Recently, I read the graphic novel Cardboard by Doug TenNapel. Most of you already know that I am predisposed to loving Doug’s work. He was a crucial part in shaping the fantastic aspects of my childhood. Regardless, I still have something more to say than a mere thumbs up to Cardboard.
First let me start by throwing something out there that I have started to notice with his work. Although he has presented family themes from the start, it has become ever more apparent that focusing on the family bond between two or more characters has become crucial. Many of his books play off this concept, Earthboy Jacobus, Flink, and Bad Island, to name a few. (If you haven’t started reading them, hurry and do so!)
In Cardboard, we meet a single father named Mike and his son Cam. These two clearly love each other, and the bond is evident throughout the story. Their only issues lie with themselves and eventually get addressed together. I don’t want to spoil it, but it is clear that we are learning more about Mike in this story, especially because he undergoes the greatest change.
More so, we visit another family. Marcus’ family. Marcus is a spoiled brat with a distorted view on his priorities. He is seen in a wealthy family that does not appear to have a sense of discipline or unity. Marcus also undergoes a few dramatic changes, but you’ll have to read it to see where everything winds up.
It was while reading Cardboard that I realized what one of the true constructive facets is that I adore about Mr. TenNapel and his work. He writes fables, or tales, but it’s more than that. He writes American Fables. Many authors and artists visit old stories to revitalize them, or manipulate them to revisit a moral. Doug finds a way to visit lessons and lovable scenarios while writing new mythology. What he brings to us are lessons from the perspective of the contemporary American family and uses new devices, even if they are derived or similar to older tales.
In Cardboard one of the key features is a magic cardboard box. Stories from centuries ago would have never visited this child-like wonder. It is even addressed that the box is the best thing possible. It can be anything and promotes a healthy imagination. It can only become more powerful when the fruitful imagination of a child is brought to fruition by the strong decisive hands of his father. We even learn that only the best of children can find such wonder in a piece of brown pulp.
Now one thing that seems to be a throwback to older tales is Mr. Gideon, who sells the box to Mike. His is the wise old man, in the light of a possible madman. Mr. Gideon can almost be interpreted as characters like the Merchant from Aladdin, or even the old Chinese man from Gremlins. He introduces the rules of the cardboard and exposes a riddle of science, magic, and aliens. Mr. Gideon, however, does not seem so old as a device to detract from the contemporary story that makes a connection between two families, a man and a woman, and -most importantly – a man and his son.
Stories like what we read from Doug will become the fairy tales we tell our generation of children every night when fascinating them with magic and how to exist in the world we live in. Pick it up, it’s a great ride.