How does fame affect creativity and art? That seems to be the central question of Julie Maroh‘s Skandalon (2014, Arsenal Pulp Press). While I know it’s absolutely likely that Maroh started work on this book before Blue is the Warmest Color became an international success, it’s also hard not to see this book as a prescient answer to the pressures of being in the spotlight without really wanting it.
Skandalon focuses on a French rock star who goes by the name of Tazane. He’s talented, gorgeous and moody. He’s also a predator (sexual and otherwise) because he can be. He’s not a particularly likable lead, but he’s one that’s interesting to watch. Readers first meet him when he’s already famous so we don’t see where he came from (although there’s hints about it). Instead, we’re just witnesses to his fall.
While it’s highly allegorical, Maroh does her best to make it feel personal. While it’s hard to feel connected to Tazane himself, her use of color — dark reads, washed out greens, warm pinks, deep blues — to set tone and pace creates a beautiful, sensitive tone. Her panels look like individual paintings and give the story a dreamy quality. For a book about a rock star, there is an astonishing amount of silence in her art. Word balloons often feel like an intrusion as Maroh communicates her story through images alone. Her gift for taking the explicit expressiveness of manga and transforming it into her own style has only gotten stronger. If nothing else, Skandalon is an amazing book visually.
Unfortunately, the story falls short of where it should be. I admire what Maroh was reaching for and while I certainly don’t need to like the main character to enjoy a story, Tazane never quite grasped my empathy. Intellectually, I knew what Maroh was trying say, but I didn’t feel much about anything that happened to anyway toward the end. I missed the visceral, emotional core that Blue is the Warmest Color had. The story was more ambitious but obviously less personal for Maroh, and that shows.
Still, I’d rather see someone reach and fail than not reach at all. I admire that Maroh tried to explore these topics and she’s still a masterful artist. Even if I feel a bit mixed in the end on Skandalon, it still joins the company of books I will continue to think about and revisit. In that way, it’s nothing but a success.