The Vancouver Courier | Shawn Conner | November 9, 2007
WHITE RAPIDS, SOUTHERN CROSS in The Vancouver Courier
Drawn & Quarterly has earned a reputation as one of the world's most innovative comics publishers. Both of these recent selections not only uphold the Montreal company's well-earned status, but the books also demonstrate the wide range of storytelling options that vaguely fall under the loosely defined term "graphic novels."
With a minimum of words, White Rapids depicts an all-but-forgotten (at least by Western Canada) piece of Quebec history. In 1928, the Shawinigan Water and Power Company decided to erect the Rapide Blanc power plant on the St. Maurice River. To entice workers to the area, accessible only by rail, the private utility commissioned a town "on par with Montreal's most stylish neighbourhoods."
The rapid rise of the town, and its eventual obsolescence that follows with the nationalization of power, is the subject of White Rapids. It's a basic enough story, but the way in which 27-year-old Quebec artist Pascal Blanchet tells it is astonishing. In sepia browns and rusty oranges, with Art Deco shapes and '50s Modernist design, each page looks as though it could be the cover of a classic jazz album. The images are strikingly inventive, and so is Blanchet's integration of text with pictures--he incorporates narration to look like a movie's end credits, and puts the words in unobtrusive spaces like the back of a motorcycle jacket or the side of a desk. White Rapids has both humour--for instance, in the form of "the General," a legendary local pike that defies all attempts to catch him--and heartbreak amidst its gorgeous array of pictures. Blanchet's first book, La Fugue, won a 2005 award for best Quebec comic of the year, and White Rapids should have no trouble reaping similar awards for 2007.
If White Rapids has a problem, it's that the main character is the town, and lacks a human protagonist to carry the story through. That's not the case with Southern Cross, a narrative in woodcuts originally published in 1951. Outraged at the U.S. army's post-war testing of atomic bombs, Laurence Hyde took tools in hand to craft a depiction of its human toll. The tale is completely wordless, but the stark beauty of Hyde's work and his clearcut (pardon the pun) storytelling simply and effectively conveys the tragic complications that follow when American troops clear the inhabitants of a Pacific idyll from their island. This is a long-forgotten gem of a work, and deserves its second life. One caveat: avoid, if you can, artist Rockwell Kent's spoiler-filled introduction.