I never got to play it, but back in the mid 90s there was a game that didn’t necessarily break new ground with playability but it still caused a stir. Earthworm Jim created by Doug TenNepal was a side scrolling platformer that first appeared on the Sega system back in 1994. And the only reason I bring this up is because of this awesome commercial that was removed because of its graphic nature.
Wait, no… Let’s back up a little. Actually, the reason I bring this up is because of the graphic novel Cardboard (2012 graphix) by Doug TenNapel. Yeah, that’s it. He was the guy who created Earthworm Jim. And I still haven’t ever played the game. He also gave us the graphic novels Ghostopolis and Bad Island. But I digress…
Now here’s the thing, for graphic novels at the library you end up having to search through the young adult and children’s sections most of the time. And the crazy thing is, even with more mature subject matter, they is still where the books are shelved. Essentially they suffer the pains of bias. If it is a cartoon or a comic it must not be serious literature so it is a child’s domain.
In our quest for story, we can’t let such bias stop us from discovering a vast wealth. Such is the case with some of Mr. TenNapel’s earlier works like Ghostopolis (it’s won a bunch of young adult literary awards and is soon to be released as a movie). The thing of it all is, some of the best stories have something for everyone.
Which is what we find with Cardboard. The gist of the story is about a man who is down on his luck, searching for work to support himself and his son. He lost his wife at some point prior to the story and his world is crashing around him. If the story focused solely on that it would hit at a level for adult literary committees and such. And it would probably be boring as hell.
Instead we have several different plotlines running concurrently. We have the stories of the man and his son and then a third surprise plotline (the evil neighbor kid). In each one the characters all have something to gain and everything to lose. We are given the standard afterschool special stuff of kids growing up and learning important life lessons and what not while at the same time we spend time in a defeated father’s shoes as he tries to win back his dignity and respect of his kid.
Notice I hadn’t even mentioned the thing that the ties everything together here, the cardboard. In most storylines there tends to be something that acts as the catalyst for change. Sometimes it is subtle and we don’t notice it till sometime after the fact. And in other cases we know exactly what it is, it does its job and that’s the end of it. In this story the catalyst plays an active role. This active role is what steers this story into the speculative realm and keeps us reading to see how wild the world can become.
Through the book, the plotline runs much like you would expect it to. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but more like a stab at optimism. Really, it is a matter of hoping that the way it all ends is the way you hope it is leading you to (that is, if you can understand my meaning… you hope it ends the way you expect cause otherwise it takes away the good feels). Anyway…
The main feeling and thoughts I drew from all three plot lines are the walls we build around ourselves. We pen ourselves into small boxes to define who we are and how we see the world. More often than not our view is so very different from the world around us. In each storyline we were given a character living in a different box based on how they perceived the world around them. It can be difficult to break free of the box we have trapped ourselves in, even though the walls are little more than cardboard.
In the end, I enjoyed the story. It is a quick read, with the art carrying much of the work. The visual expression of the story does a great job of showing the difference in the worlds (the beginning and then the way it changes due to the catalyst). In the end, it is well told and worth some time to explore. Of course as a quick read you it won’t eat too much of your time anyway.
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