Philippa Rice’s My Cardboard Life is a comic with an extra dimension. This crafty webcomic follows the adventures of Cardboard Colin and his abrasive best friend, Paper Pauline. But Rice doesn’t just make her characters out wood pulp; she treats them as actual beings who happen to be made out of origami paper, cardboard, coins, adhesive bandages, cookies – whatever substances appear on the page. That makes for some clever sight gags and plenty of papery puns. And even when My Cardboard Life isn’t playing on its characters’ unusual make-ups, it’s still a delight to watch Rice experiment with their contrasting personalities, from the lovesick Doctor Bandaid to sweet, vulnerable Colin to the often-violent Polar Bear.
We chatted with Philippa Rice over email about the special challenges and delights of a crafted comic, her approach to writing paper characters, and why polar bears are so angry.
What was the inspiration behind My Cardboard Life?
It was partly inspired by having a lot of cardboard boxes around from moving house. I think I was trying to write something with a bit of a recycling theme in it but that’s not really part of it any more.
Why did you decide to craft your comic instead of drawing it?
Once I had the final idea down there wasn’t really a question of doing it any other way. It really wouldn’t work if it was drawn or painted or something.
Have you ever drawn a comic?
Yeah! Here’s an example. It’s the first page of a four-page comic I did for Paper Science. I drew that first and then colored it with collage. I’d like to do more drawn comics.
One of the great things about My Cardboard Life is that you don’t just treat cardboard and paper as your media. You treat your characters as actual people made out of paper and cardboard. How do you approach writing for literal paper people?
I write the characters as if they were normal people, but sometimes jokes come out of what they’re made of. One of the jokes is that Colin is technically made of a stronger material than Pauline, but she’s the one with the stronger, more aggressive personality.
You’ve introduced a variety of characters to the comic – coins, Q-tips, buttons, Band-Aids. Do you find yourself looking at ordinary household objects and wondering how you can work them into the comic?
Yes, all the time. I browse stationary shops and supermarkets looking for ideas. If I can think of an idea that requires me to buy some sweets or cookies then that’s the best! But that’s only happened a couple of times.
Do you ever decide on a certain story arc because you want to work with a certain material, such as fabric or a certain kind of paper?
Usually if I do a story arc that covers more than one or two comics, the focus is character-driven. The material gags usually last one strip and that’s it.
Some of my favorite comics involve Sebastian, Colin’s puppy, who does typically dog-like things, but then imagines himself as a very temperamental, fashion-forward teenager. What inspired you to portray Sebastian’s self-image in such an unexpected way?
Well really it’s Colin who’s imagining Sebastian like that. I guess he’s pretty pessimistic about how his puppy’s going to turn out!
Why is the canvas Polar Bear always so grumpy?
Well, he is a polar bear. Those guys are having a tough time. Also he’s a wild animal being kept as a sort of pet. That would annoy anyone I think.
What is the most challenging aspect of making a crafted comic?
At the moment I’d say the hardest thing is trying to source certain materials. Colin’s mum and sister are both made of a certain type of pink dishcloth, and for some reason it doesn’t exist anymore, not in any of the supermarkets! I think I’m going to have to go eBay or something to find it now. Also Colin’s nephew, the green one with pink and yellow flowers, is made of an origami paper, which I’m always running out of and having to track down. I could just scan it and print it out on normal paper, but no! That wouldn’t be the same!
Are there any materials you’d like to work with that you haven’t been able to work into the comic yet?
I’d like to introduce a character made of denim, but I suppose I should wait ‘til my jeans break or don’t fit me anymore.