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RUSALKA: Whispers of the Forest (review) —“Living with ghostlights”

Creator: Kamila Krol

Strangers Publishing 2023

STALKING THE FOREST, shhh, stay still, and you might spy fairies there gamboling in a glade, laughing and lounging on leaves, chattering in a chorus. Breathe low. Listen. And behave.

This is where we enter RUSALKA – WHISPERS OF THE FOREST, a new work by creator Kamila Krol, deep midst the trees, listening cautiously to one’s own footsteps and the sounds of others while a thousand eyes watch and weigh the intrusion. This hundred-page graphic journey follows a girl, or maybe a tree sprite, one little mushroom guy calls her a nymph, but he was probably just guessing—she has a name, but that changes, too.

The nymphet is as baffled about her identity as others, but can hardly let them know that. Through the woods she goes, and more through the woods, until the woods enshroud everything and you feel it. You quickly sense as rightly so, these woods are the antediluvian masters of the planet.

The story enchants on first opening. The inside covers are decorated with a delicate floral wallpaper print, interposed with the nymphet’s strange hands, something like tree bark, or a bush, emphasizing the first impression seeing her on the front cover is not mistaken: there is something queer about her.

Colors throughout are a pleasing blend of aqua tones, divided from interludes of haunting memories that appear in shades of umber. Each palette is layered and meshed together like a silkscreen print, probably a computer these days, but much in the Slavic mood aimed for by the creator, something as might have been etched on clay tiles and printed with mushroom and poppy inks on a tissue of pounded tree bark ages ago. That is, if the devils would let you strip the bark. In old forests like this one, the trees are protective of their skins, and not kind to intruders.

The deep mood of the forest bathes the pages and drifts into iconic imagery of the moon, and changes in the nymphet’s emotions, until one floats with her astride the currents, aided by the lyrical words and exchanges among the funny-shaped characters and the stories they tell. Eventually, she slips beneath the surface and swims. The twining flowers and leaves in the tableaux become lilypads.

Allegorical symbolism abounds in the tale of this newly aware nymph girl seeking her identity in the world, yet all moves gently without pushing, tinged with mystery. She seeks what she feels deep down under the surface is missing in herself, in others, and her place.

Some detailed exchanges occur where words cascade the falls of the page, but mostly the artwork flows on its own, swifting on with only gentle nudges by the oars of language. Even the words possess numinous symbolism, at least for me, as certain aspects spoke to me directly in my own language as symbols do, whatever the intent of the artist who put them there.

“During the first full moon I had a visitor … a melody,” she reflects at one point.

Later, another little mushroom character insists repeatedly, “The night isn’t infinite, you know” insinuating she ought to hurry up. This declaration was a pivotal point.

Swimming along in the infinite, who knows how long—one’s experience is everything, everywhere, always—yet one seeks a direction for all this energy, a definite handhold to grip the world, like our queer-shaped nymph girl, seeking hands and a world at once. Probably the first archetypal distinction to draw untrained experience to act according to its context in every life of any degree of intelligence is the diurnal fact that the night is indeed not infinite. The body learns circadian rhythms. The behavior of others confirms it. Time to sleep, time to wake. Time moves, and calls one out. Hasten now. Your future awaits.

Zoom zoom zoom.

The restless nymph girl roams the borderlands, beyond which the humans dwell. The scene brushes the notion that identity is for a long time, and maybe always, a border affair, balancing the ghostlight voices of self, others, and place, which grow and unite in myriad, sometimes imponderable ways. Self is essential, but maybe not this self; an other, and others are essential, but maybe not this other, not these others; a place is a must, but maybe not this place.

Zoom zoom zoom.

Comfort arrives in a warm willowy character from a different, lighter part of the woods, and the nymph girl recognizes her goal. “I waited for you to call me,” the willow woman tells her, and beckons.

After further trials of separation, the nymphet finds her new place and a whole version of herself, where the aqua and umber palettes merge. She recaptures her name, and heals the wounds and worries that set her questing. No spoiler, I think, to observe she reaches a lilypad of sorts to rest upon, breathing air like most any adult amphibian, only vaguely haunted by the moon and the aquatic melodies of her inner self vying for loyalties to one identity here, one there, one when, one yet to be: all united here now at last with you, perfectly content.

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