Review: Copper by Kazu Kibuishi

In our middle school library, which is heavily frequented by boys, there are a few authors whose books never seem to touch the shelves before being checked out again. Chief among them are graphic novelists Jeff Smith (the Bone series), Doug TenNapel (Cardboard, Bad Island), and Kazu Kibuishi (the Amulet series).

I’m always hoping these guys will release another dang book — so when I realized that I’d somehow missed Kibuishi’s 2010 collection of his webcomic Copper, published by Scholastic, I ordered it right away.

I’m not sure what I was expecting from this slim volume with a cute boy and his neurotic-looking but equally cute dog on the cover. What I got was a fantastic collection of short stories and one-page vignettes that demanded more time to read than I’d planned.

Copper is a boy — or is he a man, rendered small to reflect his childlike spirit? — whose sole companion is his dog, Fred. Copper is brave in a a reckless sort of way, and he is also recklessly optimistic. He wants to believe that crazy things are possible. Fred is cautious, worried, and battling an existential crisis. Copper wants to go check things out, and Fred wants to wait and see. The bright-eyed boy tends to get his way, and the result is a quiltwork of adventure and misadventure, both real and imagined.

I tried to read it as a kid and found myself thinking about Calvin and Hobbes, especially in the scenes where Copper and Fred dream themselves into wild escapades. (They seem to have plenty of wild waking adventures as well, and I spent a good portion of this book wondering what was real and what was dream.) If I follow that line of thought, Copper is a grown-up Calvin who has absorbed the best of his tiger friend’s philosophical maturity… and Fred is Hobbes crossed with a healthy dose of Eeyore.

Reading it as an adult, I was drawn in by the surprising depth of emotion captured in the short pieces. Copper often seems chipper and carefree, but his dreams are haunted by a sad girl trapped in a bubble, and his nights and days are painted over a backdrop of loneliness and a yearning for something more. Fred, meanwhile, is wrestling with his sense of his own mortality and his fears that no one cares enough to even notice him. Is Copper’s audacity really a frantic attempt to get to an adult life he fears he’ll never have? Is Fred’s reticence really a half-conscious attempt to slow the march of time? A better mainstream cartoon for comparison might be Family Guy, with its moral underpinning in the forms of canine Brian Griffin.

What you’re wondering is, is this book right for middle school guys (or high school guys, or….)? I submit that the answer is yes. It isn’t necessarily written “for” my rampaging hoards of eleven-year-old boys, but they’ll pick it up and they’ll read it. They won’t understand all of it — they’ll possibly miss the deep stuff entirely as they rush to soak in the gorgeous imagery and daring exploits. But I think seeds will be planted, and if they return to Copper as an older teen, as a man, as fathers — why, I think they’ll find that it’s a pretty dang literary work of sequential art.

(Speaking of art: hands-on types will love Kibuishi’s “behind the scenes” section at the end of the book. It was accessible, entertaining, and illuminating — a great resource for the budding graphic artist.)

Review cross-posted at Guys Lit Wire.

Weekend Update

Workout Routine

Kermie has previously establishes himself as a martial artist with particular aptitude for fetal kung fu. Recently, perhaps due to diminished space, I’ve noticed that he has two distinct categories of movement. There is still the kickboxing, in which he whacks me in the stomach (or bladder, or cervix) from the inside out. But he is also doing yoga — slow, deliberate, stretchy/rolly type moves. He’s been doing quite a little bit more yoga than kickboxing the past two days; one might almost characterize him as being lazy.

I am supposing that all of this is normal, but I have officially entered the crazy stage of pregnancy where I’m immediately wigging out because his movement patterns have changed, so I’m paying a lot of attention to his acrobatics. I don’t like that he’s doing more yoga than kickboxing, y’know what I mean? Change is scary. So if you’re reading this and want to reassure me, that’d be cool. (Or, I suppose, if you want to tell me that I shouldn’t be reassured, that’d be… a good thing to know.)

