Nine times out of ten, combining horror and cuteness results in the cover of a KoRn album. It’s all broken dolls, fluttery demons, and anime-ripoff gothic lolitas. Someone eventually says something like, “I can has soul?” and the discerning fan throws the book across the room in disgust.
Yet Isa Bancewicz’s work is lush, and breathtaking, and terrifying, and also cute. Her doe-eyed women and expressive forest creatures are in their own ways adorable, straight out of a fairy tale the reader thinks he or she heard once but can’t quite remember. And yet that cuteness, matched with Bancewicz’s style is also somewhat menacing. One wonders if they know the rules of this world into which they’ve been invited.
Bancewicz’s best-known work is a set of illustrations she created for Sheridan le Fanu’s classic early vampire tale Carmilla (Bancewicz is credited as ‘Isabella Mazzanti’–whether that’s a pseudonym or a maiden name, I don’t know). With a deft but not too heavy hand, she manages to beautifully portray the difference between the undead Carmilla Karnstein and her friend and victim Laura. Laura comes off as effortlessly normal, human, while Carmilla emanates shadow and strangeness, seems densely contained in the very darkness of her hair.