By Doug TenNapel
Available now from Scholastic Graphix
You might be familiar with Doug TenNapel through his creation Earthworm Jim or one of his other graphic novels, including GHOSTOPOLIS. I haven't encountered any of TenNapel's work before and thought CARDBOARD was an interesting introduction. The art reminded me a little of both Jhonen Vasquez and John Kricfalusi. It's very stylish and dynamic with some character designs that make me cringe. (Marcus, the bully, has these dead fish lips.)
CARDBOARD can be enjoyed many ways, from creepy adventure to morality play. Although aimed at children, there's plenty for adults to enjoy. Cam's father may have the most on-panel time of any of the characters. Mike is an out-of-work carpenter recovering from his wife's death and doing his best to provide for his son. But on Cam's birthday, he can give him nothing more than a cardboard box he bought from a strange vendor. Together, Mike and Cam make a boxer from the present. And that boxer comes to life.
But the cardboard came with two rules and Mike decides to break them. Soon Marcus is making his own cardboard creations - ones that are far less benign than Billy the Boxer. It's a journey to the center of the id to stop the cardboard run amok. (How does the cardboard come to life, you may ask? A religious alien wizard did it.)
I thought CARDBOARD was a creative book with high visual interest. It has cross-generational appeal and tackles tough topics in a funny way. I only had strong issues with one line. While giving good, sensible advice to Mike a character tells him, "Cam needs a father and a mother (249, ARC)." It's not said in a way that indicates the reader should be credulous of the advice. Mike does have a prospective romance with a neighbor that he keeps sabotaging, but the counseling should've focused on moving on. Single parents should not feel pressured to find a spouse for their children. Nor should a father and a mother be the only acceptable arrangement.
CARDBOARD probably won't turn people who aren't fans onto the way of the graphic novel. But for those who do enjoy the form, it's an entertaining magical realism adventure.