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posted January 13, 2011


Creator: Pablo Holmberg
Publishing Information: Drawn And Quarterly, softcover, 120 pages, 2010, $16.95
Ordering Numbers: 9781770460089 (ISBN13)

imagePablo Holmberg's Eden provides testimony to the power of print collection. It forces reconsideration of work that when seen in drips and drabs on-line failed to make anywhere near a collective impression. Having this much of the material in front of you, in a format designed to entice you into reading it cover to cover, might intenerate the hardest heart. Holding Eden in one's lap, the reader may better pick up on Holmberg's idiosyncratic rhythms, cartoons that plunge ahead towards their mostly mournful conclusions. Holmberg's work takes great advantage of comics ability to shift scenes for meaning's sake, roaring 10,000 miles in physical space from first to last pictures or shifting gears from rapture to melancholy in two panels time with the apparent ease of someone pushing buttons at an Automat. It's a work that can both sneak up on you and roar past your head. The subject matter further flatters the book being carried around and mused over, taken far away from a computer screen and curled up with on a sofa or outside on the porch, even furtively sampled from while sitting in a too-warm car waiting for a train to arrive. I think I liked it fifteen percent more reading it again over the holidays than I did pushing through it at my desk on a Tuesday in October.

Eden may hit very hard with some readers. Holmberg serves up sentimentalism at its most forceful and context-challenging; that it also indulges in maudlin self-flattery may slip past unnoticed if it catches its target in the most receptive frame of mind. The cartoonist's fantasy characters (medieval humans, talking animals, forces of nature) are frequently separated from that which brings them the most joy: some are reunited, many are not, and a few are left to deal with that knowledge in a way that allows them to cope. There are a smattering of strips that play against the group's overwhelming twee qualities for humor's sake, but not a lot of them. Eden's attractively drawn, which helps: comics ability to host anything on the page with conviction and make it an effective carrier for just about any idea gets a fair workout here, as does the size of characters on the page and in the context of their surroundings as a way of conveying emotion. Now, obviously, one's appetite for romantic whimsy and expressions of cleverly-phrased, spiritual ardency may be severely tested. I have friends that would toss this book at the wall after about two minutes trying to choke down its pages, and maybe take a swing at me for handing it to them. It also definitely feels like a young person's strip: a bit scattered; confident that it's communicating something in a few cases when everyone but the author may be baffled; given to mopey, grand gestures that don't always feel earned. Eden reads like a precursor to more focused, sustained efforts -- in this exact format or something far removed. Still, I bet Eden takes a lot of people by surprise, at least those lucky enough to be able to give it the time it deserves, and I wouldn't be surprised to see it slip onto the bottom end of a lot of best-of-year lists. I'll consider it for mine.