Most comics are drawn, be it with pencil, pen, tablet, or whatever tool’s to hand, but My Cardboard Life is different. Its main characters are the cardboard Colin and the paper Pauline, recreated hundreds of times in distinct collage panels, never reused. In the words of the author, Philippa Rice, in her FAQ:
No, each panel uses new pieces of cardboard and paper etc. The strip you see on the screen is just the same as the original collage strip that I have in a ring-binder on my shelf. The only editing I might do digitally is if the scan came out a bit dark and I’ve lightened it, or if I’ve had to join two pages together.
This approach to comic construction has limitations and opportunities for experimentation with form. I’d like to show a few examples of how Rice plays with her medium and what it adds to the comic.
In the first ever My Cardboard Life, posted about five years ago, “Paper Scissors“, Rice calls attention to Pauline’s physical reality as a character made out of paper.
At the end of a round of Rock, Paper Scissors, Pauline suffers the consequence of picking paper in a show of solidarity: she rips in half. The split is clear while not disrupting her image– her smile is almost intact. Pauline’s calm response to the fracture indicates her immortality– this bifurcation is an inconvenience and not a death sentence. The temporary quality of this damage is also supported by her saying, “Every time”. What this creates is a more self-aware character who understands her limitations, but also knows that she will be reincarnated again and again with just a few scissor snips. The humor of this panel comes from the sudden shift from person to paper and the foolishness of the repeated action.
In a similar moment, the strip “Rain” reveals another drawback of living the cardboard life:
This comic pairs the realistic reaction of paper to water with the paradox of the actual rain being dry ink on paper. Consequently, the damage happens externally to the page despite the implications of the intensifying rain. Yet again, the characters display a semi-self-awareness that comprehends the paper-rain relationship, the futility of the paper umbrella, but cannot know that the rain isn’t real. This situation can alter how one thinks about other comics. In this era where we are very aware of the meta, the book as book even within the book, moments where a narrative intentionally confines itself to the diegetic can still be considered from an external perspective. Like the Lichtenstein print and the original comic it draws its inspiration from, mentioned in this blog post, a [picture of] woman is drowning in a picture of water. Thinking in this direction challenges a reader to always remember that it’s not a pipe, it’s a representation of a pipe (for example, since Magritte is such an inescapable artist when talking about imagetext and metapictures) and then throw all of their assumptions.
Also, My Cardboard Life is a wonderful comic, frequently coming up with new ways to use its medium and fun jokes. Check out if you have some free time (or you don’t but also don’t want to do any work).
Rice, Philippa. My Cardboard Life. 2008-2013.
Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Online display of their collection: Amhanson Building.