‘Window Horses is the graphic novelization of the award-winning NFB film by Ann Marie Fleming, starring Sandra Oh. The story follows Rosie Ming, a young Chinese/Persian poet as she leaves her home in Vancouver for the first time to visit Shiraz, Iran.
Here she discovers the beauty of poetry, history, and new friendships and learns the true story about her estranged Iranian father.
A touching, beautiful and emotional film, it’s been translated to graphic novel format.’
Written by: Anne Marie Fleming
Edited by: Nyala Ali, Hope Nicholson
Art by: Kevin Langdale (main story), various (individual poems)
Publisher: Bedside Press
Released: 10 January 2018
I must admit, the title of this one got my attention first – ‘Window Horses’, very mysterious and intriguing, sounds unusual. Possibly philosophical contemplation of the personal symbolism of observing actual horses through a window, possibly a metaphor for something or other. But the rest of the title – ‘ . . . The Poetic Persian Epiphany of Rosie Ming‘ – told of a much more complicated but no less intriguing story, and I wasn’t disappointed. This Canadian-written tale is actually an adaptation of a 2016 multi-award winning independent animated film of the same name, written by Fleming and with art by Langdale et al., adapted by the cunning method of using stills from the film and adding in narration and dialogue bubbles.
That probably makes it sounds like I’m being disapproving of the method and calling them cheaters, but it works really well – choosing exactly which shots to use to represent a scene isn’t as easy as it sounds. Ali and Nicholson have worked carefully and thoughtfully, and despite seeing the ‘based on the film’ bit at the title page, I had no idea it was shots chosen from the film until doing some further research. Fleming’s role is actually of screenplay writer and director, translated to author of the story in print form since her writing and visual direction is directly adapted.
So, is it well written? I think so. It follows the character of Rosie Ming, a Canadian born to a second generation Chinese-Canadian mother and recently emigrated Iranian father. After losing them both at a young age she was raised by her Hong Kong born grandparents in Canada. She has a personal obsession with France (like her grandmother), and after becoming a self-published poet is surprised to be invited to perform at an Iranian poetry festival with other poets from around the world. There, of course, is the ‘Poetic Persian Epiphany’ tale, as she talks with other poets from Germany, China, and locally, hears poetry she never imagined, and discovers the truth about her father who she thought had abandoned his family, finally reconnecting with and reconciling her mixed cultural heritages.
That makes it sound like heavy reading, but it’s actually a very light story. It has a big focus on the poetry itself, including readings in Farsi (the local language of the Persian area of Iran) and Mandarin, not always translated, with the intent of feeling the recitation rather than knowing the words. This was probably more effective when listening to it in the film, but is still an interesting technique thanks to how they’ve illustrated them (more on that in a minute), and especially with the plot point of Rosie attempting to translate a Mandarin poem to Farsi then to English. The story altogether is a slow pace, but reads quickly thanks to a focus on dialogue in short exchanges. The whole story and especially the poem readings are focused more on illustration than filling the page with text, creating a rich feeling and emotion rather than spotlighting the words.
This emotional core to the poetry is done by having over a dozen different artists illustrating the poems, giving each one a very distinct feel and making them stand out from the main plot. It works very well, bringing each poem to life, and creating something new to come across regularly while reading the main story. The individual illustrator treatment is also given to the occasional historical retelling (I spent a while afterwards reading about the famous poets Saadi and Hafez), keeping it fresh even between poetry readings. It’s a lovely mix of styles within the story.
Langdale’s main story artwork is interesting on its own right. The most obvious thing to notice is that Rosie’s character is drawn differently from everyone else. While all the supporting people are in a style that reminds me of elements of both surrealism and caricatures, creating highly individual people for Rosie to interact with, the main character herself is just a stick figure with pink triangle shirt, white face with simplified single line eyes and mouth, and white hands. A plot point early in the story is that Rosie has forgotten that women are required to wear a headscarf in Iran (in reality visitors who are obviously foreigners aren’t really held to it, but it’s still considered polite to do). She is saved by her grandmother having given her a more traditional chador to take with her just in case – chadors are a large semicircle of cloth that is worn over the head then wrapped around the body like a cloak, and these days are often black or dark patterns – leaving Rosie just a dark shape with white circle face and white hands for most of the story (though I won’t spoil the very end). While this does the obvious job of highlighting Rosie over the other characters, and is probably intended to help denote innocence, the unusual simplicity of her design is strange, and I found it hard to keep in mind that this character is supposed to be in her early 20’s and not a child.
All in all, this was a lovely tale of a young person discovering more about their mixed family and cultural heritage. Horses come up precisely twice, with at least one mention of how they relate to the main character, and one is seen through a window at the very start, so I guess that makes the title OK. I loved the heart of poetry in this story, although I wish the main character had been drawn the same way as the rest of the cast, as the big difference was pretty distracting. I’m definitely looking up the film it’s based on, to see the different types of lovely illustration in animation.
The extra artists for this book are: Nathaniel Akin, Sadaf Amini, Lillian Chan, Elisa Chee, Dominique Doktor, Younger Ge, Brad Gibson, Ian Godfrey, Bahram Javaheri, Louise Johnson, Jody Kramer, Janet Perlman, and Kunal Sen.
Thanks to Comixology.com for providing this copy of ‘Window Horses: The Poetic Persian Epiphany of Rosie Ming’ for review.