HCZF MONTH! Sometimes you don’t need to see an extensive portfolio of a creator’s work to know their potential. When I was selecting artists for our 2020 Broken Frontier ‘Six to Watch’ initiative I could tell from just the tiny handful of comics pages available to me online that the unpublished Polish artist Kamila Król, aka Pigeon, had a visual storytelling talent that needed to be brought to a wider audience. I had been following her work on social media and was already aware that (as I have said before here at BF) she had a notable ability to embed whole speculative narratives into single images. Rusalka is her first longer-form work and it sees that early promise fulfilled in a truly beautiful piece of folkloric re-imagining.
A true passion project that has been some years in the making, Rusalka is Król’s attempt to take the Slavic mythological figure and refocus her story from her own point-of-view. For those unaware of the origins of the character, Rusalka is a demonic entity from Polish folklore who would appear as a beautiful young woman in order to lure travellers to their dooms. But those same legends also imply Rusalka may have also been a lost soul with a once far more mortal existence.
It’s this latter aspect that Król plays with in Rusalka Part 1 – the first chapter of a projected longer-form offering – to add layers to Rusalka’s story and explore her supernatural fate from a more sympathetic perspective. Dwelling in a rural lake, the mystical entity Rusalka is plagued with “human” dreams that hint at another previous existence that was far more earthly in its reality. It’s a lifetime that contradicts her own memories of being born underwater in the environs of her forest home. But while Rusalka ponders on her own identity and an intangible sense of something missing, she also finds herself compelled to behave in an altogether more sinister way in her interactions with the human world…
This first part lies the groundwork for an interpretation of the European myth that looks to flesh out the character’s back story, reasons for being and motivations, and imbue her with a depth that moves beyond traditional “vengeful spirit” representation. Indeed Król sets up much here that looks to be followed up in later instalments with those intriguing presumed dream-like flashbacks and hints of mysterious malevolent magical forces. It’s an opening part that tells us just enough to keep our interest piqued while still leaving mysteries to hook the reader and ensure their desire to come back for more.
Król’s art is simply stunning here. That’s not hyperbolic. The contrasting colour scenes for Rusalka’s verdant world and the autumnal human dream one give each a distinctive atmosphere and mood of its own, suiting those different incarnations and timeframes. The carefully crafted beauty of Rusalka’s surroundings can nevertheless lurch suddenly into nightmare horror to remind us that all is not as it seems, and there are some highly imaginative single images to bring the fantastical elements of the story to life. A scene where the forest is anthropomorphised as a protective pair of hands is extremely memorable in that latter regard. And, of course, there’s those pure comics aspects: petals floating from one panel to another; tunes taking on life and weaving across the page; and those moments where the past and present encroach visually on each other’s territory.
If you’ve been waiting for Rusalka Part 1 as eagerly as I have then this mythological quest for identity will not disappoint. I firmly believe Kamila Król/Pigeon will be a name (or two!) you’re all going to become very familiar with in the years to come. Check out her online store via Hall Three at Hackney Comic + Zine Fair.
Pigeon/Kamila Król • Self-published, £10.00
You can also find Pigeon’s online store here
Review by Andy Oliver