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Copper Talk with Kazu Kibuishi

Kazu Kibuishi discusses his new collection, Copper, what inspired him and the freedom working on a webcomics series affords him.

In your introduction to Copper, you describe how the strip began as a somewhat dark piece of work but then evolved into something much lighter. How did that change come about for you?
Before I started drawing Copper, I had just come out of a terrible period in my life. I had so much pressure on my shoulders—especially having to financially support my parents— I could no longer handle all of it and I pretty much fell apart. In retrospect, this was a major turning point in my life. It’s when I started to take my work and career more seriously. It’s when I began to respect the cartoons I drew and treated them like they were beautiful things, rather than the silly nonsense that I once felt other people thought them to be. In order to climb higher, I realize sometimes you have to find yourself in a hole, and I think Copper reflects the mentality of looking ahead and climbing out of any hole you might find yourself in. Copper helped me through lots of situations, and I hope it does the same for people who read it.
Copper consists of a collection of one-page stories, and the series was originally created as a webcomic. What’s the appeal of working in that format? Does it give you freedoms or new opportunities?
One of the major appealing factors of the webcomics format is the ability to publish material quickly and get feedback just as fast. Another factor is that a lot of material will be heralded by readers that many publishers would have passed on, so the process of web publishing is a lot more democratic than publishing in print. On the technical side, I find that I actually enjoy looking at my comics on a monitor more than in print. Since much of my coloring has to do with lighting, I think it’s nice to read the material as light actually being emitted from a monitor rather than reflected on a page. In a few years, we will likely be reading everything, including comics, off of a digital device. So working in webcomics is probably the best precursor to that new platform. As far as how much freedom webcomics afford me, I would say the format allows me to do a lot, but I don’t see myself drawing anything on the web that I couldn’t do in print.
This book includes a very interesting Behind the Scenes section about the creation of Copper, and in it you mention, “I believe that limitations can be very effective in fostering creativity, and these simpler methods force me to do more with less.” Do you have a preference for either longer or shorter stories, and which do you think challenge your talents more?
Longer stories are definitely more challenging, but it isn’t the talent that’s challenged so much as my self-discipline and the ability to stay organized and motivated. The challenge of working within limitations is actually a relief. Knowing my boundaries allows me to know how to project outside of them. It’s that gap between the known limits of the medium and the promise of the idea expressed that triggers an emotion in the reader. Without limitations, an artist’s message is not heard, as if in a vacuum.

Do the stories in Copper draw on some of your own personal experiences as a child?
The only connection I can make between Copper and my childhood is in remembering the days my brother and I would play with our dolls and pretend we were going on adventures with them. Fred is kind of like an advanced version of those dolls, and he does look quite a bit like my favorite doll from my early childhood.
How does how you viewed the world as a child—and how you view it today as an adult—impact the stories you tell in Copper?
Honestly, the stories in Copper are far more reflective of my adult life than my childhood. While Copper has a lot of the romantic ideals I had as a child, I do sense that he has an understanding of how the world works. In fact, I feel his optimism is actually a very practical way to help him get through situations. If anything, I was more like Fred as a kid, but instead of being worried about everything, I just decided that the larger problems of the world were beyond my ability to comprehend. In hindsight, I realize this is not true. Kids have a profound impact on the direction of our world.
The Behind the Scenes section is really helpful to aspiring artists. Have you ever thought about teaching a class?
Actually, I’ve taught a few classes at various places like Gallery Nucleus, 826LA, and the Gnomon School of Visual Effects. I also lecture at schools and conventions across the US. Hopefully, I can find the time to go back and teach in the near future.
Water is a major theme running throughout Copper: tidal waves, diving, etc.--the book even ends with a trek to a waterfall. What does the use of water symbolize here for you and how does it relate to the series as a whole?
I just love rendering water.

Who inspired you to be an artist and a writer?
My inspirations consist of a long list of artists and writers, but the first one that comes to mind is Hayao Miyazaki. His graphic novel Nausicaa of the Valley of The Wind inspired me to want to draw a graphic novel series. Jeff Smith was the other inspiration to draw graphic novels when I saw that he was drawing an epic fantasy series in comics form with Bone. The other big inspirations would include my favorite writer/directors, including Quentin Tarantino, James Cameron, the Coen Brothers, and the Wachowski Brothers.
Will the adventures of Copper continue?
Of course.

-- John Hogan