Keith Silva: Know what’s cool? Monorails. Letterman jackets with leather sleeves. Places named Rambo City. And drinks with a cute girl who attends university. The Adventures of Leeroy and Popo slouches somewhere between an underdone Ghost World and Regular Show. To call what Leeroy Bearington (a bear) and Popo Dinosmith (a dinosaur) do ‘adventures’ paints with the broadest of brushes. Other than play video games, smoke spliffs and hang out — and these two are ace hanger-outers — Leeroy and Popo spend their time stuck between stations.
The abenteürlust in The Adventures of Leeroy and Popo comes from the imagination of Louis Roskosch. In Leeroy’s lethargy and Popo’s torpor, Roskosch creates a espirit de couch — these two are tight (but loose), their easiness is envious and anyone would be lucky to have a dinosaur or bear like this as a bud to whittle away an hour, a week, months or even years. Like his characters, Roskosch’s cartooning possesses a kind of easiness, his line has a laid-back affability that makes a reader feel welcome. His settings and characters look so natural, so genial because they’ve been so fussed over, worked and worked and worked, gone over and worked again. Charm like this requires effort and effortless charm even more so.
A word like ‘worldbuilding’ feels off in The Adventures of Leeroy and Popo and the phrase ‘character study ‘ too deep, so what to call what Roskosch creates out of coffee shops, dens and other interiors? Worldbuilding has scale, weight, it’s a description critics reserve for the god-like conjuring of universes and … well worlds (or, at least, it’s supposed to). ‘Character study ‘ has ‘ feels’ and speaks of quiet desperation or the determination of the underdog. The Adventures of Leeroy and Popo rests — like an arm propping up a head — on the subtlety of small actions and the loyalty and love of being with a trusted friend.
Leeroy gets the lion’s (or bear’s) share of the story probably because he and Popo spend so much time at Leeroy’s house (well, Leeroy’s mom’s house, natch). He has a twenty-something-slacker’s logic in which there are no truly bad video games (Superman 64) and gaming (especially if he stands) provides (or could provide) a good work out. He’s serious (sort of) about one thing: Cecilia, a barista at the Cool Beans Café because of course.
When Leeroy tries his efforts come off as sincere and yet ridiculously half-assed like when he tries to draw a picture for Cecilia. Leeroy’s drawing looks as earnest — and as a painfully pitiful — as a mixtape made for a first-time crush. Here, I speak from experience: why tell a girl how I felt about her during sophomore year when Led Zeppelin’s ‘Houses of the Holy’ can do it for me? Pathetic.
Lucky for lame ol’ Leeroy he has more than Memorex, he has Popo; after all, when someone (even though he’s baked) agrees to be ”the messenger of love” to broker a romance it’s because that’s what inept and inexperienced guys do for other guys or what dinosaurs do for clumsy bears. Popo is less a straight-man or a sidekick and more like a conduit, a go-between, a familiar. He is what he is, a friend. Popo speaks because Leeroy can’t.
It’s like the ‘Summer of George‘ episode from Seinfeld. The phrase ‘relationship intern’ pops out of George’s mouth and he says to Jerry, ”Maybe the two of us, working together, at full capacity, could do the job of one normal man.” Jerry agrees and says ”Then each of us would only have to be like a half-man. That sounds about right.” When all Leeroy can offer is ”…” Popo fills in the words: ”Have a Seat.” Half-dinosaur half-bear, all man.
Leeroy and Popo have adventures, sort of, I guess, whateves. Maybe a better way to describe this comic might be The Friendship of Leeroy and Popo. What Roskosch pulls off in this seemingly slight story is demonstrate how a friendship works or, at least, how this friendship works. The themes here are universal enough, basically we all need that ‘half-man’ (or dinosaur) to save us from ourselves.
A cafe, a living room and the front seats of a car that suspiciously looks like a DeLorean function as worldbuilding in The Adventures of Leeroy and Popo. All these elements are built on a study of friendship. Who wouldn’t want to loaf along with these escapists? The question is what are Leeroy and Popo escaping to?
