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Trading Up: Copper

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Copper sprung to life out of a design for a tee shirt.  At least that is what Kibuishi says in this surprisingly enlightening collection of his web comic series.

Fans of the artist have seen Copper at the website, www.boltcity.com, or in the gorgeous and genre defining Flight anthologies.  Here, those internet strips, the printed strips and some new material are collected in one beautiful book.

Certainly the stories of the young wide-eyed Copper and his fretful dog, Fred, are the centerpiece of this book, but beyond never before seen strips, the author goes out of his way to make this a worthwhile purchase for fans new or old to the concept.

Possibly more important to future cartoonists than the strips themselves is a detailed behind-the-scenes piece in the back of the book.  Kibuishi goes into quick but painstaking detail over how each strip is created from thumbnails to old school nib inking to computer scans through to photoshop coloring.  It is informative and as inspirational as Image’s exhaustive Studio Space.  In fact, it wouldn’t be out of place there (and yes, being the old and forgetful comics fan that I am, I pulled my copy off the shelf just to make sure it wasn’t actually from that look into the creation of sequential art).  Beyond being a unique "how to" piece, it is also written with that glimmer that is the hallmark of all of the artist’s work.  It is encouraging in its demeanor.  He wants future creators to take note, even giving helpful hints on how to get started with limited funds.

Then there are the strips.  Readers already know how imaginative they are.  Kibuishi is nothing if not inventive and this sort of reverse take on Calvin and Hobbes is as endearing as the classic it is clearly indebted to.  Copper is in awe of all the wonder around him and ready for any adventure.  Fred is more contemplative, ready to question their actions, searching for meaning in their motives.  Reluctantly, the pragmatist is drawn into wild adventures with his master. 

Building planes or jumping mushrooms are all metaphors for the journey of life.  While Fred is likely to get bogged down in the why make the journey mechanics, Copper is just excited to be on the path.  It is an interesting viewpoint of the world and reassuring to those looking for a positive, but well told all-ages book for the special young people in their lives.

What is evident here in the collected format is the maturity of the concept and its creator.  The author actually acknowledges it in his introduction to the book.  It is interesting to note how the tone and nature of the comic reflects his personal journey and to watch the strip go from a somewhat darker place to the reaffirming fantasy it was destined to be.

All along the way, there are the infectious designs of the artist.  His whimsical lines and detailed sets are what made Copper a fan favorite even before there was a collection throwing the spotlight its way.  These are great looking landscapes full of wonderful machines, monkeys, mushroom people and other wonders for the young at heart to marvel in.  In fact, I dare you to look at this book and not smile.

With Copper, Scholastic continues its ever strengthening Graphix imprint’s focus on skillfully told comics.  The morality and delight that fills these books also confirms what teachers and parents have known for years, kids will read when they are given fun, smart things to read.  Fortunately, Scholastic isn’t ready to give into comic fandom’s demands that kids don’t like comics.

Copper published by Graphix is available everywhere for the reasonable price of $12.99.

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