My Cardboard Life: A look at a different kind of comic

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. 2008-10-08-paper-scissors

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.

  3 comments for “My Cardboard Life: A look at a different kind of comic

  1. teh_manis
    April 12, 2013 at 12:06 am

    I looked through some comic strips in the link you have provided; this comic is quite cute and fun to read. The fact that each panel has different piece of paper and piece makes this comic unique and enjoyable. As an art history major, I very much enjoy the collage art works by Picasso and other artists, but this comic continues with other panels that creates a story. South Park the show also comes to mind because it is an animated collage. The PlayStation 3 game ‘Little Big Planet’ has some similarities such as the light-heart genre, and a cardboard world. The character’s self-awareness of its environment in ‘Rain’ is quite clever; it’s almost breaking the 4th wall without ruining the viewer’s experience. This comic is pleasant and delightful for some light-heart humor. Thank you for sharing this.

  2. kkutnak
    April 12, 2013 at 12:58 am

    I want to thank you for introducing this comic. I check out a few of the comics and I find them very enjoyable. Every comic is a new surprise and I want to see what materials were used. It reminds me of the kids show Charlie and Lola and the children’s book The Hunger Caterpillar. It uses similar techniques such as collage and the use of similar images with paper.

  3. May 1, 2013 at 5:15 pm

    Thanks for introducing me to this comic and for your clever analysis! Also, “The Paper-Rain Relationship and the Futility of the Paper Umbrella” would make great emo band names.

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