Who would have guessed that cardboard and superheroes are two great things that go great together, much like peanut butter and chocolate? Well, turns out they do, as I discovered while cruising the Comic-Con@Home video panels, and came across something called “Cardboard Superheroes: Creating Cardboard Models of Your Favorite Superheroes.”
So, I clicked, and was pleased to discover that’s exactly what you get: some amazing life-size cardboard statues of some of our favorite superheroes (and more) –– Groot, Iron Man, even a life-sized Hulkbuster –– created by endearing SoCal brothers, 10th grader Connor and 8th grader Bauer Lee. You also get some handy how-tos for at home building, complete with templates the brothers created.
But while the Lee’s cardboard cosplay is certainly eye-catching, they’re origin story, as well as that of their non-profit’s, should be heroic to many a maker out there. So SYFY WIRE chatted with the dynamic duo to find out what it takes to create superheroes from cardboard, and how such creations are the perfect answer to quarantine boredom.
Obviously, the whole operation begins with cardboard, and in that regard, the Lee boys were seemingly destined for greatness. See, their grandfather owned a business that used a lot of boxes, like a warehouse full. When he sold the company, he left all those boxes to Connor, who used to like to build robots and droids out of them.
“When I was younger, my mom, she actually used to babysit me at my grandpa’s warehouse. His work had a huge warehouse that was full of cardboard boxes, and to pass the time I would build out of these boxes, like everyday I’d create my own imaginary worlds out of cardboard,” Connor tells SYFY WIRE. “When he retired, he actually gifted me all of his cardboard boxes, so that’s like my lifetime supply right now.”
Keep in mind, these young men hopefully have a lot of life left in them, so that’s a lot of cardboard. But they didn’t just grow up around a lot of boxes, they also grew up on Marvel and DC superhero movies.
“When we were younger we wanted to build what we saw in the movies, for example like Thor’s hammer or an Iron Man suit. So eventually we just kept building more and more models. And that was kind of like the start of Cardboard Superheroes,” Connor says.
“My brother and I, we’ve always loved to build, it’s just been a passion of ours ever since we were little,” Bauer adds.
If they just made marvelous, collectible-worthy statues, it would still be noteworthy, but like their heroes, Connor and Bauer were also concerned with the greater good.
“Eventually we discovered that we love to teach as well, because we taught people how to make their own Thor hammers. And just seeing their reaction and just seeing how much people enjoyed building, we just have a goal to share our love for superheroes and our love for cardboard building,” Connor says.
The non-profit aspect really started to take shape when the Lees held their first big workshop, teaching people how to build Thor hammers and Wonder Woman gear. And they have San Diego Comic-Con to thank for that, particularly the Comic-Con Museum, described on the SDCC website as “a participatory place” (eventually in a dedicated brick and mortar building), which seeks to “spread the magic” of the Con all year round with classes, activities, exhibitions, screenings, and such.
“My brother and I have always been huge fans of [SDCC], and when we went to Comic-Con, we heard they were launching their new Comic-Con Museum, and so we knew we had to be a part of it,” Bauer says. So they asked to do a workshop, and the museum agreed. “We actually had like over 600 people come and make their own Thor hammers and Wonder Woman gear, and it was just a really fun event.”
Being the Cardboard Superheroes they are, the brothers also supplied all the cardboard for the event, from their lifetime supply. But you don’t need a warehouse full of boxes to participate on your own, just a keen eye for recycling.
“What’s cool is that these boxes are like industrial, more high-quality boxes, so that’s what we like to use for our models,” Connor says. “But also we love to use Amazon boxes that we get, because those are perfect for the mini models and it’s also a great way to recycle as well.”
If you have some Amazon boxes lying around, the brothers can help you turn those into genre gold with their 10-week tutorial that they just wrapped up for the museum. With helpful instructional videos and free templates, would-be builders will learn how to make miniature, table-top size cardboard creations like a Thor Hammer, Wall-E, R2-D2, and even an AT-AT.
“[It’s a] fun quarantine project to work on,” Bauer says. “Also because of COVID, a lot of schools will be taking classes online, and so a lot of kids won’t be getting the full art experience. … And so my brother and I were talking about maybe taking the project that we’re doing with Comic-Con Museum and we can maybe somehow implement that into the school system and that way kids can still get the art experience.”
Which is an experience that both Connor and Bauer feel is vital.
“I think that it’s something outside of math and the sciences, it’s like creativity. You can take whatever you think, and it doesn’t have to be math, it doesn’t have to be this… but whatever you’re passionate about and really pursue that,” Connor says.
“Art is great because there’s no boundaries, you can do whatever you want in art, you just have to stretch your mind to do things that you could never think of before, and that’s just really important when going into the real world,” Bauer adds, showing a wisdom beyond his years.
As the brothers continue to build, the collection has really started to add up, currently filling up their old bedroom. So do they have plans to sell them eventually?
“No. I mean, these took so much time and effort, I don’t think we would be willing to sell these. We’re not for sure what we’re going to do with them when we get older,” Bauer says.
“They’re kind of like our little babies, I like to call them,” Connor adds. Though if we’re talking about life-sized Hulkbusters, they’re not all that little. “Yeah, our babies are grown up!”
Indeed, Hulkbuster is their biggest, most challenging project to date, which they’ve been working on for over a year now.
“For Hulkbuster, we used everything we’ve learned from each model and added it to him. All these cool designs, we added that, and all the special techniques that we’ve learned,” Connor says. “We’re self taught, but we’ve been building for like seven years now, so if you look at our first models, like R2-D2 it’s super simple, but as we’ve improved over the years learning from our mistakes, we’ve definitely improved a lot, and now we’re able to build something like Hulkbuster, which is really cool.”
If the Hulkbuster is the result of years of learning, and with the brothers showing no sign of slowing down, who knows what their building future holds.
“We’re thinking of creating our own superhero and building that superhero,” Bauer says.
With such ingenuity, creativity, and drive, I can see no reason why that wouldn’t be in the card(board)s!