White Rapids (Drawn & Quarterly)

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whiterapidsheader.jpgDays gone by are captured in exquisite Art Deco detail in this nostalgic new graphic novel from award-winning Quebecois author Pascal Blanchet.

 

 

156 pgs. 2-Color; $27.95

(W/A: Pascal Blanchet)

 

White Rapids is a graphic novel that defies description in many ways, for to even call it a graphic "novel" seems a bit of a misnomer. The book gives an account of life in the small, idyllic town of Rapide Blanc, a place that was at once both pastoral and filled with modern conveniences, both isolated from the world and perfectly in tune with the ideals of the time. It is in many ways the paragon of 1950s ideals, like an image straight out of Leave it to Beaver or The Andy Griffith Show, and thus it seems almost too good to be true, so much an archetype that it must have been constructed.

And it was in fact constructed, but that also doesn't prevent it from being true. Rapide Blanc was a real town built in the late 1920s in a secluded area of Quebec by a Canadian power company. The Shawinigan Water and Power Company had put up a dam on the St. Maurice River, and they erected the town as a home for the workers there. As an incentive to entice their employees to move to such a remote location, the company made sure that the town was fully stocked with all manner of luxuries and amenities, as well as every convenience necessary for modern life.

The cover to White Rapids by Pascal Blanchet.The book then is a stunning portrait of this setting, brimming with nostalgia. Pascal Blanchet, the artist behind White Rapids, is primarily known as an illustrator, and it shows in his work. His Art Deco depictions of the town look like they could have leapt directly out of magazine advertisements of the time period. Similarly his use of color throughout the book is inspired, as he limits his color palette to orange and brown, casting everything with a sepia hue that evokes a feeling of a bygone era.

Blanchet also brilliantly uses the montage technique of combining his narration with the pictures, actually working the words into the image itself. A key example can be found in the early parts of the book, when he places his narration of the board meeting in which the town's construction was planned in the office directory of the company's corporate headquarters. In another instance, he fits his narration of the town's trips to the local cinema into the image of closing credits rolling across the silver screen, juxtaposed with a recreation of an iconic image from Singing in the Rain.

There are no characters to speak of in the book, however, save for the head of the Shawnigan Water and Power Company who orders his architects to build the village and approves the plans. (A case could be made that the only other "character" in the book is a fish nicknamed the General, whose mammoth size and uncanny ability to elude capture becomes the stuff of local legend.)  The plot is similarly threadbare and focuses simply on how the town was initially built in 1928 and why it was eventually shut down in 1971.

Instead Blanchet fills the book with snapshots of life in this beautiful little town, showing us charming visions of life in the 1930s as the people of Rapide Blanc shop at the Co-op, clown around at the local "beach," and throw elaborate dinner parties. On every page, he uses his picturesque imagery to send the reader back to a simpler time, as he does when he shows the town in winter in the ‘40s: children frolicking in the snow and building snowmen, people kissing under mistletoe at Christmas gatherings, a boy perched on Santa's lap.

If there is one drawback to the book, then, it is that it seems in some ways a bit inconsequential. As stated in the beginning, it is difficult to classify this book as a graphic "novel" when there is so little to it in the end, and at a price of $27.95 the book's gossamer "plot" might not seem worth the steep price to some. But cost not withstanding, White Rapids is still a superlative work of art that fondly recalls the days of yesteryear and sends its readers back to a scenic setting that seems to have sprung from dreams. | Steve Higgins

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