Updated: Sep 5, 2021
This week, HoneyDripper brings you a review of the fantastical graphic novel, “Cardboard” by Doug TenNapel, which follows a down-on-his-luck dad, Mike, who gives his son, Cam, a cardboard box for his birthday after realizing he only has a dollar to his name for a gift. Although initially a disappointing gift, Mike and Cam build the box into a boxer friend who quickly comes to life.
Realizing the potential of his new gift, Cam quickly uses it to get back at his neighborhood bully, Marcus. Unfortunately, this leads to a plethora of chaos being distributed all across town, which eventually reaches its peak as the town itself becomes overrun with sentient cardboard. “Cardboard” is an interesting book to pick up; the art has an engaging style that can add drama to scenes without looking too unnerving for the genre. The characters also have a heartwarming resolution as both Mike and Cam come to terms with the absence of
Cam’s mother. Overall, this comic's content has a good deal going for it.
However, while I find the comic nostalgic as it was one of the first graphic novels I had ever picked up, reading it years later I find it losing a bit of its spark. This is a great comic to pick up if you’ve never read one before, but as a comic artist and reviewer it’s a bit lacking. The novel spends a good deal of energy on the divide between Cam and Marcus, but all the while we have little reason to truly hate Marcus. He’s a childhood bully with reasons that obviously come from some poor parenting and self esteem issues, but unfortunately his character design seems based in stereotypes: especially when his scenes are so focused on his uneven teeth and long, greasy hair. He is eventually redeemed near the end of the story, which is a sweet solution to Cam being lost in his fantasy to avoid the loss of his mother. Except, when the comic ends, Cam’s magical cardboard boxer is brought in as a human man, inexplicably. This seems to undermine the purpose of the story’s climax by adding to Cam’s fantasy instead of fully focusing on him gaining a real friend in Marcus.
In addition to the problems with the plot resolution, the story's dialogue also contains a couple of jokes that just don't land; with some that don't even belong in the book. One of the more uncomfortable jokes is one about Marcus' mental health, where the character says that he was diagnosed with Bipolar disorder so he isn't responsible for his actions. The character already has a history of lying to get what he wants, and there is no real discussion in the story on if this is a legitimate facet of the character. Regardless of whether it is a trait the character has, this joke is inappropriate and demeaning to people who live with mental illnesses and disorders. It contributes little to the story, including humor, and reflects poorly on the author.
Overall, this is a successful comic. Its art style is engaging and fits the genre, while still having visual interest, and the story is heartwarming even if it does fall on some unsatisfactory tropes. If you’re looking for something with a little more depth this comic has some emotional complexities, but multiple aspects of the writing makes storylines and characters fall a bit flat.