French graphic novelist Julie Maroh’s first book, Blue is the Warmest Color, was a poignant take on young lesbian love that inspired the Palme d’Or–winning film. Maroh breaks out the full palette in her follow-up, the story of Tazane, a rock star on the edge. Here, each painted panel bursts with colour, from the cool flashbulb light of a press conference to blood-red backgrounds of a raging performance to the ghostly greens of a dope-fuelled underworld. Through these and other hallucinatory images, Maroh depicts her rocker’s increasing sense of isolation and ambivalence.
Yet, while the visuals are affecting, the song itself remains the same. Tazane is a familiar figure: a singer in the Jim Morrison mould, whipping fans into Dionysian ecstasy at every show. His story begins at the height of his fame, leaving his motivation inscrutable, perhaps intentionally so. The crisis hinges on Tazane’s relationship with his audience: do they experience meaning in his lyrics, or are they mere puppets, mindlessly mouthing the words? He gets his answer during a concert in which fans sing along to what appear to be purposely inane lines: “This morning a rabbit shot a hunter! A rabbit with a rifle in his paws!”
In a moment of supreme egotistical hubris, Tazane rapes a young fan backstage after a show. Fans riot, the band breaks up, and Tazane winds up a junky. It’s a turn that leaves little room for a reader to invest in the narrative outcome. Maroh is interested in blurring the lines between pop culture and myth, but the rock ’n’ roll fall from grace is so familiar that for this to work, the material needs to punch harder, or risk coming across as clichéd.
If you enjoy your pop with an undercurrent of French cultural theory and a smattering of classical allusions, you might appreciate what Maroh has concocted here. Otherwise, Skandalon feels like an existential version of the film Almost Famous: all the tragedy, with none of the joy.