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A Small Press Theatre of the Absurd

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Small Pressganged is Broken Frontier’s weekly column designed to shine a spotlight on the often overlooked world of small press and self-published comics. Every seven days we provide a mix of review round-ups of the best of current small press comics and spot interviews with some of the movers and shakers of the scene.

This week we visit our very own online theatre of the absurd with a return engagement with Small Pressganged fave Lizz Lunney’s Depressed Cat, plus the distinctive photostrip/collage fusion that make up the adventures of Cardboard Colin in Philippa Rice’s My Cardboard Life.

My Cardboard Life

Philippa Rice (writer/artist)

Welcome to the webcomics world of Cardboard Colin and Paper Pauline! Colin is a slightly awkward chap composed, as one would expect from his aforementioned epithet, entirely from cardboard. A kind of recyclable Charlie Brown-character, Colin craves the respect and friendship of Paper Pauline (a paper doll, unsurprisingly) and most of his exploits revolve around gaining Pauline’s attention. She, however, is at best indifferent and, at worst, rather cruelly indisposed to his aspirations, preferring to focus on channelling her astute business acumen into her next great project. That said business sense exists only in her own head is largely irrelevant…

Joining our main two protagonists in this collage-strip world are a host of other memorable characters composed of everyday objects with their own unforgettable personality quirks. From the lovelorn Dr. Bandaid (a sticking plaster with, naturally enough, a medical background) to the destructive canvas Polar Bear, through to the mischievous, prank-playing  Spoon, to Colin’s dad the daunting Cardboard Carl (who wears a cobra for a tie and takes his coffee with fresh tiger’s milk…) the cast of My Cardboard Life soon become indelibly printed on your consciousness.

The very first My Cardboard Life (above) set the scene for the strip from the beginning

Philippa Rice’s unique strip has been running as a webcomic since 2008 and, after previously having a physical existence in a series of zine-style comics, was last year collected in a handsome softcover edition. Each strip is carefully cut out and assembled from every day household ephemera (paper, plastic cutlery, plasters, cotton buds, small change, elastic bands, tin foil, string, and so on) and scanned as “photo-strips". The My Cardboard Life site is updated with a new strip each day though, as those of you who have followed Small Pressganged since the very beginning know, I’m a gent who is proudly and loudly in touch with his inner sauropod, so my thoughts here are largely based on the print collection.

And what a wonderfully ingenious compilation it is; quite unlike anything else you’re likely to have in the comics section of your bookshelves. Many of the protagonists have their own signature running gags and, on that level, it works much like a fast-paced sketch show, with the requisite recurring cast of characters.

Colin is frequently at the wrong end of Pauline's acidic put-downs

But My Cardboard Life is also a comic with a remarkable resourcefulness beyond its main players. Behind the surreal humour, that oddball comedy company, and the mix of dexterous wordplay and terrible puns, Rice’s inventiveness with the physical materials that she uses to construct each strip is quite outstanding.  It’s the deceptive simplicity of My Cardboard Life’s premise that belies the clever composition of each carefully crafted entry. Endlessly playful, and never afraid to self-referentially laugh at its own conceits, this is a far more elaborately fashioned production than it appears on a first, superficial reading.

Rice's playful invention with My Cardboard Life's premise is always readily apparent

Bizarre as it seems, you soon find yourself becoming so engrossed in this strange patchwork universe that you begin to empathise with this odd little cardboard man and his doomed hankerings for his papery prima donna.  Philippa Rice’s unbridled imagination, and her expansive, jealousy-inducing wit, make My Cardboard Life an unmissable treat. Truly a comic strip with that all-important crossover appeal for both fans of the medium and non-comics readers alike. Utterly splendid.

You can check out the My Cardboard Life back catalogue on Philippa Rice’s website here. Print copies are available priced £10.00 plus postage here.

Depressed Cat: Nine Miserable Lives

Lizz Lunney (writer/artist)

In one of the earliest editions of this column I gave an enthusiastic thumbs up to Lizz Lunney’s mini-comics universe and its population of delightfully daft comedy characters like the terminally boring Dullbog the Bulldog, the cross-species cat-loving Romantic Bison, the Man with Tetris on his Chin, appalling employer Keith the Wizard and his put-upon Unicorns and many, many others…

Perhaps the most popular of that curious community of comical comrades, the ever miserable Depressed Cat (4,000-plus Twitter followers here and counting!), graduated to his very own book at the tail-end of last year collecting a number of strips from Lunney’s webcomic.  With a tagline like “I’m not living any of my nine lives to a fulfilling level” you get basically all the explanation of the character’s schtick that you need in one concise soundbite!

Much of the time in Depressed Cat’s world, life is something that happens around him, with the running gag of our hero expressing disdain for his tiresome existence with a well-placed trademark “sigh!” never wearing thin. Highlights this time round include a look at Depressed Cat’s childhood, a world tour, and an especially maudlin Christmas. But in between the constant sighing there are some longer tales, including a disastrous shopping trip and the “lemon parade” coming to town, that push the good-natured nonsense of Depressed Cat’s world in slightly different narrative directions.

 

I confess now that I must have graduated to the status of Lunney fanboy since last I reviewed her work because, for me, some of the greatest fun of Depressed Cat: Nine Miserable Lives was seeing DC (“close friends get to call him DC” perhaps?... there must be a reworked Top Cat theme tune in there somewhere) interacting with some of the creator’s other characters, like Dullbog the Bulldog and Keith the Wizard.

I also found the gallery of Depressed Cat guest sketches by the likes of John McCrea, Hunt Emerson and Madeleine Flores (plus a whole host of small press creators whose work I’ve covered here over the last couple of months) an added bonus, and indicative of the affection that exists for Lunney’s charmingly absurd creations.

Making an artform out of the ludicrous and the preposterous, Lizz Lunney continues to delight her readership with some of the most endearingly fun small press comics out there!

For more on Lizz Lunney’s comics work check out her website here. You can order Depressed Cat: Nine Miserable Lives here priced £6.99 plus postage. And for news on a set of greetings cards featuring Lizz’s characters, available in high street stores soon, check her blog here.

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Andy Oliver is Broken Frontier’s Managing Editor and a contributor to Paul Gravett’s 1001 Comics You Must Read Before You Die.

If you are a small press comics creator, or self-publisher, and would like your work to be reviewed in a future edition of Small Pressganged then e-mail Andy at andyoliver@brokenfrontier.com for further details. You can also follow Andy on Twitter here.

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