Tagged: Romance

Blue Is the Warmest Color by Julie Maroh

Blue Is the Warmest Color by Julie Maroh

I shouldn’t be the one to tell you about this book: I’m the wrong gender, the wrong orientation, the wrong nationality, the wrong generation. So don’t trust me.

Blue Is the Warmest Color  is a graphic novel by Julie Maroh – that’s what the edition I read says; I see indications that the author goes by Jul Maroh now and is transgender and nonbinary, which adds another wrinkle to the story. But this presents itself as fiction, even if, like anyone’s first big story in public, we suspect there are autobiographical elements in the mix. (It clearly can’t be entirely autobiographical, for reasons that should be obvious.)

Maroh is French; so is her cast. I found the story to be in a older mode than I expected: a frame story, coming out amid self-loathing, the clear tragedy of older gay/lesbian stories. It wasn’t nearly as 21st century as I was hoping from a book published in 2010 and translated in 2013 (and turned into a movie in French the same year). It’s not my world, not my community, but I thought we were past the sad dead LGBTQ people.

The main character is Clementine, but we start with her partner, Emma, after Clem’s death. Emma is retrieving Clem’s diaries from her partner’s parents. It’s not really clear how old everyone is, but we immediately dive out of the frame story into the main narrative, and the frame is just used for occasional (and I’d say, unnecessary) commentary. The frame is distancing at best: a more confident creator, later in their career, probably would not have made that choice.

The bulk of Blue is Clem’s story, starting on her fifteenth birthday in the mid-90s. She gets her first boyfriend, Thomas, is focused on school, has dreams of her future – the whole standard deal. She also sees a lesbian couple on the street, and has a strong, unexpected reaction to one of the women, with bright blue hair.

That’s Emma. We already know Clem ends up with Emma; there’s no mystery or surprise there; the frame story has eliminated that possibility. So I won’t run through the plot details, of how Clem denies she could possibly be lesbian, how wrong and unnatural and strange that is, how all of her friends (except one gay man) abandon her eventually. I said this was in the old mode: all that is familiar.

On the other hand, Clem does meet Emma more seriously, and they become first friends and then lovers. Emma is nearly a decade older and already in a relationship, with the forbidding Sabine, both of which would be warning signs in a more modern, conventional romance. But I think Maroh doesn’t mean any of it that way: this is a world where lesbians still live mostly quietly, out of sight, and young lesbians need to be introduced to that world and find a way in; they can’t just declare themselves and be accepted by the wider world.

(I may be naïve in thinking the other is true, now or at any time, in my country or this one. Again: don’t trust me.)

Blue covers two or three years in depth, and then jumps forward a decade to see Clem settled as a schoolteacher approaching thirty, to set up for the inevitable tragic end. There’s no intrinsic reason for this to be a tragedy; that’s unrelated to any of the main plot.

I would have preferred a happier romance; I was expecting one from the cover and the publication date. I’d like to think we’ve had enough tragedies about loves that can’t speak their names, and that most of us are happy to name those loves out loud, even if they’re not the ways we love. Again, I may be naïve.

But this is the story Maroh wanted to tell. It’s a personal, specific story, and I believe the world and the people. Maroh keeps it mostly monochrome, in soft greys and off-blacks, with blue as the one pop of color, making Emma almost luminous, especially in the early days. Like a beacon, like a signpost to a better world for Clem, if only she’s able to follow that sign and join that world – as she does, for a time.

Reposted from The Antick Musings of G.B.H. Hornswoggler, Gent.

Sunburn by Andi Watson and Simon Gane

Sunburn by Andi Watson and Simon Gane

Andi Watson is a criminally underrated maker of comics. He’s done great work for almost three decades now, but I never see him included on the list of greats. Maybe it’s because he never dabbled in the core Wednesday Crowd (is it still Wednesdays? I lose track, and the big day was Friday way back when I cared) comics – the closest he’s ever come is Love Fights , a relationship story set in a superhero universe.

I don’t know Simon Gane’s work as well, but what I’ve seen has been impressive – lush, illustrative pages with style and energy and a clear viewpoint. His Paris , with Watson, is particularly impressive.

So I don’t know how many people were eagerly awaiting their second collaboration, Sunburn , but I was definitely one of them. And the book does not disappoint.

It’s another historical, like Paris. To my eye, it’s set at the beginning of the ’60s, but it could be slightly earlier – there are mostly ’50s cars on the streets, but two-piece bathing suits are generally accepted. (The very first panel is a view of the main character’s room, with a lot of little signifiers – James Dean, some group with guitars I’m not 100% sure of, a record player – to help immerse the reader. Watson and Gane work a lot like that: unobtrusively but clearly showing rather than telling.)

Rachel is sixteen, the only child of a suburban British couple. Her parents seem to be perfectly nice people, a little staid but loving and happy. She unexpectedly gets an invitation, from a business acquaintance of her father’s, to spend the summer in Greece – and that’s the story here, so she accepts.

