One of the great strengths and weaknesses of webcomics lies with the graphic nature of the medium. A picture may be worth a thousand words, but there are times when a paragraph of text can express far more than a dozen images. In addition, the storyteller’s art often proves inadequate to express in images what is seen in the mind’s eye. But when the cartoonist has the skill to express the story in imagery, and a story well worth telling (whether the artist’s own story or one written by another), that is when webcomics truly come to life.
Our Time in Eden is an excellent example of what happens when a talented artist and a gifted writer mesh effectively. The initial images are evocative and painful, using Gibson Twist’s words to color artist Ben Steeves’ stark black-and-white images that continues through much of the first chapter. Much like the webcomic Hopscotch, the artwork shifts styles with each new chapter, differentiating each and telling a story that is painful and very human in nature. Yet I’m drawn back to that first chapter like a moth to a flame, with those first images of Ellis staggering toward a church, seeking sanctuary from her own inner demons, running from the mess her life has become.
Normally, black and white art seems almost a cop-out by the artist, a shortcut that lessens the work done. Steeves does something more with this venue, balancing the black with white, using black to color and shade. And even as the second chapter uses penciled art to tell a story of childhood in flashbacks and silhouettes of the adults in harsh black and whites to look back, this theme of balance continues. The shadows continue to balance the whites, though in softer tones than the initial inked chapter.
The artwork contains other subtleties as well; reflections of a younger Ellis in the window as the adult Ellis walks down a street, an older shadow Ellis holding a rosary in the penciled flashback of Ellis’ childhood. A brief glimpse of a happier childhood as Tim looks into a playground… with a broken swing whole and used by the child Ellis in the mind’s eye. What’s more, the flashbacks are likewise penciled, hinting at the art shift used in the second chapter. (I only wish the brief flash-forward had used a stark inked image for the older shadow Ellis, but I suppose the subtlety in the image would have been lost if Steeves had done that.)
Ellis and Tim likewise are powerful, painful characters who live up to the beautiful evocative artwork. One is a child of domineering abusive parents who refused her tears and ended up losing herself to drugs and alcohol. The second is equally broken, with parents who loved him dearly but suffered a childhood of victimhood as bullies targeted him time and time again. Both are linked intrinsically to each other, thinking of the other even after a decade where neither was in contact with the other. And this is perhaps why I am so drawn to this story. I can identify with both characters, with the victimized boy and the girl who lost her soul along the way.
Our Time in Eden is not for everyone. The story has adult themes that the writer admits may be too strong for younger readers. The content likewise edges into territory that may make some feel uncomfortable or hit too close to home. But it is this stark honesty that makes OTE such a powerful story, and a comic I do not hesitate in recommending.