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Cardboard back

Doug TenNapel


Page 45 Review by Jonathan

"I have the best, most amazing, and utterly stupendous gift in the history of the universe... but I'm saving it for a really good kid."
"My son is a pretty good person, Mr. Gideon. He takes after his mother."
"Then you must give him what every son wants from his dad..."
"Gideon, this is an empty box."
"Empty? It's full! Full of ideas... projects... adventure!"
"He does like to make things."
"Now you're getting it! Make a submarine, a monster, a train! It sure beats the heck out of some dumb ol' hundred-dollar, remote-controlled car! To the naked eye, it appears to be just a plain old cardboard vessel! But this is actually a father-and-son project in disguise! Slay the giant! Kill the Nazis! Hunt for buried treasure! It's up to you! No, this is not just a box! It's everything mankind ever needed to accomplish pressed into a cube of corrugated pulp!"
"Okay, okay! How much?"
"The price is right there on the lid."
"Seventy-eight cents! That's the exact amount of change I happened to pull out of the pocket!"
"Huh. What a coincidence."
"Wait! There are rules!"

Cam's dad, Mike, recently unemployed and still grieving the loss of his wife, can't afford to get Cam a decent birthday present. Well, any sort of present, actually. When he stops at a roadside stall he finds himself being talked into buying a cardboard box as a gift by the manic Mr. Gideon. He'd make a good comics retailer I suspect, Mr. Gideon! But Mike is going to wish he'd paid more attention to the rules, though, oh yes. Even though there are only two rules... One, he has to return every scrap he doesn't use. Two, he can't ask Mr. Gideon for more cardboard.

Cam really is a lovely kid, and totally appreciates his dad just hasn't got any money to buy him a present. Marcus, the neighbourhood jerk, however, whose parents just spoil him completely, spotting Mike bringing home the box and putting two and two together, thinks it's absolutely hilarious.

But Cam and Mike, determined to make the best of it, spend the night having great fun constructing and painting a cardboard boxer, with only a few scraps left over afterwards. They're more than a little surprised though, when they wake up in the morning to find the cardboard man has come alive! So is Marcus and, suddenly more than a little jealous of Cam's gift, he gleefully soaks the paper pugilist with water causing him to start to disintegrate. Told you he was a jerk!

What follow are some frantic attempts to patch the boxer up with the insufficient leftovers, plus a frantic but futile plea to Mr. Gideon who reminds Mike of the rules. Yes, those pesky rules. But suddenly Mike has a brainwave! What if they built a magic cardboard-making machine with the few remaining scraps?!! It's crazy, sure, but any more crazy than a cardboard man coming alive in the first place?! Cue one prize-fighter beating the count, back on his feet, and Marcus is more consumed with envy than ever! After Marcus then manages to steal the magic cardboard-making machine and lock himself away in his bedroom to begin the process of industrialising cardboard, and therefore magic cardboard monster production before anyone can stop him, well, you know it's all going to get very seriously out of hand...

Ha, ha, I loved this work from Doug TOMMYSAURUS REX TenNapel. It's a great take on the hypothetical nightmare apocalyptic 'grey goo' scenario which more than a few scientists are seriously worried about should we ever build self-replicating robots. It has that necessary heart and charm though, that the most preposterous of stories require to carry them right through to the end as the bonkers level escalates! For whilst you start off thinking this is Cam's story, he really is just the straight man which everything bounces off.

In fact it turns out to be his dad's and also nemesis Marcus' stories that will tug on your heartstrings. Can Mike finally move on from mourning his wife and find happiness in the arms of the beautiful next door neighbour who is absolutely crazy about him, and just as frustrated with him? And can confused and lonely Marcus finally stop being such a jerk and find redemption, forgiveness and perhaps even friendship? Assuming the world isn't completely consumed by a near-infinite rampaging horde of cardboard monsters that is... But then there's a certain boxer who just doesn't know when he's beaten who might have something to say about that!
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