Pohadky – a Fairy Tale and Folklore do-it-yourself.
by Marek Colek and Pat Shewchuk
Drawn & Quarterly
Pohadky translates as “folk-tales” and this graphic novel is more a collection of folk tale illustrations and iconography than it is actual sequential art. It’s also completely silent with each image presented on it’s own merits and requiring the viewer/reader to do the work to integrate and associate the imagery with those that preceded and are to follow.
But if you want the essential key-notes version, here’s something from the D&Q press release:
“Pohadky provides a tapestry of interwoven fables and morose, allegorical iconography, bringing a harsh light to the greed, loss, and submission that marks the origins of so many cultural folk tales and legends. Heavily influenced by their respective cultural backgrounds–Colek fascinated with the artistic and narrative elements in the folklore of the Czech Republic, and Shewchuk immersed in the investigation of the symbols and pictography of pre-Christian Ukrainian decorative folk arts”
Which is exactly what I was going to say. Actually, Pohadky is the sort of book that engenders real inferiority complex issues in my head, because I don’t know enough about the subject and really haven’t got the time to discover much more. (Likewise, my general history is poor, I don’t know enough about folk music and I’ve never read Milton’s Paradise Lost. Like most of us a list of what I don’t know would fill volumes.) If I had an extra lifetime I’d still feel the same.
(Left: Winter Holiday, Right: Chaos And The Unraveling Of Hierarchy by Marek Colek. From Pohadky.)
But I digress. As a work of pure art and visual imagery, Pohadky is beautiful, atmospheric and a visual delight. But as a narrative not so much. I found myself attempting to make connections and establish my own sequential narrative, something I doubt the author’s had in mind when they assembled the art. It’s certainly an intriguing and unnerving book, visually delightful yet thanks to my insecurities I find myself babbling rather when I try to organise my thoughts on it. Maybe I should just relax and simply take some more time to enjoy the pictures?
(Left: Trypillian Eternity Symbol, Right: Rabbit Ears by Pat Shewchuk, from Pohadky.)
And once I did that I found that something in Pohadky kept drawing me back. I kept picking it up, spending time absorbing the imagery and found myself immersed. Colek and Shewchuk have structured the book with each artist working on near opposite pages and the contrast in styles is intriguing; Colek’s beautiful, yet disturbing portraits of Czech folklore is the more immediate, yet Shewchuk’s Ukranian iconography complements it well. There are many familiar archetypes here; the witch, the wolf, the soldier, the bear, the crone, the devil, death. And as you begin to identify the subjects you are drawn into the iconography and forced to consider your own ideas of popular folklore. I’d personally have wished to see more of the collaborative work where the contrasting styles come together on too few pages to create some beautiful imagery:
(Tri Rady by Colek and Shewchuk. Iconography and imagery combine to stunning effect from Pohadky.)
Pohadky may not be to everyone’s taste. Indeed it may be the sort of book that should really be experienced on the walls of an art gallery. But it’s certainly a fascinating work that bears repeated viewings.