Physical Symptoms

My weight gain seems to have tapered off a bit, which I was half-expecting based on family history. I’m a trifle concerned, though, that I’m not eating enough; I’m sure Kermie is getting well-fed, but I feel like my legs look skinnier than they did pre-pregnancy, which gives me pause. (Hey, maybe it’s just relative.) I have been having trouble with my appetite in the past couple of weeks; I’ll hit patches for several days where I don’t really feel hungry, nothing sounds good, and nothing TASTES good. Foods and drinks I usually love leave a bad taste in my mouth. And I know my stomach is getting squished up in there, so I can’t eat as much at a time — and the life of a teacher is not necessarily conducive to six meals a day, particularly when nothing, especially quick-eating staples like granola bars, tastes good.

Back is getting tired and sore, although I blame the majority of that on having to walk like a demented slow-motion penguin everywhere because the world is covered in a sheet of ice. The skin on my face is dry no matter how much water I drink or moisturizer I use… like, facial dandruff levels of dry. Lame sauce. My tailbone is often quite sore, which is also lame sauce.

Other than that, no new physical symptoms to report (well, perhaps, but we’ll get to that at the end). My belly is a bit bigger and the stretch marks are more impressive. My belly button is getting shallower; I confess that I’m dreading the belly button pop more than I ever dreaded stretch marks, weight gain, etc.. I just rather like my belly button the way it is (was). Oh well! All part of the bargain, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

Emotional Symptoms

Of late, I am painfully tired, and I am far more out of patience with my students than I think I’ve ever been before. To a certain extent, they deserve it… but I have a sneaking suspicion that I am getting fed up with them at a rate that is out of proportion with how awful they actually are. Perhaps this is where the myth of the cranky pregnant teacher comes from: the third trimester.

I did tell one of my classes that if they really wanted me to fulfill the cranky pregnant teacher stereotype, that I would be delighted to stop restraining myself and just let my hormones take over. Told them it would be quite relaxing and perhaps even a little bit fun just to yell at them and occasionally burst into tears because they were acting so awful. (It had the desired effect, in that they laughed and shaped up for, oh, seven minutes or so. That seems to be the extent of their ability to act like civilized human beings this week.)

My New Favorite Website

My new favorite website is PARENTING: Illustrated with Crappy Pictures. Instead of finishing the very good novel at my elbow, or writing blog entries, I am making my way through the Crappy Pictures archive and dying of laughter (and, at times, dreading toddlerhood). It’s hilarious and you should check it out if you are expecting or have ever had a toddler/small child — especially if they are/were little boys obsessed with bodily functions who do things like steal your high heels, think cats poop on “kitty glitter,” or yell “penis” at the pizza delivery guy.

I’m going to post a panel from Crappy Pictures for your viewing enjoyment. After the panel is the TMI section. It has to do with butts. Scroll at your own risk.

The TMI Section (Because Every Pregnancy Post Needs One)

One’s digestive tract is a frequent victim of the pregnancy process. Vacillations in nutrient absorption, hormone levels, and abdominal real estate lead to alternating bouts of hurried digestion (in which nutrients make too hasty an exit) and retarded digestion (which is a TOTALLY LEGITIMATE use of that word and means that things get, shall we say, backed up on the assembly line). These delays have been, in my case, a whole new category of unpleasant in the past six months.

The point of this is that recent developments in the gestation of Hurricane Baker have, yesterday, caused structural damage to this brick house’s back door. That sort of structural damage not only feels exceptionally unawesome but produces a fair amount of blood for a short period of time (say, a couple of hours). It is not serious, is very common during pregnancy, and will heal itself in a day or two.

The thing is, it is enormously traumatizing to experience bright red toilet paper when “pregnant after a loss” (the message boards’ terminology, not mine) even when you know perfectly well that the blood does not originate from babyland. So yeah, that’s fun. In a totally “I’m proud of myself for not hyperventilating and/or bawling like the hormonal mess I’m pretending not to be” sort of way.