Cardboard (Scholastic/Graphix)

Despite numerous similarities to a certain classic ’80s hybrid horror/holiday movie, this latest OGN from Earthworm Jim creator Doug TenNapel has enough depth to impress.

283 pgs. full color; $12.99
(W / A: Doug TenNapel)
 
Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: one day a financially struggling father is out searching for the perfect gift for his son. The search leads him to a small, out-of-the-way shop run by an eccentric shopkeeper. The father then discovers an amazing gift, something truly one of a kind. The shopkeeper warns him that the gift is a great responsibility, and that there are certain rules he must abide while caring for it, and to ignore these simple rules is to invite disaster up him and the people close to him.
 
If you’re thinking of the story Gremlins, that makes two of us, but this review isn’t about that particular terrifying Christmas movie. This is a review of the great new graphic novel Cardboard by Doug TenNapel, the same man responsible for such awesome creations as Earthworm Jim and Ghostopolis.
 
While glaring similarities to Gremlins cannot be ignored, after reading this work it’s easy to see that while the basic plot is similar, TenNapel’s story is very different in scope. Despite all outward appearances of being a children’s adventure where the adult figures are either conspicuously absent or buffoons, TenNapel manages to tell a story that goes beyond that. It achieves a nice balance between the father’s unconscious search for balance in the wake of his wife’s departure from his life and his son’s quest for discovery and adventure. Even the basic premise of the story, that of cardboard creations coming to life after being modeled by human hands, is something that speaks to an experience shared by every wide-eyed child at some point in their imaginary development.
 
The book’s art style also does a wonderful job of complementing the tone of the story. It’s cartoony enough that it lends a certain bizarre life to the cardboard creatures that wander throughout the book’s panels, yet the human characters have just enough realistic qualities that the drama in the story still strikes home. What was even more impressive was some of the deeper philosophical questions the book raised about what it meant to be alive, including quality of life verses the simple attributes that define it.
 
Yet for all of its philosophical complexity, Cardboard is a fun, engaging adventure that can be appreciated at any age level. Despite its nostalgically familiar premise to a certain hybrid Christmas/monster movie, this story digs deeper, providing the reader with a drama that goes beyond a child’s adventure into the strange and unknown. | Brent Mueller

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