Great comics, much to my chagrin, seem to have been dominated by the secular. Whether it be artists, storytellers, or publishers. I have often felt that comics, much like any medium that is hip (like rock ‘n roll, filmmaking, etc..), has been left with the world leading the way, and Christian storytellers largely following along in their wake. However, if first impressions are anything to go on, Doug TenNapel is one Christian storyteller who may be changing that. I recently read one of his graphic novels (one of the many he’s written), and really enjoyed the story, artwork, and worldview of the comic.
To begin with, TenNapel weaves an interesting story. His books are predominately aimed at boys (4-9th grade), and offer adventure, humor, and heroism -all the things that I enjoyed when I was younger (and still enjoy, for that matter). The story follows a construction worker who has lost his job, and is struggling to make ends meet. On his son’s birthday, the only gift that he can afford is a giant cardboard box -which he knows is pretty lame. However, events turn interesting quickly when the cardboard man that the father and son make comes to life -and the story rockets on from there. The story shows the value of family and the destructive power unleashed when we let the past hang over us and dominate our future. However, one of my favorite themes deals with the destructive nature of sin. Throughout the story TenNapel shows how sin not only is self-destructive, but also hurts those around the sinner. Sin is like a nuclear bomb -fallout will always occur from the initial explosion.In summary, the story is largely geared at younger boys, and promotes the values of biblical families, loyalty, and forgiveness. However, although the primary audience is younger boys, I personally found it very entertaining even as a college student, and TenNapel includes some plot-lines and themes that offer depth that adults may appreciate.
As far as artwork goes, the book is very well done. TenNapel manages to create a cartoon-ey and highly exaggerated style that keeps violence from ever becoming too graphic, but the images are still very effective in communicating characters’ feelings and emotions. TenNapel does an excellent job in visually designing his villains to make them -one of whom has pinkeye -very grotesque (don’t forget the target audience is boys). The panels are well laid out, and the action and dialog read smoothly throughout the pages of the book -making the reading experience enjoyable and engrossing. The comic is very well executed from an artistic and technical standpoint, and I can only applaud TenNapel’s skills.
Finally, worldview. Doug TenNapel approaches his stories from a Christian perspective. However, this story had a noticeable lack of any overt religious references. That being said, far from being a negative, I think that this gives the graphic novel a wider potential audience, and the lack of overt religious overtones does not mean that Christian ideals and values are not being expressed. TenNapel has themes of forgiveness and turning away from evil throughout the story, both of which carry strong Christian ties. He also has a plot line dealing with the need to move on from past events and living out our purpose in the present.
Cardboard by Doug TenNapel offers a blend of humor, adventure, and Christian values that any boy (of whatever age) will enjoy. From the entertaining plot, to well-executed artwork, to themes of forgiveness and change, TenNapel weaves a very effective graphic novel. So, if you’ve been wanting some wholesome and entertaining reading, don’t hesitate to pick up a copy of TenNapel’s Cardboard.