy wizards, and Turkish Lieutenants

Webcomics are one of the most fascinating art forms to have emerged in the past fifteen or so years. Though they are obviously related to print comics, the fact that they are designed for the Internet and produced independent of any publishing house gives their creators tremendous freedom of form and content. Just witness the inventive page layouts by Tracy Butler, the context-sensitive dialogue boxes (they’re not really balloons) in Hero, or the amazingly expansive panel in this xkcd strip (click and drag the bottom one). The latter two would not be possible in a non-digital format.

If you’ve been reading my previous webcomic reviews, you’ll know they can get rather long. They also take a long time to write. This is because I try to only review webcomics that are completed or very far along in their storylines. But sometimes I start reading a really interesting one only to find that it’s only a few chapters in. There’s enough that I want to talk about, but not quite enough to demand a long discussion or to make a final judgment about. These are the webcomics I’ll look at in Webcomic Quickies, where I’ll talk about them…well, quickly.

Red Moon Rising
Author/Artist: Rose Loughran
Length: 14 Chapters, 287 pages as of now. On hiatus since May due to illness and personal issues for the artist.
The Gist: A steampunk fantasy with moody artwork involving flying ships, rainy urban settings, angsty magic-users, underground rebel groups, and a significant dose of angst which is slightly mitigated by the characters being generally sympathetic.
The Story: Adrianna’s brother goes AWOL from the army shortly after she speaks with him one day, and the army forces her to help them track him down. She wants to protect her brother, but she doesn’t know what sort of trouble he’s gotten himself into.

My Thoughts: This one should prove very good if the artist/author can tighten her storytelling. Relatively little has happened over fourteen chapters, but it can still be hard to keep track of who’s who. She jumps between different points-of-view too often and chapters are too short, not giving individual scenes enough time to develop and settle. When the dramatic scenes start coming I didn’t feel their full effect because I hadn’t connected fully with the characters due to their scenes so often being interrupted. The plot is only starting to get complicated, but is awkwardly told, such that I consistently have to backtrack or check the cast profile page to figure out what is happening. There’s a history of war between the nations of Ashul and Imara, some kind of contestation over the buffer country of Rishara Caan, and different factions within each country.

On the upside, the main characters are interesting and likable. Despite the considerable angsting from the get-go, Adrianna and her brother Lethe really care for each other and share an encouraging familial bond. The plot, however awkwardly told, is holding my interest, especially as the introduction of a rebel group helps make some of the world’s politics a little clearer. It’s not all talk and glum-faces, either; there have already been quite a few action scenes, as well as a chase or two. And the mixture of magic with a lightly steampunk setting should provide some good plot twists, in addition to the already-prevalent and very cool visuals.

Red Moon Rising
There’s a *lot* of rain.

The artwork strikes a fairly consistent tone in keeping with its moody (there’s that word again) story. Lines and details in the backgrounds are deliberately obscured, creating a permanent haze that seems to oppress the characters, hide their secrets, and generally isolate them from each other and the world around them. At times it can be really neat, or even beautiful. On the downside, by obscuring the way the world looks, it makes it that much harder for the reader to get a good feel for the settings. However, this might be intentional, as at the story’s outset Adrianna herself seems to have poor knowledge of geography and contemporary politics; the visual obscuring of the setting may reflect how she hasn’t learned to look at her surroundings in a detailed, knowledgeable way.

The character art is a bit less consistent. Sometimes they’re strikingly well-drawn and almost tangible people, while other times the are confusingly indistinct; in particular, there’s an auburn-headed lieutenant who I kept confusing for Adrianna because of his slight frame and long hair. The facial expressions are a bit limited and don’t evolve the characters quite as much as they do in webcomics like Lackadaisy and Digger.

The magic effects and action scenes, however, can be really cool; fire and glowing energy blaze boldly from the shaded surroundings and instantly command attention, whereas movements of extraordinary speed (or explosions) may be accompanied with motion blur, giving a cinematic feel to these scenes. It’s been fairly low-key so far, but I have a feeling the action is going to start ramping up much more in the coming chapters.

