Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Gray Horses

Gray Horses is a simple story, really. It's about being lost and finding a home, about loneliness and friends, about bread and art, about the power of holding on and the power of letting go, about Dijon and Chicago, about distance and love, about simple courage, about dreams, about ghosts, about never wanting to say goodbye. It's about a Francophone horse that helps a little girl bury her secret. It's about a girl from France that comes to Chicago. Gray Horses is simple in plot, but it's dreamscape worlds provide all sorts of ways for the details of the story to breathe and grow.

The first pages of the book are very disorienting. The panels flow in space as both French and English wrap around their borders. Even the setting is uncomfortable: Onion City. On the map inside the front cover, it sure looks like Chicago, but the name was enough to keep me from feeling completely confident, completely confident of where I was. I spent the first few pages feeling confused and overwhelmed, unsure of how to read the panels. Of course that feeling of disorientation and disassociation is the point, as it's the plight of the main character who finds herself "on an undiscovered continent". My feeling of ease grew with every page, just as Noemie adjusted to life in Onion City. By the end, we both felt at home. It's a journey from her opening words about that undiscovered continent to her closing: "I'm not leaving for a month, but I already miss it."

Larson's loopy, flowing art is more than beautiful to look at. It serves the story in an important way by making the line between dream and the waking world a very thin one. There's not a sense that "this" is real, and "this" isn't. It's all equally real, just different. The Noemie that goes to Art History classes is no more (or less) real than the Noemie that canters through the night with a sick child on her back. All of these things, all the incidents of her life are part of her journey.

There's a good part of my reaction to Gray Horses that's very personal. I've lived all over, but having spent my formative years of high school, college, and early independence in Chicago, I consider it home. I miss it dearly, and the city itself is inextricable from my memories of it: hot afternoons with sangria and friends on the blacktop rooftops of the Ukranian Village. Though Larson calls Chicago "Onion City", a nod to the city's Algonquin origin, it's Chicago-ness is palpable. It's not the specific spot-the-landmark sense of place that Local has, but more a feel of the city. Larson understands the heat of a Chicago summer, and the quiet and beauty that's in the city if you happen to step off at the wrong EL stop.

Grey Horses is warm and wonderful and delightful. It's the sort of novel that leaves me a bit sad at the end, as I wanted to spend more summer days with Noemie and her friends in Onion City. I missed her first book (Salamander Dream), but I won't make that mistake again.

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9 comments:

Hope Larson said...

I don't know what to say beyond "thank you." Writing stories like this are a way of keeping myself warm in chilly Canada, so I'm glad they do the same for you. :)

Mark Fossen said...

It's a beautiful book, Hope. 500 words of claptrap aside ... it made me happy, and that's not something a lot of books do. I hope it sees a lot of success.

Jason said...

Just picked it up based on this review - going to get out of these work clothes, lay my ass down and enjoy it over a scotch.

Cheers!

Mark Fossen said...

Excellent, Jason.

In exchange, I did get myself Skyscrapers today. So we both have some good new comics to read. )

Jason said...

I will say that I loved it, probably more than I thought I would. I'll say more on my site on Tuesday, though.

Story and art aside, both beautifully moving, I have to say that's the goddamn best computer lettering job (and probably one of the best lettering jobs, period) I've seen in quite some time. I know it's a weird compliment but damn - that was amazing lettering. It just floated with the art; everything had this lighter than air feeling to it, drifting down and across the page. It was amazing – it just sucked you right in and gently pulled you along.

Great book, Hope, and great recommendation, Mark. Hope you enjoyed Skyscrapers.

Mark Fossen said...

I'm unsure on Skyscrapers, Jason. I need to give it another read. My initial impression that that I'm just too ---- something (old?) ---- nowadays to deal with unremitting bleakness.

Like I say - I need to give it another read. I love the art, and love the design.

3,527 said...

Very nice review. At first I was doubting wether to buy this one or not... and all the sudden all of my doubts seem to have disappeared! Thanks! So first thing in the morning tomorrow... going to my comic book shop!
Other stories to be compared with? Lately I've read Lost at Sea, looks a bit alike or am I wrong?

Mark Fossen said...

I wouldn't compare it to Lost At Sea - except that they are both really great. :)

Lost At Sea has much more of a neurotic edge. Gray Horses is much more relaxed, much more dreamlike.

I'm failing at comparing it to anything, though.

3,527 said...

I'll find out soon enough. ;) I was just thinking they both handled the coming-of-age, but clearly in a very different way. Luckily I like the word "dreamlike", and the drawings you posted over here look fantastic! I hope the book isn't sold out tomorrow (living in Belgium, my bookstore has only one or two copies I guess.)