Monday, October 04, 2010

Book-A-Day 2010 # 243 (10/4) -- Gray Horses by Hope Larson

Artists who are comfortable with their muses can do anything: rename major cities, mix a slice-of-life story and highly symbolic dreams without ever overtly linking them, create an entire graphic novel out of everyday life, subtext, and implication. Gray Horses was Hope Larson's second graphic novel, back in 2006, but she clearly was entirely clear-eyed about what she could do and the stories she wanted to tell, even then.

(I've previously looked at Larson's Mercury here and her Chiggers for ComicMix; those are both books she did after Gray Horses, but they're more conventionally genre works in form and scope.)

Gray Horses is the story of Noemie, a young woman from Dijon, France attending school -- I assume this is a semester abroad, though the back cover copy calls her an "exchange student" -- in the American metropolis of Onion City. (You know the one -- the large city in northern Illinois, fronting on Lake Michigan, the city of the big shoulders.) Noemie makes friends with a fellow student, Anna, who lives and works in a bakery across the street. She has a minor flirtation with a shy young man, a fellow student who photographs her but doesn't want to talk. She remembers her ex-boyfriend, Luc, back home.

And she has continuing, long dreams about a girl named Marcy and the talking horse who takes her up into the mountains -- to hide something precious to her -- and then back down to her home. Marcy looks nothing like Noemie, but her story is the counterpoint to Noemie's -- another girl with a memory to put away, with a past to both return to and transcend.

Gray Horses is a quiet, literary graphic novel; there aren't many actions, and none of them are large or grandiose. Larson tells her story in soft, rounded panels -- they don't quite melt into each other, but they're not the usual hard-edged windowpanes of most comics. Instead, her panels enfold and reveal what's within them, snuggling up to each other in a cozy parade of quotidian life and clean dreamscapes. This isn't a story with a moral, or even any major epiphany -- just some things that happened to one young woman, one season, far from home, and what went on in her head at that same time. It's lovely and evocative, and -- if I'd paid just a bit more attention -- I bet it would have taught me a bit of French as well.

Book-A-Day 2010: The Epic Index

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