Review by Ian Keogh
Flick through the pages and Nymph at first seems a children’s story, a mind-expanding fantasy for the precocious youngster, and that’s an image reinforced by Leila Mazocchi’s meticulous art and engaging woodland creatures. However, it’s more about mood and response than any traditional children’s story.
The nymph of the title is a form of larva that blows into an abandoned shed in the forest one windy day. The birds from the surrounding trees appoint themselves protectors, rapidly generating an assurance from their own protector that no harm is to come to it from any creature of the forest. The insects, though aren’t bound by any such deal, and remain a threat to the small creature now named Bitsy.
A strange intrusion being raised by the animals of the forest is hardly a new myth, but Bitsy’s small size and the mystery as to what she is are novel introductions. Mazocchi characterises the assorted birds well, and her drawing sustains a slim narrative for a long time. The birds fuss around Bitsy and argue among themselves how best to care for her, and each is distinctively and interestingly designed. A crib sheet is provided on page 16, with the bizarre Wingman the strangest looking. Whether genuine scratchboard art or digital equivalent, there’s a fluency to Mazocchi’s approach, and she revels in the forest, whether the trees are with leaves or without.
By halfway through Bitsy is communicating with the birds, and she proves adventurous and courageous when away from their protective eyes, and that only continues as she grows further. By that time the birds have another anomalous creature to concern themselves with.
The protective nature of the birds brings to mind the fussing of the dwarves on first discovering Snow White in the classic animation, and the charm and wonder of that film seems an influence, although Nymph lacks any over-riding threat. The challenges come from experiencing the unknown and overcoming obstacles. While an extremely captivating fairy tale in most respects, one good enough to win the Grand Jury Prize at Italy’s foremost comic festival in Lucca, the deliberate use of complex language at times seems an attempt to avoid classification as a children’s story. The nudity may seem so also, but that’s a matter not taken as seriously in Europe as it is in the USA.
All things considered, it’s best not to become too hung up on classification when there’s an abundance of whimsy and grace on offer. Nymph isn’t exactly innocent, but should spread its charms to any reader looking for a different form of fantasy.