Pablo Holmberg aka Kioskerman:
Re-Entering The Gates Of Eden
“The strip format doesn’t belong to newspapers. It is simply a short format and people should do with it whatever they please.” This call-to-arms from Kioskerman, pen-name of Pablo Holmberg, is precisely what the internet enabled him to try when he began his weekly webcomics in 2004. Born in Buenos Aires in 1979, Holmberg avoided using the regular, merchandisable characters and undemanding, repetitive formulas which some cartoonists have traditionally relied on to maintain the productivity and public appeal of their daily episodes. The conventional gag-a-day or cliffhanger narrative of a strip might seem too confining, but in Holmberg’s hands four square images, clustered two-by-two, relate and resonate with each other to become an underlying rhythm and leitmotiv. In their duality and parallelism, the words and pictures in Edén reinforce each other rather than decorate each other. By stretching this apparently simple format to new limits of emotion and depth, Holmberg demonstrates that it offers more than enough space to build up over time into a world of ideas and feelings.
Once he gathered some of his Edén strips into a book, Holmberg’s work took on an additional cumulative charge in print. Published in 2009 in Argentina and subsequently in France, Portugal, Spain and Canada (in English from Drawn & Quarterly), it was followed in 2013 by Puertas del Edén (‘Gates of Eden’), also from Sudamericana. Augmenting his initial cast of irregulars like his little rabbit-eared king, the yellow avatars and assorted animals came a star, a cloud, the hand of God itself and other natural and unnatural phenomena. Increasingly poetic, spiritual and meditative, Holmberg’s comics also included himself and his wife and new-born son Teo. “Edén comes from within, from a deep place whose limits don’t coincide with my body. This immersion shows me something, like exploring green lands. Edén reveals me and transforms me.” The cartoonist becomes a human artist on a search of light, on a quest to find out what comics must do, in the footsteps of giants like Winsor McCay, George Herriman, Frank King, Charles Schulz and other pioneers.
Then nearly three years ago, Holmberg found himself expelled from Edén. “Edén was kind of channeling an inner vision. I can’t recreate that with my mind. It has to happen. And the very fact that I had that vision is what drove me, gave me a desire.” As that vision faded, he started to wonder, how long does any artist’s strongest inspiration lasts? Ten years at best? Or less? It is evident that plenty of cartoonists are capable of making comics without being driven by vision, as a job to make a living, but to Holmberg “craft is only a small piece of the cake for me. Vision is almost the whole cake.”
In any creative field, true visionaries are rare. Holmberg prefers to call stories by visionaries “‘revealed fiction’, which, despite being labelled fiction, seemed to convey such a tremendous amount of reality that I’m forced to believe this must have appeared to their authors by something else than strictly reason and imagination”. Facing his own creative crisis, he wrote to Chris Oliveros, his mentor, a Canadian cartoonist and until recently the publisher for 25 years at Drawn & Quarterly in Montreal. From a letter back in 2014, Oliveros’ consoling advice provides the libretto for his new comic for ArtReview magazine, ‘Don’t Worry’ (below). Its two twelve-panel grids are illuminated with allegorical imagery and those expressive emanata or symbolic marks special to comics. It heralds Holmberg’s return to the medium, and his return to the world of Edén, a kind of paradise perhaps within us all, whose gates have opened again.
[ The caption to the image below reads: “Don’t let this intimidate you.” ]
In Drawn & Quarterly’s 25th Anniversary compendium, they included this quote from Melissa Mendes, cartoonist of Freddy Stories, Lou, and The Weight, accompanying this example of an Eden strip:
“I keep Eden by Pablo Holmberg next to my bed. I pull it out whenever I need some comfort, some reassurance that everything is okay and that there’s still beauty in the world. When my grandpa died a few months ago, I opened the book of the page where the character is saying goodbye to her grandfather, who is a big lumpy-looking guy (kind of like my grandpa). It summed up my grief perfectly, and expressed something I was having trouble communicating on my own.
“I brought Eden with me when I traveled to the Adirondacks for my grandpa’s memorial. It’s like a friend I carry around and save for whenever I’m feeling emotionally overwhelmed. Just knowing it’s there is enough to make me feel better. Eden is humble, honest, and heartfelt – three things I strive for in my own life and work. I’m so glad it exists.”
And to close, here is a short video interview with Holmberg himself (in Spanish):
Posted: December 29, 2015
The profile of Pablo Holmberg first appeared in ArtReview magazine, November 2015.
Photo of Pablo Holmberg © & courtesy of Paula Eleod.