The point of Hope Larson’s comics is never the destination but the journey. Raina Telgemeier calls them “visual poetry”, just the right description.
Gray Horses opens with travel, as French exchange student Noémie reaches her new city, taking the subway from the airport to her rooming house. While she adjusts to her foreign surroundings, she dreams of a girl named Marcy riding a wild talking horse.
In the daytime, she makes friends with a neighbor, a girl who’s in her art history class and lives at the bakery across the street. As the book progresses, we learn more about what happened before Noémie came to the US, her discoveries within the city, and how various symbolic elements echo themselves in her life. It’s a coming-of-age tale about acceptance and discovery, gloriously and uniquely told.
The art consists of fluid lines contained within borderless panels unrestricted and shaped far more organically than the usual squares and rectangles. The balloon tails similarly twist and curl, showing how speech carries through air on waves, while sound effects and background smells and actions are indicated by small cursive words. Noémie’s thoughts are in French, simultaneously translated for us in text that wraps around the edges of the scene. The entirety is welcoming and dare I say it, feminine in its use of curves.
The tan color used for backgrounds and other various elements has a peachy sepia tone that gives the whole thing a feeling of memory. Against it, the white figures and foreground elements immediately draw the eye. Larson’s techniques demonstrate her thorough knowledge of the comic medium; they couldn’t be done as elegantly anywhere else. They don’t draw attention unless you’re already looking to see how she accomplishes her stunning effects.
Given her fondness for the arcing line, Larson’s drawings of Marcy riding the horse are lovely, appropriately dreamlike and flowing. They have a childlike simplicity to them that I’m sure took much practice and skill.
Noémie’s city, although an analogue of Chicago, is called Onion City, and much like that namesake, this book reveals itself in layers over time. It’s immediately rereadable and will continue to reward the reader, who will find new meaning in it every time.
David Welsh and Mark Fossen have also reviewed Gray Horses. David concentrates on the necessity of the reader to engage with the text, bringing themselves to the meaning, while Mark finds parallels between his journey as a reader and Noémie’s as a character. Larson’s previous book was Salamander Dream.