17 September 2007

Review:: Gray Horses (graphic novel)

Japanese manga are very popular among teens in the States right now, and for good reason. Many of them are entertaining, touching, and make heroes out of otaku. Who doesn't love that? Still, that doesn't mean we should overlook western gems like Hope Larson's Gray Horses.

The main character is Noemi, a young French woman studying abroad in what appears to be Chicago. I could say that anyone who has studied abroad is immediately hooked by this story, but that would be trivial. Anyone who has ever felt like an outsider finds himself/herself in the first couple of pages of panels. Insecurity, loneliness, and self-doubt over one's choices is familiar stomping ground for just about anyone at some point in their lives. However, this isn't a self-pitying story for emo kids. Stick with the plot, and you'll find yourself soaring in the night wind among the stars as well.

What I find astounding about Larson is that she is the complete creator of her gorgeous work. She draws entirely unique characters-- once you see one, you'll be able to instantly recognize her other drawings, which have been featured in the New York Times and have won her a few awards. She also writes her own soft meandering stories, so she is not dependent on either a writer or an illustrator. What you see is what she feels, and the experiences and emotions she conveys are not easily shaken. A true blue beauty.

8.95 of 9 (Oh, what the hell, I'll give it a 9.)
Some of the characterization is carried out wordlessly, proving the brilliance of Larson's painstaking visuals. These aren't vapid paper cut-outs-- they are real people with familiar emotions.
Slow, but in a really glorious way
Anyone who can deal without action sequences in graphic novels
Like it? Try this!::
Her first graphic novel, Salamander Dream, is just as touching, creative, and beautifully cryptic as well. It's not very popular, so you might have trouble finding it at your library or bookstore. Try going through interlibrary loan or ordering it online. In the meantime, check out her website, http://www.hopelarson.com. I highly recommend her short comic 2 Rabbits, found here.
Further Notes::
I was so moved after reading this one that I immediately went to her website and emailed her. She wrote back the next day, and her very sweet and polite message made my week. Apparently, librarians are very good about seeking her out and praising her work. (Yay us!) I listened to Patti Smith's song Horses while I read this, though I'm not sure I recommend it, since the thrusting force behind Smith and the gentle breeze in Larson are not quite compatible. Still, there was something magical about making this graphic novel my own, which I think is the point anyway.

Gray Horses. By Hope Larson. Oni Press, 2006. 112 pages. $14.95