A sweet, smart graphic adventure
By Ruel S. De Vera
By Arnold Arre
(Adarna House, QC, 2002, 254 pp)
AFTER WINNING awards and rave reviews for his groundbreaking comic book series "The Mythology Class" and the futuristic one-shot "Trip to Tagaytay," Arnold Arre takes readers in an entirely new direction with his newest graphic novel, the 254-page "After Eden," the first release from Adarna House's new Anino imprint. Beyond its sheer length, "After Eden" is impressive because of its charming set of characters and intelligent exposition. At its heart, and like most of Arre's other works, "After Eden" is a love story, but it's a complicated one with a wink-wink, pop-culture feel and a sentimentality that's sincere but a bit cutesy.
The word-heavy novel spins around the lives of Jon, a hobby storeowner, and Celine, an advertising writer. The two had shared one moment as children, a moment immortalized in a photograph. A chance meeting after a riot occurs at a fantasy/hobby convention (yes, you read that correctly) leads to what appears at first to be a fairly innocuous, somewhat saccharine romance. But then, Arre throws in a novel, slightly twisted, well, twist.
Greg, Jon's loud-mouthed fanboy friend, and Lea, Celine's bitchy best friend, conspire to break the couple up. Apparently, the two miss the lives they shared with Jon and Celine prior to the fateful reunion, and now the two launch a notably mean-spirited attempt to end the romance and perhaps return everyone to a time before starry eyes and sweet nothings. Return everyone, in other words, to a life of collectible card games and shopping sprees. The fact that Greg and Lea can't stand each other only adds to the fun, as does the presence of a band called Heaven Sent, which is actually made up of pretty angels currently playing cupid.
The plot winds its way through an obstacle course of near-misses and successful gambits by Greg and Lea, as well as a quick look at the lives of two other friends, gaming addict Michael and stuffed toy-collector Cathy. But the meat of "After Eden" is how lovebirds Jon and Celine are torn apart by people they trust -- and then the hijinks really begin.
To be honest, there has never been so much crying in an Arnold Arre comic book until now. Just as he pumped up the dosage on the sugary romance, he also upped the ante on the emotional confrontations and breakdowns, displaying a knack for such scenes he hadn't shown before. Furthermore, he keeps the plot running briskly and the dialogue snappy, no mean feat for a book that's more than 250-pages long. Besides, trust Arre to turn a pop culture-pervaded courtship into a battle between heaven and hell.
Arre also successfully captures the zeitgeist of two different cultures: the fanboy culture of sci-fi, comic books, fantasy and games that evokes a certain degree of otherness for the uninitiated; and the flashy, unrelenting, competitive world of the ad industry. Arre approaches these worlds with a sincere understanding as well as a discerning eye
The art is vintage Arre; strong and simple in its black-and-white lines, but also humorous and somewhat whimsical in its individual portrayal of characters. Arre throws in scenes that brim with surreal visual references as well as scenes in homage to fantasy and sci-fi. The cover and the pinups also prove that while Arre's work looks good in black and white, it looks fantastic in color.
As far as his characters are concerned, Jon and Celine are handsome lead characters; soulful to a fault, pure romantic hero and heroine material, or, as one extra calls them, "the mushiest couple on the planet." For my money, it is the supporting pair of Greg, with his funny hair and exaggerated expressions and Lea, with her naughty eyes and capacity for bile, that help make "After Eden" the vivid, catchy experience that it is. Try not to laugh too hard at the twosome's flashback sequences, or when they get stuck in a bar. While the book is actually a tale of three disparate romances, it is the central, threatened pair of Jon and Celine that propels "After Eden" to its honestly sentimental but visually grabbing climax. Arre orchestrates that denouement and the subsequent endings with confidence and maybe a smile or two.
"After Eden" is an important next step in our own comic book history because of its size, its narrative strength and its original flavor, proving that Arre continues to hone his skills. It also feels like an intensely personal work for him. He melds different worlds with his talent to craft another graphic adventure to be proud of; a book that's unabashedly romantic, one that says that fanboys and yuppies can find life-long love after all.
Available at leading bookstores and comic shops.