Blue is the Warmest Color by Julie Maroh (translated from the French by Ivanka Hahnenberger)
Published by Arsenal Pulp Press, 2013 (first published in 2010)
My rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
It has to be said that this queer coming of age graphic novel isn’t exactly the most original offering when it comes to its narrative arc. On the contrary, it hits pretty much every clichéd beat that you’d expect: A charismatic and proud lesbian helps a repressed, closeted girl to come out; they embark on a passionate love affair; life tears them apart, and just as they are about to reunite and live happily ever after, one of them dies. And don’t worry, that’s not a spoiler. Page one opens with Emma reading a letter left to her by the recently deceased Clementine, asking her to read through her diaries. The rest of the story is thus framed as Emma looking back on their time together from her late lover’s perspective.
Why, then, have I rated this so highly? First off, the artwork is a major factor in the impact and lasting impression of any graphic novel, and in this case, it’s excellent. The images are rich and expressive; the use of colour smart and highly effective. I also love the thematic emphasis the book puts on the importance of good allies. Most queer stories focus purely on self-acceptance, and whilst that is a significant aspect of Clementine’s journey, Maroh shows us that true self-acceptance isn’t possible unless we feel valued and accepted by those around us. Though a couple of threads feel somewhat rushed or underdeveloped, she explores the idea of self-destruction brought about through a lack of inner peace with ourselves and our loved ones. As such, the emotional payoff feels earned, even if it’s not the freshest take on a gay love story.
Ultimately, Blue is the Warmest Color works because it’s presented with a lot of heart. Having first picked it up a few years back, I’m glad I decided to revisit it.
If you’d like to read Blue is the Warmest Color, you can pick up a copy from Book Depository by clicking here. If you’ve already read it, I’d love to hear your thoughts!