Jason Sacks: I love it when a creator creates a complex fictional world that sucks you in to it, and Rambo City is a tantalizing place: part European (dig that tram outside the café), part Portland, part a place that lives inside of Louis Roskosch’s head. I wouldn’t have it any other way, with monorails and high-spired churches and a mountain tantalizing me in the distance. It looks like a wonderful city and I enjoyed visiting it very much.
I just wish I’d spent more time outside, exploring this world.
Keith, as I told you in chat, I had a strong dislike of the lead characters in this book. They’re lazy slackers, overgrown video game addicts who have no ability to talk to women and seemingly no ambition in life. Popo in particular is so weak and inept that I found it ridiculously easy to dislike him, to be driven crazy by the way that he seems to keep tripping over his own metaphorical feet. I fell into the trap of seeing Popo as an example of his generation, as part of that pernicious stereotype of pampered Millennial bores who have no idea how to make their way in society.
So that’s why I have to thank you for sharing your essay with me. Thank you for forcing me to see beyond my own biases an
d towards the work in front of me. As one friend frequently reminds me, “Review the work on the page, not the work that you want it to be.”
Those words of wisdom remind me that Leeroy, Popo and their pal Rick aren’t stereotypes or generational archetypes. A successful story makes these characters into real three-dimensional people who come alive on the page as individuals, not as some sort of Lord of the Flies influenced symbols of something both greater and lesser than themselves.
In that light, I was delighted at the way I was swept away in the lazy bromance of these characters, of the ease and happy calm friendship that these friends share. There’s a love between Leeroy and Popo, a brotherly bonhomie that is so sweet and kind and plain easy that I felt envious. Comics are often wish-generation factories; I found myself leaving this book with a wish that I’d thrown off my bourgeois dreams in my youthful years, and spent a little more time on the couch playing Nintendo 64.
One of the most tantalizing aspects of this book for me is the fact that our oh-so-pleasant protagonists are the only anthropomorphic creatures in a world filled with human beings. On the most literal level, Leeroy and Popo are outsiders. They’re different from everyone else. They stand out versus their peers though, intriguingly, nobody treats them as being different from anyone else.
That begs the obvious question: what does that mean? Why are these two guys different on the outside from everyone else? Two answers immediately jump to mind – well, three, but the third is a little bit of a cop-out.
First, maybe the characters appear different from everyone else because that’s how they see themselves. In the wonderful objective/subjective art-form of comics, smart creators can create characters who aren’t literally themselves but figuratively themselves, as metaphorical manifestations of their inner lives. Since this book is being told from Leeroy and Popo’s standpoint, do we see them as a bear and a dinosaur because that’s how they see themselves? That’s a reasonable theory, I guess, except that we see Leeroy’s brother, Tyrone, in early scenes.
Or is their portrayal perhaps symbolic of their being ethnic minorities making their way in a world in which they stand out by nature of their different looks? Do they stand out in a crowd, with Roskosch choosing to depict them as animals as a small statement that it doesn’t matter what type of minority they represent?
Of course, the third answer, the cop-out, is the best: it doesn’t really matter. These characters are interesting — maybe despite themselves, maybe because of themselves — and their unique appearance just makes them even more interesting.
Silva: I thought you said, Sacks, you abandoned your N64 idles for your ‘bourgeois dreams?’ I’ll give you a tip of the Stone-Cold-Steve-Austin-hat for your insight that Leeroy and Popo’s anthropomorphic status casts them as ‘outsiders,’ which is brilliant and also plays well as some serious stoner logic (dude?).
My initial reaction to this comic was to call it too twee for me and too twee for its own good. Seriously, something as treacly as a story about a lazy-ass dinosaur and his best-bud bear deserves to choke on its own preciousness especially when it ends with the two protagonists riding scooters — paging Wes Anderson — side-by-side with their (sort of) antagonist. Friends 4 EVA!
