Newsarama reviews the “pure comics” of EDEN

Review: Eden

Newsarama    |    J. Caleb Mozzocco    |    December 2, 2010

Eden is, in its Middle Eastern origins and the Western tradition that sprang from them, a literal paradise, a sort of heaven on earth, a place of absolute perfection, the way things could have been—should have been—if mistakes weren’t made.

I’m as sure as I can possibly be without actually asking artist Pablo Holmberg that he didn’t choose Eden as the name of his comic strips in order to comment on their quality. The most likely origin is Bob Dylan’s “Gates of Eden”, as one of Holmberg’s pieces quotes the lyric “There are no kings inside the gates of Eden,” which is written on a sign hanging from a gate and confronting one of the recurring characters, who wears a crown and a coat with ermine trim. (“Don’t let it intimidate you,” says another recurring character, from the other side of the gate.)

It’s an exceptionally fitting title though, and the metaphor works. The comics collected in Eden are perfect and, even more uniquely, pure comics—they are comics that can only be comics, they do things that can only be done in comics and as comics. Each individual, page-long piece makes a statement, asks a question or evokes a mood or feeling through a combination of words, pictures and the manipulation of time that is only possible through sequential images.

The majority of Holmberg’s strips are four-panels. In their original, online iteration those four panels ran horizontally, but in Drawn and Quarterly’s collection, a perfect little six-inch-by-six-inch square, 120-page paperback, they are reorganized to run in two-by-two square-shaped grids. A handful of one-panel, single-image cartoons make for rule-proving exceptions.

The cast and setting emerge slowly, more slowly than the tone and style.

There’s the aforementioned king character, referred to in one strip as Forest King, a bipedal creature of uncertain species, but perhaps of the same genus as Dave Sim’s Cerebus (like comics’ most famous aardvark, Holberg’s King evolves quickly; the king loses his prominent nostrils and forehead, his ears lengthen and he becomes quite simplified over the course of a few appearances). There’ s a yellow, bird-like anthropomorphical female character, with a cockatoo-like crest. There are an awful lot of humans, who generally only appear once. And there are angels, devils, bugs, birds, spirits, giants, monsters, stars and skeletons. There are talking trees and flowers, many animals from our world and a few that seem familiar but alien. There’s a long, prehensile-tailed cat and at least one mermaid.

The setting is time-less, but not too modern; pastoral, even Arcadian, but with more than enough civilization to provide material for gags and observations that are applicable to modern readers. The fact that the artist is from Argentina tempts me to refer to his work as magical realism, but in fact the world-view is less magically-realistic and more medieval and mythological.

Obviously then, the content varies rather widely. There are some very silly strips, some darkly funny ones, some that simply explore fantastic images and characters, some that draw parallels between different scenes or characters to tell a short story, some that are greeting card cute and some that are romantic. “Romantic” in the sense of dealing with romance, anyway; all of Holmberg’s strips are romantic in the literary sense of idealism, imagination and intense emotion.

Each strip is its own little story, with beginnings middles and ends, although the stories tend to be something closer to poems—poems of words and pictures and time, or sometimes just pictures and time, or perhaps pictures and ideas and time. That is, they are comics. Pure comics.

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