Jade Sarson's Debut graphic novel "For the Love of God, Marie!" is a bold book about sex and love and the cultural opposition those things can bring about. It’s a bold topic to take on, and Jade Sarson does so courageously. The book is skillfully crafted with great storytelling design and illustration. Paper colour and colour palettes are very carefully considered, signifying time, historical era, and the emotional states of the main characters.
Marie is a character who takes a stand for who she is, in spite of the painful rejections this brings about from people she loves deeply. She has combined Jesus’s directive to love one another with her desire to nurture people through sex. It’s a maturation plot about how Marie comes to terms with who she is, and how she affects the people in her life over a 30-year time span.
Spoiler Alert: I’m going to talk below here about story specifics and my interpretations thereof.
The main conflict of the story is love versus conformity. Marie loves many people and a big part of her expression of that love is through sex, regardless of gender or cultural identity. Meanwhile she is maturing through an era of massive cultural change and friction, living her childhood through the 60’s, teen years in the 70’s, parenthood in the 80’s and 90’s. Religious and racial and cultural prejudices (embodied in the reactions of her old guard British parents) are constantly challenged by Marie’s choices of lovers.
Marie’s character embodies freedom of love in a few ways. Aside from the 60’s sexual revolution, Marie loves people unconditionally. Her heart reaches out to people downtrodden by their culture, as she herself knows this pain. Her sexual behaviour is fairly taboo for her time, with her mixture of same-sex and cross-cultural lovers. Ironically this beautiful trait of hers generates embarrassment, condemnation, and jealousy in the people she cares about.*
I’m particularly interested in the graphic elements Sarson uses to tell this story.
Paper colour in the book gradually shifts from a fairly dark amber to a crisp white towards the end of the book. To me it marks the passage of time through the story, using the tendency of book paper to turn more and more yellow-brown as it ages. I read it as a visceral symbol of how old a given part of the story is.
Colour palettes are strictly limited, and the palettes are changed from section to section. Generally any given section is limited to one or 2 colours plus black, and the colour of the paper, with one exception, the persistent use of gold (more on that later). The specifically limited colour choices seem to indicate major chapters in Marie’s life, not necessarily chapters in the book.
Burgundy, a conflicted colour on the edge between red and purple, the colour of red wine, blood of Christ, starts the book in Catholic primary school, a maybe 10 year old Marie playing the pregnant Mary Mother of Christ in the school Christmas pageant, and witnessing an event afterwards that sets her off questioning the established interpretation of her family’s religious values about what love is supposed to look like.
Blues, purples and reds for her childhood and teens in the 1960’s. Purple often symbolizes mixed feelings, inner conflict, sexual repression. It’s the blend of a hot and cool colour… fire and water.
Brown and yellow-green represent the time span of Marie raising her child Annie in the 1970’s. I clearly remember the brown and yellow theme in fashion and decor from when I was a kid in the late 70’s.
Red becomes the dominant colour starting with Annie’s first menstruation. As the colour of blood, red is the nearly universal symbol of emotional volatility, known to stimulate hunger, lust, fear and anger).
Turquoise tones, bluey-greens and greeny-blues, quite deliberately take over the red starting on Annie’s wedding day in the 1980’s. Turquoise is a cooler colour known to stimulate calm and relaxation. Think of how you feel looking into the blue and turquoise waters of beautiful beaches around the world. Turquoises and Pinks were popular colour trends at the time depicted here, I suspect thanks to the Cuban Miami cultural wave that swept popular culture back then. Check out the colour palletes of some footage from the pop culture phenomena of the time including the popular TV series Miami Vice and the awesome hit band Miami Sound Machine with their colourful videos.
The colour gold is particularly important to note. The colour characterizes or highlights only 3 people in the whole book, Marie, Prannath, and their daughter Annie.
Firstly gold is attached to Marie. Her hair is consistently a halo of Gold. As we see throughout the book she suffers the slings and arrows of her culture in response to her particular outlook on love. She’s a holy saint as she takes a stand against all pressure for her expression of spiritual love.
Secondly, gold is attached to Prannath, the man Marie falls in love with in college, the man who’s heritage is in India, who’s religion is Hindu. The frames of his glasses are gold. The umbrella he shares with Marie is gold. Prannath also suffers the disapproval of his family for this relationship with a white Christain woman. He’s taking a stand for love too.
Thirdly, gold is attached to Annie, in her Walkman and headphones and later in other accessories, and also in the gold umbrella that the family shares.
The golden umbrella is a great symbol in the story. For one thing, it seems to stand for Prannath’s and Marie’s shared values that love transcends their cultural barriers. At first the umbrella is his, then he gives it to Marie, and in a playful game it becomes theirs together. Eventually the gold coloured umbrella also belongs to their daughter Annie. Gold is literally and figuratively the umbrella under which Prannath and Marie come together.
Gold starts to evolve into other places later in the book.
One is her dear lifelong friend, the crossdressing pan sexual, champion boxer, Will, who becomes a sort of life partner, roommate, caregiver, provider, protector, occasional lover. Perhaps he eventually develops into adopting a similar value, accepting himself and taking a stand for who he is, what love is to him. Perhaps he is fully family now, under the gold umbrella.
Gold shows up in a sound effect from a firecracker that sparks a minor crisis that somehow brings Marie’s life to a new state of grace.
There is a nightmare sequence that recounts all the things Marie is judged for or judges herself for, or fears about herself. Golden slashes and shapes highlight these things, in a blackened and otherwise greyscale monochromatic dream world. The gold shapes look like dangerous things in this sequence, things that shame and cut and crush Marie. Perhaps its a moment where her virtues feel like sins to her.
Marie and Agnes, her newly rekindled relationship from high school, begin to turn gold together at the end of the book.
I haven’t spoiled the book for you. The power of this story is not in what happens, but in how Marie relates with the characters in the book, and how she overcomes her emotional and spiritual challenges. I rooted for her from the beginning, and cared about the quality of her experiences, and enjoyed the artwork immensely.