By Randy Lander, FourthRail.com
Adarna House/Anino imprint
Writer/Artist: Arnold Arre
Editor: Emil Flores
Price: 295.00 P/Philippines
One of the benefits of doing this critic thing is that I get to see some unusual comics I might not otherwise see. In this case, a reader in the Philippines kindly offered to send me a copy of a graphic novel that he enjoyed, and it seems I owe him a thank you, because the graphic novel was a fascinating and entertaining read. After Eden strikes me as what you might get it you crossed True Story Swear to God, Strangers in Paradise and the 80s flick Two of a Kind. It's a romance, with a little bit of the fantastic thrown in on the side, and in all honesty, as much as I enjoyed it, I would have enjoyed it more without the fantastic elements.
Arre's style is something of a manga approach, featuring a simplicity of storytelling and expression, but the softness and beauty of some of his characters reminds me of Terry Moore. In fact, Arre's style in terms of both writing and artwork has more than a little in common with Terry Moore, with a somewhat melodramatic approach that is sometimes a little too sappy but in general connects with the heart of the reader, a necessity when the story you're telling is one of romance.
The central story of After Eden is a romance, one of those "happily ever after" type things, but it's not as perfect and magical as the real-life basis of True Story Swear to God. Which is ironic, since this one actually has magic as part of the story. Instead, Arre focuses on the difficulties of building a relationship, spending as much time on the fights and the misunderstandings as on the beauty of a first kiss or a great first date. In the end, though, he pushes things a little more to the sappy side, especially with the incredible coincidence of both sets of friends of the main couple finding themselves in romance as well.
After Eden has some great characters, plenty of humor and a really sweet core to it. It also has some flaws, largely in Arre's tendency to go a bit over-the-top. The presence of angels and demons wagering on the romance came across as an interruption rather than an important part of the story, and it introduced an unnecessary element of the fantastic into what was a well-realized and grounded story of human relationships. And while I had no trouble believing the central relationship, I raised an eyebrow at the notion that the couple would force their friends to date each other (or that their friends would accept it) and had some trouble swallowing that two of those friends would engage in a massive conspiracy to break the two up. In the end, I can buy one beautiful relationship with a miraculous ending, but After Eden has the effect of running Say Anything, When Harry Met Sally and You've Got Mail side-by-side and treating them all as one story! : the sweetness gets to be a bit too much.
All things being equal, though, I'm willing to forgive Arre's overdramatic tendencies because of how good his characterization and sense of humor is. Though his is a name that I haven't heard before, he seems to be well-regarded in his native Philippines, and it's easy to see why, as he brings an expert sense of comic storytelling to the rarely-explored romance genre, and his realistic approach could touch the heart of even those who are quite cynical about the realities of romance.
January 24, 2003