Red Moon Rising

Next Town Over
Author/Artist: Erin Mehlos
Length: 4 Chapters
The Gist: Gunslingers and fire mages fight each other amidst the sprawling, half-tamed West, riding steeds both cyborgian and (literally) fire-blooded. Big on colorful action, low on good guys.
The Story: A silent, pale-faced bounty hunter named Ms. Vane ruthlessly tracks her quarry, the wickedly cultured and affable gunslinger John Henry Hunter, through the scrub and cow towns of the Old West, each of them leaving in their wakes flames, destruction, and a few dead bodies.

My Thoughts: More professional than most webcomics, Next Town Over certainly looks like it’ll be an entertaining, action-packed ride throughout. It’s just getting started, so we don’t know yet who Vane and Hunter are, what their relationship is or was, and what started this whole chase. We’re not even quite sure whether the rest of the world knows about the magic and steampunk contraptions—both Vane and Hunter treat it all rather casually, as if it’s built into them, but the innocent bystanders seem shocked when these elements show up.

Next Town Over
Basically it is this.

The artwork is very bright and colorful, with backgrounds evoking the varied beauty of the American West, from the red canyons to the grassy plains and high buttes. Characters are a tad more stylized than I would like, occasionally jarring with the naturalistic landscapes, but that’s nit-picking. They all have lot of personality to their designs and thoughtful detail in their wardrobes. The panel layouts are also varied, utilizing different shapes and decorated borders to add atmosphere, and sometimes even to further the story. It keeps things fresh.

Next Town Over
Pictured: the American landscape, the other main character.

The characters are the tricky part, and will determine whether or not this webcomic can really end up being worth it. Neither Ms. Vane nor John Henry Hunter are good guys. Hunter’s the more obvious villain, with his white dandy suit, taste for loose women, and general willingness to murder and cause mayhem whenever people get in his way. But Ms. Vane is no better; she steals, hijacks, and kills her way from town to town. Once she even shoots off two fingers from a blacksmith’s hand when he refuses to surrender his shop for the night, and then shoots two successive sheriffs who come to apprehend her, in cold blood. She comes across as a psychopath, which isn’t helped by her pale, almost corpse-like face and her general impassive silence. Sympathetic she is not. In fact, we end up liking Hunter a lot more, because he at least gives the appearance of affability, smiling as dandily as he dresses and loving the sound of his own melodious voice. His dialogue in particular is well-written, with the diction and turns of phase we expect from sophisticated Western characters (like Doc Holiday and his ilk).

So Hunter is a lot of fun, but he needs a hero to go up against. Right now, all he has is another villain, and despite his greater charisma, he’s still too evil to root for. Before long, I need a truly sympathetic character to follow, someone with moral backbone. Fortunately, we may have just gotten on in Chapter 4, as a nicer guy from a posse that was chasing Hunter seems to be tagging along with Vane now.

But mainly you should read it because of this.

Next Town Over
Steampunk horse. STEAMPUNK CYBORG HORSE. (steamborg horse?)

And this.

Next Town Over
Fire horse. A real nightmare. *ba-dum PSH*

Note: There is a fair bit of blood and some cringe-inducing injuries, not to mention a bit of sexual innuendo, so this one’s definitely not for kids. PG-13 at this stage, though with a tad more blood than you’d see in a PG-13 movie.

Delilah Dirk and the Turkish LieutenantDelilah Dirk and the Turkish Lieutenant
Author/Artist: Tony Cliff
Length: Four chapters for the online story. Another story can be bought as a print comic.
The Gist: Pure, unadulterated adventure-comedy, one of the crown jewels of webcomics, as far as I’m concerned. Exotic locations! Gorgeous artwork! Wild adventure! Hilarious buddy comedy! Thrilling contraptions! Glittering treasure! And some bloody good tea!
The Story: A mild-mannered, tea-loving lieutenant in the Turkish emperor’s Janissary corps accidentally falls in with Delilah Dirk, a world-traveling thrill-seeking wonder woman. They Fly on a Ship to Steal Treasure from a Bad Guy and it is Super Fun.

