But where’s the Caterpillar with his Hookah?

Filed in Webcomic review

(From Copper. Click on image to see it full-sized.)

I’ll be the first to admit I tend to read mostly story comics. While I’ll occasionally read Penny Arcade or VG Cats, for the most part I tend to avoid comics that lack some sort of storyline. I suppose it’s part of my nature. I’m a writer, and an avid reader. Good stories attract me. Jokes, on the other hand, aren’t as important to me. Indeed, the first comic I started reading regularly, Clan of the Cats, is a dramatic comic that often has moments of humor, but isn’t specifically a joke comic.

There aren’t many in-between strips for me. I mean, sure, there’s Ozy and Millie, which has numerous short stories that obey an internal continuity, and there was Alice which likewise had multiple shorter stories without needing a long-reaching storyline, but for the most part I read ongoing comics in lieu of shorter works.

Copper is the story of a boy and his dog, living in a world partly of imagination and dream, and partly of reality. The thing is, sometimes it is difficult making out what is the fantasy and what is the reality.

Copper and Fred are the central characters of these vignettes, with Copper being the voice of enthusiasm and curiosity, while his dog Fred is more cautious and indeed cynical. It’s not that they’re two sides of the same person, as often seems to be the case in cartoon twosomes. Instead, Copper truly loves Fred, and Fred does love Copper in return. Copper tries to look out for Fred and keep his spirits up, while Fred tries to keep Copper safe by warning him that things aren’t as rosy as Copper might think.

The world is bigger than just Copper and Fred. There are three recurring secondary characters for the comic. The first is the little red-haired girl (reminiscent of Peanuts) whom Copper has seen in a couple of dreams. She is likely the same girl with the P-shirt (which echoes back to Copper with his sweatshirt with the C on it). Unfortunately, P hasn’t had anything to say. We’ve seen her on the subway, on the other end of a radio listening… but while she might represent Copper’s female counterpart, there’s been little else to go on.

The second recurring character is P’s dog. Much like P, we’ve seen little exposition about her. Initially, we saw her with P (when she wasn’t wearing the P-shirt) when Fred felt the first tug of love. It scared poor Fred, and I don’t blame him. Love is a rather heady emotion, and to feel it when you’ve felt nothing else but cynicism and disdain for the world can be a rather frightful situation. P’s dog is Fred’s counterpart just as P is Copper’s counterpart. And much like P, we have little to go on, other than the fact that P’s dog is loyal like Fred.

Finally there is the Note Girl, who first “introduced” herself by throwing a wad of paper at Copper’s head with the note “nice to meet ya!” on it. She next appeared in the second dream-bubble strip, with what I believe is P’s second appearance as well. While Note Girl seems interested in Copper, she’s too shy to actually talk to him face-to-face, and runs away rather than confront him.

Most of the Copper comics are short bits, told in one update. However, Copper has also appeared in the Flight Comic print compilations, with a couple of stories involving Copper, Fred, and various flying machines. The second of these stories, Maiden Voyage, is where Copper truly shines. We get more of a glimpse into Copper’s character here, as well as a good look at Fred’s insecurities.

Still, even the short vignettes let these characters shine. The world of Copper is often deceptive. You never can tell exactly what’s going on. We can have an incomplete sailboat which Copper is building, amidst an orchard of coconut trees, and then learn that the boat is for recreation rather than escape.

Rather telling is this quick tale in which Copper and Fred and skydiving from platform to platform (each platform kept aloft by humungous feathers). Fred starts off with his typical gloom-and-doom, worrying about not having something to land on. Copper admits they might not, but that they’d been lucky the last hundred times. Still, this is more than just about risking one’s life with each jump. It’s also about Fred’s fears of growing old, and of his own mortality. Copper’s response is significant. He asks Fred to stop griping, because he’s also scared, and could use some encouragement. And with that, Fred realizes that it’s not just about him. It’s about them. So he encourages Copper to the next leap, and that’s where it ends, mid-leap, not knowing if there’s something below for them to land on.

While Copper might lack the continuity of some of the strips I read, and an ongoing storyline to keep me interested, each short vignette does manage to hold my attention. Copper is a story of growing up, and of friendship. It’s exploring one’s world, whether it is disturbing or surreal. It holds considerable imagination and whimsy, and each story has many layers that can be revealed with each new glimpse.

Robert A. Howard

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