By Fred Bellet | Hernando TodayWeeki Wachee artist Julie Komenda's drawing of the Chatty Mermaids has become the unofficial symbol of "mermaiding."
Published: December 7, 2012
Published: December 7, 2012
"The main thing I guess I could tell you, Komenda said, is that Chatty Mermaids is about friendship and 'mermaiding.'"
There was that reference again, "mermaiding." The word has undercurrents, but you have to understand the artist's background.
Long before Komenda penned her first mermaid, a certain event in her life stands out.
Born and raised in Miami, Komenda was just seven years old when she and her parents traveled to New York City to visit family. At one point during the vacation, Komenda requested her parents take her to Lexington Avenue so she could see the headquarters of DC Comics.
Like most kids back then, reading comic books was the "bomb" in entertainment.
It was that visit to the main studio where Superman, Batman, The Flash and other super-heroes were born that made a lasting impression on Komenda.
She fondly recalls when her family cold-called the reception desk at DC's office in Manhattan.
"Everything stopped," she said, "everyone looked, no one had ever done that."
What do you do when a kid comes in wanting to "inspect" the operation?
It didn't take long for the receptionist to arrange a red-carpet tour for the 7-year-old and her parents to see how comic books were produced. After all, that age group was among the bread and butter of the industry.
Komenda reminisced about the elevator ride.
"We were going up. When the doors opened, there it was," she said. She remembers the smoke-filled room like it was yesterday.
There was a lot of activity she observed.
"There were guys sitting at easels holding storyboards. There were models, I got to see the artists, the people that were doing the inking, I even got to see the original artwork before it was inked," she said.
Komenda's walk through the DC Comics production department was like a kid's first time walking down Main Street in Disney World.
She was awed and inspired by the operation, observing everything the artists did to make the superhero they were drawing come to life the way she knew. She said to herself, "This is for me."
She downplays the story of meeting DC artist and Superman's co-creator, Joe Shuster, and staff illustrator Curt Swan. But, she was only seven, she said.
It may have been that brush with real-life comic-book artists that zapped her into becoming a professional artist herself.
Back in Miami, Komenda's art matured and so did she. The art of batik was popular and fashionable, she said.
She did very well with that medium for quite some time. However, the time came when working with the hot paraffin had to go cold.
She and her husband Chris left Florida and lived in places like Texas, California, Washington state and finally Colorado.
While taking some considerable time off, she attended a hockey game. Komenda said she was sparked watching the player's fight over the puck.
She tried her hand at drawing the hockey players and eventually produced a batik piece that portrayed that battle.
The battling hockey players had all the hints of a superhero in form and appearance.
The work moved Komenda.
"I was back," she said.
She began her work with the waxes and dyes again, shifting to paper instead of cloth.
In 2004 the couple decided to leave Colorado, landing in Hernando County.
Moving just down the road from Weeki Wachee Springs State Park, Julie made the park her new-found home. She served as artist-in-residence and was able to focus on painting the underwater performers, the mermaids, the way she saw them.
There was something evident in her work.
Frequent trips to Weeki Wachee Springs State Park made it possible for her to produce numerous pieces.
"I was really intrigued by the park," she said. "I just fell in love with the forms of mermaids and the whole idea that they can do that. Their form was just stunning."
She found her time was well-spent in the underwater theater studying the movement and form of the performing mermaids.
As she drew, her figures echoed early influences. Whether the form flew upward or made a breath-taking downward descent, the image was "superb."
During her involvement with the park's Sirens of the Deep Camp, she discovered a whole subculture of mermaids. The camp drew adult women, 30 and older from as far away as California and Europe, according to Komenda.
Over a weekend, the women would live the life of a mermaid.
It was a way for raising money for The Friends of Weeki Wachee, a citizen support organization, but it also gave Komenda insight into the world of the mermaid.
It was a life-changing experience for the women, and they had the pictures to prove it. At the camp, they learned to swim by flipping a tail, rather than kicking their feet. They learned the fundamentals of being a mermaid and graduated.
Komenda's use of the word "mermaiding" seemed clearer now.
For a better explanation Komenda recommends taking a look at author Carolyn Turgeon's website at: http://iamamermaid.com/2011/05/04/julie
-artiste/. Turgeon bills the site as "a delicate, ladylike blog for mermaids and the humans who love them."
Komenda found herself in a world much like that of the world of the superheroes.
With Turgeon's extensive insight into the matter and their mutual experience at the Sirens of the Deep Camp, the two formed a friendship.
A photograph of the two of them in full costume — tail and makeup — compelled Komenda to come up with an acrylic painting of them.
She came up with the Chatty Mermaids, a personal icon of mermaid sisterhood.
It's a whole mystique, she said.
Maybe the Chatty Mermaids image should be imprinted on the costume of a new superhero, one that champions environmentalism, but swims with a tail.