Leeroy is a bumbler and Popo is a loser (by whose standards?). Thanks to Roskosch, each is loveable and accurately ‘too cool for school.’ We envy them because their responsibility-free lifestyle is envious. If the toughest thing I had to manage was to pick up my repaired Gameboy, my life with be a stone groove too. Sometimes a comic or media doesn’t need to extoll the virtues of the world’s smartest detective or Asgardian God to be pure escapism.
Where the characters of Popo and Leeroy won me over was when they were ‘high’ up on the roof. Leeroy asks after Popo’s parents. Popo says, ”I’m getting a lot of hassle. They really want me to move out of Rambo City.” All Leeroy can muster, mid-toke, is a weak ‘shit.’ The next panel shows them looking in opposite directions, their dejection is palpable. Unlike the smoldering joint they share, portent hangs heavy in the air. Roskosch closes on a wide shot of the rooftop, the chairs are now empty. Leeroy and Popo have retired to warmer environs, away from the cold outside and away from the cold realities of life outside the hermetic world these two models of arrested development occupy.
Outside of comics i.e. life-wise, insular instances like this feel very important, in the moment; however, time is a great (and cruel) revelator. I’m nostalgic for the innocence this rooftop reverie recalls in my own life and my heart goes out to Leeroy and Popo, to their friendship, its fragility and because each is all the other one has in his life. Maybe Leeroy’s reaction isn’t weak, maybe it’s spot-on.
Loser-dom is all about context. So Roskosch introduces a real loser’s loser, Rick. His stink takes the eau du dud off Leeroy and Popo slicker than shit. Rick crashes Leeroy’s chance to chat up Cecilia. Rick tells her, point blank, she’s not his type, he prefers ”bigger boobs.” He calls Leeroy ”a ladies’ man” and next to a slob like Rick — who has a fondness for staring into the middle distance as he daydreams of porn — any animal, vegetable or mineral would be a suitable suitor. Rick is Leeroy sans Popo.
Roskosch inserts facsimile Facebook pages for Leeroy and Popo about halfway through the comic. It provides a detailed and handy cheat sheet for surnames and confirms the smallness of their circle of friends and their lives (as if the reader needs this reinforced). Oh, Sacks, what I wouldn’t do to learn the whereabouts of Popo’s hammer-and-sickle loving friend, the mysterious, Yuri!
Clever a detail as it is, it’s a cheat on Roskosch’s end as well. You point out the fabulous neither-here-nor-there quality of Rambo City and the themes of friendship, ennui and idleness are certainly universal. Technology is so ephemeral and it dates like the dickens. Knowing these two have at least a toe (nail?) in any kind of social media makes me wonder if they’re the kind of spongers who would bother to bother with social media, it’s not like they have a lot of friends to keep tabs on, save Yuri. Maybe they use Facebook ironically? ANYWAY I find this faux-Facebook a convenient distraction — wow, that’s some irony — and therefore redundant to the plot or the characters.
To quibble about a Facebook page (even a fake one) misses the mark. What The Adventures of Leeroy and Popo lacks in heft it makes up for in heart. Roskosch arrives as cartoonist to watch and better yet one to admire for making a square like me envious of a couple of losers like Leeroy and Popo.
Sacks: Yeah, Keith, we’ve done over 2000 words on this book, commenting all the while about how it feels very slight. That shows that despite the lightness of this book – or perhaps because of the lightness that it brings fpr us busy working parents with real social lives – this book has resonance. And there’s no greater compliment to the work that Louis Roskosch has brought to this quick read. The more time we spend thinking about this bear and his dinosaur friend, the more we come to appreciate them. As we contemplate their navels – in ways that our protagonists don’t do themselves – we start to see ourselves reflected back, our foibles and insecurities and “that could be me and thank god it isn’t me and wouldn’t it be kind of cool if it was me.”
I have way more than three Facebook friends and I have way more self-confidence and I have way less video game skill than these two leads. But a small part of me wants to slack like these two guys who are charming despite themselves.