The Romanian word for ”fairy-tale” is ”basm”. It’s an old slavic word and it means ”a fanciful lie”. The term specifically refers to the reality altering power of the magic incantations that are folk tales. Of course, basme can not change the objective reality, but they can offer therapeutic relief and a sense that, in the end, everything will be alright. The prince will vanquish the dragon, the princess will awaken her lover from his death slumber, spring will come again, the night will end.
In late 2020 Comic Art Europe launched a call for projects exploring the subject ”Visions of tomorrow”. In the context of the pandemic and on the verge of economic and ecological collapse, it was the therapeutic value of fairy-tales that sprung to my mind. This was 2021 – since then, Russia attacked Ukraine and war joined the cavalry of the apocalypse.
My submission, called Timemongers, proposed the creation of a live drawing concert. Called contes-a-bulles in France, these types of performances usually see two performers on stage, the artist and the musician. The live drawing is recorded and simultaneously projected on a screen. My aim was to create a narrative concert that would tell a complete story, engage and involve the audience.
In March 2021 I received the news that my submission had been selected among the five finalists, and I started my one year journey to transform it into reality.
Since we were talking about visions of tomorrow, what better way to take control of the future than through time-manipulation? As a starting point, I chose three tales in which this motif was an important plot-point.
The first story is Youth without age and life without death, collected by Petre Ispirescu. It starts with a child who does not want to be born. Desperate, his parents make all sorts of promises, culminating with the promise of eternal youth and never-ending life. The child stops crying, and is born. Fourteen years later, the young prince sets on a quest for immortality. After many trials, he arrives at a magic castle in an enchanted forest – and there, he finds both love, eternal youth and life without death. However, his fairy-wife warns him, there is one condition – he must never set foot into the valley of sorrow. Of course, he gets lost during a hunt, ends up there and starts missing his parents. So, in spite of all the warnings and pleas, he returns to the human world, only to find that several hundred years have passed. In the ruins of his father’s castle, he finds death, waiting for him. This is a rare fairy tale with a tragic ending, and one that has traumatized generations of Romanian children.
The second story is The Bird and the Golden Apples (collected by Grigore Crețu), which I chose for a very specific motif – the crossroad. We see this in a multitude of fairy tales, three brothers set out on a quest, and one by one they arrive at a crossroad. The three choices are usually a variation of love, wealth and death, with the latter being implied to be the only survivable choice. Since the three brothers are in fact symbolic instances of the same character, I chose to see the crossroad as the point where the timeline splits – the main character lives to see all the outcomes of all the his possible choices.
The third story, The Seven Headed Dragon, collected by Petre Ispirescu, sees the hero actively stopping time. Since the fire he was supposed to guard goes out during his fight with the dragon, and since that is a crime punishable by death, he sets out to find a new source of fire. He must do so before sunrise. So, while crossing the magic forest, he encounters Dusk, Midnight and Dawn and, using various tricks, ties each of them to a tree.
Read more about the concert here!
The Tarot Deck
The final step of this project was creation of a stand alone tarot deck, reprising the story-line and illustrations used in the development of the concert. This deck was conceived as a do-it-yourself-story of sorts, and has a stronger connection to fairy tales than it has to traditional tarot cards.
This also serves as a testimony of how, if you let an artist work for a year on a project, and give them the necessary resources, they will branch out in all directions.
Discover it here!
Read more about the Concert
Check out the Tarot Deck