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Blue Is The Warmest Color

blueisthewarmestcolorcoverJulie Maroh
Arsenal Press $19.95

“When from a long-distant past nothing subsists, after the people are dead, after the things are broken and scattered, still, alone, more fragile, but with more vitality, more unsubstantial, more persistent, more faithful, the smell and taste of things remain poised a long time, like souls, ready to remind us, waiting and hoping for their moment, amid the ruins of all the rest; and bear unfaltering, in the tiny and almost impalpable drop of their essence, the vast structure of recollection.

And once again I had recognized the taste of the crumb of madeleine soaked in her decoction of lime-flowers which my aunt used to give me (although I did not yet know and must long postpone the discovery of why this memory made me so happy), immediately the old gray house upon the street, where her room was, rose up like the scenery of a theater.”

– Proust, In Search of Lost Time

Maroh’s graphic novel was first published in France by Glenat in 2010. Canadian publisher Arsenal Pulp Press acquired the rights for the English translation and should be in bookstores and comics shops soon, if not now. It first came to my attention earlier this year with a mention at comics rumor site Bleeding Cool and then a month later in the midst of a controversies arising  from Maroh’s reaction to the film adaptation’s less than subtle sex scenes and the two lead actresses’ frequent statements to point out rather clumsily their heterosexuality.

In an interview Maroh talked about letting the characters’ story come to her without pressure, working feverishly when inspiration came and accepting the periods in which it didn’t. The result is a seamless vision of a love affair between two women over the course of a decade or so set amidst the backdrop of a a large city. Lille near the Belgian border and near the coast is quite possibly the locale if the one clue of a Transpole public bus seen in the beginning is correct. Clementine (or Clem) is a junior in high school is living an average life concerned with family, friends, school, and a budding and awkward romance with classmate Thomas. One day Clementine’s life is sent into turmoil when she spies Emma and her girlfriend Sabine in a chance encounter on the street. From this point on Clem struggles with accepting her desire for Emma and dealing with the consequences of classmates and her parents accidentally discovering her relationship. It’s a familiar enough story that it shouldn’t be interesting, yet in Maroh’s hands the characters never become mundane nor their love trite. The story so absorbed me, pulling me along page after page. The pace not slowing down till the last part when Maroh delivers a surprise, at once mundane and shocking, that made me gasp in disbelief at Clem and tear up as they face the inevitable.

Maroh’s art is just beautiful. Her linework is lyrical and expressive, capturing furtive emotions and expressions with a seeming ease other artists may envy. With a restrained color palette and grey washes, Maroh is able both to enhance reality and evoke the dream-like qualities of memory. Blue is the color that ignites Clementine’s passion. It is the color of the sweatshirt Thomas, Clem’s awkward first love, wears when they meet in the school cafeteria and Emma’s hair is colored an identical shade the day they pass by one another. In these and other scenes in which blue is the predominant color there is a dynamic between intimacy and voyeurism as we see Emma reading pages from a teenaged Clem’s diary for the first time. Throughout the flashback scenes is ample use of a soft focus technique intended to make important elements stand out. Contrast that with the everything being in sharp focus in scenes occurring in the present. Seelingly irrelevant details are hidden in plain sight. Panels and page layouts are deceptively elegant, meant to serve the story rather than an artistic ego. The few exceptions to this practice highlight a moment, a memory, a character’s emotional state. The closing splash page of the sea through Emma’s eyes is as powerful an ending to this story as one could hope.

At the top I included a quote from Proust’s famous work. To compare Maroh to Proust may be overreaching on my part though I do believe that in her own way she has done her part in making the color blue as evocative as the famous madeleines of M. Swann’s aunt. Blue Is The Warmest Color is my only experience with Maroh’s work and I very much enjoyed it. She’s completed a second graphic novel and is working on a third I believe. I hope her work will continue to be translated into English.

March 7, 2015
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