Delilah Dirk and the Turkish Lieutenant
She has a ship that flies. If you need another reason to check out this webcomic, then you may need to question whether or not you really love adventure after all.

My Thoughts: Look, just go read it right now, okay? Do yourself a favor. It’s one story, and it’s relatively short. And sweet. As in, sweet, man. I don’t even know where to start with this one. It’s one of my favorite things on the Internet, ever.

Delilah Dirk and the Turkish LieutenantFirstly, this is my favorite artwork of all the webcomics I’ve seen, including Tracy Butler’s superb Lackadaisy and Tom Siddell’s increasingly beautiful Gunnerkrigg Court. But Delilah Dirk and the Turkish Lieutenant is more appealing even than these. Through Cliff’s artwork I can hear the seagulls and harbor bells in the bay of Constantinople, I can feel the sea breezes and the warm sun, I feel as I were right there lounging against a wood fence with some Anatolian goatherds. The landscapes have the brightness of a cartoon, but the detailed specificity of the real eastern Mediterranean. Tony Cliff knows exactly where his characters are in the world, and he takes you there, too.

The plot in this first adventure isn’t much beyond an excuse to get the two protagonists together and show off some exotic locations, but that’s fine by me. Delilah and Selim make a truly inspired pair. She’s the hyper-competent Action Girl, more than a match in a fight for any man, but is kept from being an irritating straw feminist by her overconfidence, wackiness, her inability to stay cool under stress, and her appreciation of the infinitely more stable Selim. Selim, in turn, is eminently likable and sensible. Despite being in the renowned janissary corps, he’s not much of a warrior. Rather, he likes brewing the best tea in the world, using big words, and being pleasant. He’d rather not risk his life, thank you, but in a cinch he proves to be remarkably clear-headed. After one notable disaster Delilah completely breaks down in frustration because she can’t think of a way out and can’t handle failure, and it’s Selim’s modest practicality that saves their lives. The two of them banter and bicker and charm their way into our hearts, and I laughed and smiled and generally felt fantastic while in their presence.Delilah Dirk and the Turkish Lieutenant

Webcomic Review: Lackadaisy Cats

Set in St. Louis, MO during the 1920s, the owner and employees of the friendly speakeasy Lackadaisy struggle to keep their establishment afloat against the Prohibition, deadly rival gangsters, and their own weak business sense.

Title: Lackadaisy
Author/Artist: Tracy Butler
Format: Webcomic (link)
Published: 2008 – Present (though she’s been preparing it since at least 2006)
Pages: 104 and counting  (the main plot is just beginning)
Updates: Slow and irregular. Probably about a page or two per month, on loose average.
Content Advisory: Some PG-13-level gangster violence, one or two “S.O.B.’s”, and gratuitous bootlegging.
Genre: Period gangster adventure/comedy/drama. Basically historical fiction, except that all the characters happen to be drawn as cats. This is only because Tracy Butler thought she could draw them more expressively than humans when she started the story. Not that she can’t draw humans incredibly well.
Synopsis: Set in St. Louis, MO during the 1920s, the owner and employees of the friendly speakeasy Lackadaisy struggle to keep their establishment afloat against the Prohibition, deadly rival gangsters, and their own weak business sense.
Reason for Beginning: I like that time period and the art captured my attention immediately.
Reason for Still-Reading: The characters and artwork, mainly. Beautiful, really beautiful artwork (it dramatically improves from the beginning pages). Fleshed-out, interesting characters. Perfect, memorable dialogue. And a plot that is developing very naturally, without shortcuts and clichés.
Re-readability: High. In fact, I frequently revisit pages at random for the sheer fun of it. The artwork is packed with fun little details and is astonishingly historically accurate, as well as just being plain good to look at. The dialogue is witty and pairs well with the art, so that the comedy is genuinely funny and the characters come to life. I would eagerly read anything written or drawn by Tracy Butler, such is the appeal of her art and stories. I think Lackadaisy is the only webcomic she has going on right now, though she used to draw great fantasy pictures for a story of her own on this site, which is currently defunct.
Recommendation: You! Go read it NOW! I think it should appeal to a wide audience. There is ample comedy, wit, drama, and even action to draw in a variety of readers. The artwork is gorgeous, the characters have depth and sympathy, and the plot is advancing organically without obvious clichés. Continue reading “Webcomic Review: Lackadaisy Cats”

