{comic} blue is the warmest color

blue is coverBlue is the Warmest Color by Julie Maroh

translated by Ivanka Hahnenberger

Arsenal Pulp Press, English edition, 2013.

published in France, 2010, by Glenat Editions as Le blue est une couleur chande.

Clementine is a junior in high school who seems “normal” enough: she has friends, family, and the romantic attention of the boys in her school. When her openly gay best friend takes her out on the town, she wanders into a lesbian bar where she encounters Emma: a punkish, confident girl with blue hair. Their attraction is instant and electric, and Clementine find herself in a relationship that will test her friends, parents, and her own ideas about herself and her identity.–publisher’s comments.

*********up to the asterisk line is closer to a reading and will not spoil everything about the story as I do hope you will read this for yourself at some point. After the asterisk, it is closer to “review” form (4 para.) if you desire to begin there.*******

Blue is the Warmest Color begins with a letter being read, cinematically it is a voice-over, “My Love.” The letter introduces Emma to the diaries Clementine (the author of the letter) has kept, but “all of [her] adolescent memories are in the blue one.” Along with letters read and the present-day thoughts from Emma, the blue diary is the source from which flashbacks of Clementine’s coming of age will be drawn. It is with this diary, Emma writes about the color blue, how “Blue has become the warmest color.”

blue is 9781551525136_1.480x480-75

Clementine’s diary takes us back to 1994, aged 15, and her first boyfriend, the one with whom she is unable to return affection.  Clementine’s reluctance is perceived even before the encounter with the girl with the blue-hair upon a street-crossing, but it intensifies afterward. Clementine struggles with this awakening, questioning what is natural and right. She tries only to do that which is expected of her, but she is uncomfortable within her own skin.

Maroh establishes the culture from which Clementine is emerging. Clementine’s outspokenly homophobic mother and just as repulsed father are fearsome. She begins to lose friends by just associating with her new friend, Emma. And they are just friends, Clementine and the blue-haired girl Emma. Emma is in a long-term relationship. She is older, lives on her own, and attends university. She doesn’t realize that Clementine’s longing for her has become painful with the passing of time. And Clementine experiences that age-old conflict: do you risk a friendship to profess your romantic love?

Clementine’s school mate Valentin is able to recognize her anxieties and becomes her lean-to. He helps her to become bolder, fight for herself. But in truth, it is that obsessive impulse (desperation) in love that creates boldness in Clementine.

Clementine and Emma find a more physical expression of their feelings for one another. Emma worries that Clementine is just curious, experimenting, and perhaps a certain audience will wonder the same: sexually confused teen and all that. The sex scene strips that all away. And yet, there are plenty of uncertainties to fuel the verisimilitude that marks the pair’s romance. For one, there is still Emma’s partner, Sabine. Time apart after various misunderstandings. Clementine’s parents.

There are few odd notes in Blue is the Warmest Color. Why, after discussing (post-coital) the phobias of Clementine’s parents, would Emma descend to the kitchen to get a drink—naked? It works rather neatly to punctuate just why Clementine has been so secretive, but it left me shaking my head. Fortunately, Emma’s family is willing to receive Clementine warmly. And here were get a second odd note: a 13 year leap through time. I didn’t expect that when she writes: “I grew up faster than I expected” (130), we would get to experience that same sense of time passing. Atop framed-out panels marking said passage, a nude Clementine (with longer hair, braided) lay in the fetal position. The images support the gestational image, her vulnerability, and the nurturing of a rebirth. And yet, we find that she has yet to come into her own. She still has difficulty becoming comfortable in her own skin.

We learn earlier that Sabine helped introduce Emma to community, to feeling liberated in her body and mind. Clementine emerges from Emma’s embrace differently. Hers is a different story.

 “For Emma, her sexuality is something that draws her to others, a social and political thing. For me, it’s the most intimate thing there is. /She calls it cowardice, but all I want is to be happy…/one way or another…/like everyone else” (131).

In the discovery of the other, her lover, Clementine would discover more about herself; by being open to Emma, she becomes open to herself. But the wounds fear inflicts on them individually and together haunt their relationship.



Blue is the Warmest Color is a story of love and betrayal, and of finding one’s way against odds that are both self- and culturally-inflicted. It wends its way from that physical and emotional infatuation, that obsessive longing toward an eloquent and abiding love that is no less passionate, but tempered by the maturity of time. Theirs is a love story.

While Clementine and Emma experience uncertainty and self-doubt at turns, the story begins on a note (a letter) of certainty that that persists. Blue is the Warmest Color demonstrates one of the best uses of the framed narrative. All that occurs in the middle, it is held secure in a knowing.  Emma and Clementine, each imperfect beings, will find their way to this deep understanding and be comforted by it, and so will the reader. Theirs is a true love, even if it is a tragic one. Theirs is a beautiful, hard-won love story we can read again and again.

The Artwork:

You’ll be shocked to find that the color of a warm blue stands out on the page, especially in the ink wash of the flashback/diary. Frames outside of the diary take on color, reds, yellows, greens, but even then the blues seduce the eye. We mind where it is used. I mentioned the overlay of a Clementine’s figure on a progression of framed images (130). She aids in a transition of color, taking on faint tones in her skin and hair while the bottom right frames placing her at age 30 and teaching are colored in. It is a subtle and beautiful transition to mark that unexpected passing of time. Frames are straightforward and text fairly easy to follow, though the squiggle off the speech bubble was sometimes tricky. Neither framing lines nor color differentiate dreams as Clementine finds these lines mutable, Emma ever in her thoughts, arousing her, etc. Maroh evades the fanciful, but strives for the impact realism lends her characters and the subjects that matter.

Aesthetically, the illustrations grew on me, but the artwork was not a first love, and I can’t say I yet am won over to it. I am glad I did not let this get in the way of reading Blue is the Warmest Color. A flip-through will not yield much in the way of story, either through text or image: be fair to you and Blue is and read this one through to avoid misapprehensions. The language a character uses reflects their age and experience, so passionate exclamations will be heard and seen; that said, neither are these moments devalued. These rave reviews, they are responding to the sincerity of the images and encounters. If you have experienced love, actualized or unrequited, brash or completely sane, you will be moved by Maroh’s story, by pages spare of text, yet always touched by that blue, and by a hopeful longing and a sorrow—I love that combination.

Recommendations: Blue is the Warmest Color is for people who love love stories; and I mean stories about real love, the sort that expose flaws and thrives despite them, the sort of story about love where love is built into the imperfections of the characters rather than the perfections of a clean and shiny narrative.


A caution for those of you who may be uncomfortable with nudity and sexual activity in a graphic novel…there is nudity and sexual activity in this graphic novel. It isn’t gratuitous, if that helps.

{Images belong to Julie Maroh}

Published by L

I read, and I write. and until recently, I sold books.

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