Close readers will wonder at this to begin with: the connection is very thin, and the invitation is out of the blue: who is this couple, and why are they inviting a sixteen-year-old girl they really don’t know along on vacation with them? Sunburn will explain this all, eventually.

But Rachel does not question her good fortune. She arrives quickly in sunny Greece – exact island and location left unspecified; this is a story about people and maybe the contrast between England and Greece, not about a specific place or historical time – and settles in with Diane and Peter, who are more stylish and young-appearing and sophisticated than she expected. They are friendly, they treat her like their daughter – or maybe a younger sister – and they introduce her to the life of this island, giving her fancy clothes to wear to the regular cocktail parties of their (seemingly quite affluent) set.

Among those introductions – well, central to those introductions – is a young man named Benjamin, whom Diane not-all-that-subtly puts together with Rachel. Again, a perceptive reader will start to think something is going on, and will learn more later.

Sunburn is the story of that place, that summer, and those four characters: Rachel at the center, her relationships with especially Diane and Ben, and Peter in a more distant orbit. I won’t tell you what happens, or why Rachel was invited, but I will say this is a subtle story rather than a brash one, a story about people and relationships.

Watson and Gane tell that story quietly, through gesture and glances as much as anything else. The style is somewhat cinematic; Sunburn is the kind of graphic novel that could be adapted into film without too many changes. And they tell a deep, resonant, grounded story: I didn’t see this until the new year, but it was clearly one of the best books of ’22.

Reposted from The Antick Musings of G.B.H. Hornswoggler, Gent.

Book-A-Day 2018 #345: You Are Here by Kyle Baker

I don’t think anyone’s hired Kyle Baker to write screenplays for romantic comedies yet. But, from the evidence of books like Why I Hate Saturn and I Die at Midnight  and this book, I think he’d be really good at it: he has a knack for screwball complications and the kind of dialogue that only tangles up a complicated situation more, no matter how much his characters try to be clear.

You Are Here  is a romantic comedy with thriller elements, or maybe a comedy-thriller with romantic elements, published as an album-format graphic novel in 1999. It’s in what I think of as Baker’s “cinematic” style, with mostly wide panels over captions and dialogue and sound effects, looking like storyboards more than a traditional comic. His art is vibrant and full of color, with a painterly feel most of the time; I think it was mostly achieved through digital tools.

I have the sense that Baker’s work failed to hit its audience in this era, despite high-profile publications and some really good work. (I remember not-loving the “cinematic” format and Baker’s shift to glossier art and computer drawing tools art at the time; maybe that was part of it with the wider audience.)

But You Are Here is manic and zippy and fizzy and total goofball fun from beginning to end; it might not be old enough to be a “lost classic,” but it’s a damn good book that got very little attention, from a creator who I don’t think has ever gotten his due.

Noel Coleman is happy: he’s been living in bucolic splendor somewhere in upstate New York [1] with Helen Foster for the last year, blissfully in love and doing good work on his paintings. Unfortunately, he’s also lied entirely to Helen about his past, making himself out to be some kind of choirboy when he’s actually a longtime minor criminal who only recently went straight by painting scenes from various crimes and events he witnessed.

Now he needs to head south to the city to sell his apartment. If he does that, he can get rid of the last vestiges of his old life and return to Helen unencumbered and ready to completely live the lies he’s been telling her.

But she follows him. And a maniac killer, Vaughan Dreyfuss, is also after him: Dreyfuss killed his wife after finding out she was having an affair with Noel, and has now announced, on a live TV spot for his new bestselling book Yes I Did It and I’ll Kill Again, that Noel is next. And all of his old friends refuse to believe he’s gone straight. And the cops are no help with the Dreyfuss thing, because Noel is still sort-of wanted himself.

And so Noel is running frantically around New York City, trying to keep Helen from realizing he isn’t who he said he was, trying to keep away from Dreyfuss, trying to avoid as many of his old crime acquaintances as he can, and trying to just get back out of the city to peace and quiet.

That leads to nearly a hundred and fifty pages — big pages, with lots of action and activity and screwball dialogue and unlikely situations — of complication, before the inevitable collision of Noel, Helen, Dreyfuss, and Noel’s past. It all smashes up gloriously, and Baker spins out both a great confrontation/hostage scene with those core three characters, but a witty denouement after that, too.

Frankly, I think You Are Here is too big and too overstuffed to be turned into a movie, and the random nudity and violence of Noel’s lowlife NYC hangouts might be a problem as well, but it could be a glorious one if anyone ever did it right. Even if that never happens, it’s already a glorious romantic/thriller/comedy on the page. You might have missed it; a lot of people did. It’s worth looking for, these almost twenty years later. And, luckily for you, there’s a new edition, straight from Baker himself, just waiting for you.

[1] Upstate in the NYC sense — maybe Putnam county, maybe the Catskills, maybe the Hudson valley. Definitely no further north than Albany, which means not really “upstate” to anyone who lives there.

Reposted from The Antick Musings of G.B.H. Hornswoggler, Gent.