Webcomic Review: Dreamless

[3/14/2011: Added link to another review. Also, since this review is not quite up to my current standard, I intend to rewrite it with more in-depth commentary and accompanying pictures.]

Hm, seems like I’ll be reviewing webcomics on this blog as well. Fancy that. I just jumped 200 years in two posts!

Romantic drama ensues.

Title: Dreamless
Author/Artist: Written by Bobby Crosby; Drawn by Sarah Ellerton
Format: Webcomic
Published: January 4, 2009 – July 25, 2010
Pages: 70
Reason for Beginning: I don’t remember where I heard about it; possibly it was on the TVTropes list of fantasy webcomics. But the premise intrigued me and the art is painterly, so I gave it a go. Plus this was when I was only just discovering webcomics in general, and was exploring.
Reason for Finishing: Short, as webcomics go, and sweetly romantic. The magical element (which remains unexplained) brings up some really interesting ideas.
Synopsis: In the years before WWII, an American girl and a Japanese boy are linked from birth by being able, while sleeping, to literally see through the eyes of the other one.  One will nearly always be awake while the other is asleep.  Both are born bilingual, and since they can often sense each other’s “presence,” they manage to communicate and, soon enough, fall in love.  The difficulty of loving someone on the other side of the world is not lost on them, and much drama ensues.  THEN WWII begins, bringing more pain, more troubles, and, perhaps, a glimmer of hope…
Story Re-readability: Perhaps sometime I will, though I don’t feel the need to right now. It ended in a satisfying manner, but the plot was sometimes handled a bit awkwardly. Artwork is beautiful, though.
Author Re-readability: Maybe; the writing was decent, sometimes very good, just not great. Crosby has written a few other webcomics, I think one about zombies. Reading them would be based on whether or not they individually seem good.
Artist Re-viewability: I’m already a huge fan of Sarah Ellerton’s Phoenix Requiem, which she writes as well as draws. So, yes. She’s my second favorite webcomic artist right now, next to Tracy Butler of Lackadaisy Cats.
Recommendation: Mainly for people who like idealist love stories. The magical realist element does add a fascinating and fairly original twist

Key Thoughts

This is the only complete webcomic I’ve finished so far.  Like I said above, the storytelling is a bit clunky at times, what with some flashbacks and time-skips that are a bit confusing at first.  Everything does manage to sort itself out in good order, but it might briefly cause a headache or two, trying to figure out whether or not one of them is watching the other at a given moment, or why one character assumed something about the other when it isn’t clear to we readers.  Things like that.  But, like I said, it’s all sorted in the end.

However, it also felt like there were a number of missed moments, where the story could have done something unique because of its premise but instead took a more conventional route.  It’d make a good movie, too, if it were skillfully fleshed out.  There’s a lot of potential for grand drama here, not to mention the beautiful theme of interracial romance between a white Californian girl and a Japanese boy in the 1940s.  I liked how each character was treated with equal respect and intelligence, neither succumbing to clichés.  Their love felt organic and believable.  They made you want them to be together.

Sarah Ellerton uses a softer art style than in The Phoenix Requiem, which is very sharply defined and vibrant.  Here, the effect is almost like watercolors, and it complements the theme of romance and dreams.  Very pleasant to look at.

Beyond that, I cannot think of any more to say about it.  It is a pleasant read that will not demand too much of your time.

Other Reviews
El Santo @ The Webcomic Overlook