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Blue is Bleu

Chris, Standley Lake Library

Some things you want to like more than you do--like the novels of Tolstoy or the administrations of Democratic presidents--but in the end they conspire to disappoint you.  Dissatisfaction of this sort is not unlike the sensation of having a phantom limb: you imagine something that reality can’t support and then wonder how you ever imagined it in the first place.
I had a similar experience as I made my way through the acclaimed graphic novel Blue is the Warmest Color. I should start by admitting that I’m an infrequent reader (or is it viewer?) of comics. In my limited experience, the most interesting comic book artists are the ones who collaborate with writers. But even as I write this, I realize there are countless exceptions: Robert Crumb, Ivan Brunetti and Alison Bechdel are three that come immediately to mind. But most often, the writing of the best comics cannot compete with the best prose fiction, and if it’s narrative I crave, I’ll sacrifice nifty graphics for a better storyline every time.
A few months back, the film adaptation of Blue is the Warmest Color took top honors at the Cannes Film Festival, winning the coveted Palme d’Or Prize. While I haven’t seen the film version, I did lay my hands on the graphic novel by Julie Maroh.  It tells the story of two young women, Clementine and Emma, who become lovers. Having been raised in a judgmental environment that eschews homosexuality, Clementine questions her orientation and slowly learns to accept her sexual identity, a process mirrored in the experiences of countless young people the world over.

When Clementine meets the cooler, ineffably hip Emma, it’s classic love-at-first-sight: can’t sleep, can’t eat, can’t live without you. The comic also depicts the many instances of homophobia that those coming out must endure: many of Clementine’s classmates, as well as her indignant father, treat her with contempt, and this causes her no small amount of anguish.

What so disappoints me about Blue is the fact that, minus the story of Clementine’s coming out, it is little more than an angsty teenage love story. From the viewpoint of an adult reader, it lacks the ability to surprise. Young woman has questions about her sexuality, check; young woman meets another young woman and falls in love, check; the two young lovers quarrel, check. And so on and so forth.
Maybe the failure of Blue is a failure of marketing: if directed toward a teen audience, it might have greater impact, particularly to those undergoing struggles similar to Clementine’s. Adolescents are forever grappling with questions of identity: sexual identity, cultural or ethnic identity, gender identity. The list goes on and on. Part of transitioning to adulthood is accepting one's identity, and being equally accepting of the identities of others.

As it stands, there is little in Blue that I could rightly call revelatory. It’s two kids in love, trying to make their way in the world. As one who barely survived the graphic novel of his own adolescence, I wish Clementine and Emma all the happiness in the world and send them on their imaginary way. With any luck, Blue will enjoy modest success, but not so much that it demands a sequel.

Blue is the Warmest Color by Julie Maroh.  Vancouver, BC: Arsenal Pulp, 2013.