Light years away from comics that go “thwack” and “pow” is Hope Larson’s Gray Horses, a poetic little book put out by Oni Press. This coming of age tale, an exploration of both the outer and inner aspects of one girl’s journey abroad, is gently executed yet powerfully evocative. Like a diary, due, partially, to its reader’s omniscience, but more so for its soft, dreamy panelscape, Gray Horses is reminiscent – in no way derivative – of Larson’s husband, Bryan Lee O’Malley’s Lost at Sea. There’s more than a bit of magic in these pages.
Shy, French, Noemie has just arrived in Chicago. A new city promises new friends and adventures. But also profound loneliness and displacement. Its unfamiliar sights, sounds, and customs, salt the wound. And so begins the journey…
We see Noemie navigating her course, or maybe her fate. As she reckons with her new life, she encounters a star-crossed friendship that, in its beginnings, skirts girl-crush territory, and a mysterious camera-wielding boy to whom she is objet d’ both art and desire. These moments, early evidence of Larson’s knack for engaging her characters in wordless conversations, frame the the sub-conscious as less lonely a place. Within strange, symbolic dreams, Noemie discovers herself.
Deceptive in its simplicity – you know what “they” say about making your craft look easy – Larson’s illustrations make for a world both serene and ethereal. Her simple employment of peach offsets and softens the black and white cartoons drawn so skillfully and sinuously. Take just one look at Noemie, so quintessentially French, and you’ll realize the mastery behind Larson’s spare style.
Outside the box, er, panel, Gray Horses is a shining example of what can be achieved in comics.