I had never heard of Hope Larson before stumbling upon the webcomic Salamander Dream (sadly no longer freely available) online. I was instantly drawn to her artwork, and her extraordinary talent as a storyteller (of very few words).
Salamander Dream is about Hailey a young girl with a rich imagination fuelled by the woods she spends her summers in. She meets Salamander, a strange masked figure, who joins her in her explorations and tells her stories of his own adventures. But Hailey grows up, makes other friends and plays in the woods less often. As a young woman, she returns to the woods and finds her relationship with the woods -and Salamander, a metaphor for the imaginary world she has conjured up as a child- has changed. The story reads like a jazz tune – near-wordless, dreamlike, and with art that flows free across the page, unbounded by the panels that conventionally structure comics.
Grey Horses also segues between the life and dreams of its protagonist, Noemie, a French student who comes to America to study art. She makes friends, explores her new surroundings, puzzles over a boy who seems to be stalking her.. and experiences strange dreams about a strange girl on a horse. Slowly, Noemie solves both mysteries and finds things to like about the city. Like Salamander Dream, this book also has pared-down text, lacks panels and follows employs just three colours. The art and text flow beautifully across the page in peach-coloured clouds. I enjoyed the distinctive line art, the spare text and the way Larson depicts Noemie’s thoughts and speech in both French and English .
Mercury is, by contrast, more conventional in format and far more ambitious as a narrative. It has two distinct storylines, separated by a hundred and fifty years but connected by a mysterious locket. In 1859, in French Hill, Nova Scotia, teenaged Josey meets and falls for Asa Curry, a charming speculator in search of gold. He owns a strange locket that he seems strangely obsessive about, and which he claims helps him find gold.
In 2009, Tara returns to French Hill after a fire burns down her house. She is living with relatives, struggling to fit in and focuses her energies in long-distance running. She finds a strange locket that used to belong to her mother and begins wearing it. The locket seems to have metal-seeking properties that get her into interesting situations. Meanwhile, the growing attraction between Asa and Josey makes her parents uneasy, as they doubt his intentions. Will Tara and Josey find happiness? Will Asa find gold? And what is the mystery of the locket?
Hope Larson deftly weaves both stories together. The book moves seamlessly from one to the other and back again, which made for a very interesting narrative structure. The book is done entirely in black and white, making for very striking and dramatic spreads. Mercury is layered and complex – I find something new either in the art or the narrative with each re-read.