Schulzian Mysticism: Eden

Posted by on January 10th, 2011 at 8:55 AM

Rob reviews the English debut of Argentinian cartoonist Pablo Holmberg, Eden (Drawn & Quarterly).

Pablo Holmberg, better known in Argentina under his pen name of Kioskerman, makes comics that elude easy description.  They’re about gaps, in-between places and events going on behind the scenes.  They are frequently funny and are structured like a classic gag comic in terms of its four-panel grid, but his strips rarely have punchlines per se.  The reader is immersed in a dreamy forest world without the benefit of an explanation or overarching narrative.  Instead, the familiarity of the cartooning style and storytelling structure (a sketchy, relaxed and iconic line) to the reader makes one feel as though one has read the material before.  There’s a little bit of Winsor McKay in Holmberg’s line, but there’s also the sadness and whimsy of Charles Schulz.  One almost feels as though the strips we read here are “backstage” scenes–things the characters do and say in their downtime when they’re not having adventures.  We witness them waiting, pining and simply hanging out with each other.  One can almost imagine action happening off-panel as the King character navigates his environment.

As a result, these quiet scenes have a lyrical quality to them.  Time is a crucial aspect of the storytelling here, where time is sometimes a cruel, almost tangible force that only foments longing.  In some strips, this longing is relayed in a straightforward, almost sentimental fashion.  In other strips, it’s far more oblique, bordering on comics-as-poetry in the way that Holmberg “rhymes” images and uses language in a less direct manner.  Holmberg’s musings on children are especially affecting as he mixes text and visuals to get at the mysteries of the feelings behind parenthood.  Eden in a sense is Holmberg’s attempt to get at the ineffable, to describe in a roundabout way what cannot be described.  Or rather, the emotions one feels as a parent, a child or a lover can be described, but the description is not the experience.  Eden succeeds because it manages to evoke the experience of the sublime in page after page.  That experience is not necessarily a happy one; indeed, pain is a constant touchstone in this book.  That’s both the pain we feel and the pain we try to avoid, as the strip about the wolf and the woman wanting to know why she criticizes those she loves indicates.


Eden is a deceptively simple book.  Its components are simple to the point of occasional cliche’, but Holmberg’s arrangements are what make each page sing.  It’s a book whose whole is greater than the sum of its parts.  If one strip seems overtly sentimental, the strip following it will have a more evasive or cynical bent.  The forest kingdom setting is crucial in knitting these various emotional through-lines together, as basic human emotions (like a son wanting to get to know his father) are placed in a fantastic context.  This is the respect in which it’s most like Peanuts, where frequently raw and painful emotions are filtered through a charming and comedic line.  At the same time, Holmberg is clearly concerned that his book should be beautiful like McKay’s, that it should give the reader something to look at.  Without the sumptuous backgrounds to juxtapose against the series of conflicting feelings in the book, the emotions presented would feel a little more base, a little more obvious.  By cloaking life’s unanswerable questions within the deep mysteries of a fantasy forest where the plants, the animals and even the stars are sentient, Holmberg has created a world where the language of poetry, the language of everyday speech and the visual language of his drawings are all the same thing.


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