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WHITE RAPIDS reviewed by Bookmunch

Updated July 27, 2009


‘A below-the-radar treasure’ – White Rapids by Pascal Blanchet

This was one of those occasions where someone puts a book into your hands that they think you will like. In my daily comings and goings, I don’t make much of a secret about how much I like graphic novels, comics and sequential art and what have you. White Rapids is in that ballpark, whilst being wholly and utterly unlike any such thing you’ve seen before.

Imagine a very nice collection of 30s-50s art on the kind of paper that you find yourself frequently brought up short by (the kind of paper that you idly run between your finger and thumb as you ‘read’). Then further pin a wistful narrative that manages to recreate the workaday world of work long forgotten (a la Mad Men) against a backdrop of a sadly changing world with little or no sentiment for what has gone before.

This is the story of White Rapids, a town ‘named after the white rapids running through a northern stretch of the St Maurice River’, established by the Shawinigan Water & Power Company (in an opening scene reminiscent of the Coen Brothers’ under-rated Hudsucker Proxy) to house their employees. The main thrust of the book details life in the town: feet glimpsed by shop counters with Kellogs & minute rice adverts, the purchasing of modern gadgets, summers spent lounging on decking, evenings spent enjoying cocktails with friends, watching Singing in the Rain, seasons and holidays coming and going, time passing, a town bedding down. And yet, the long shadow cast over a town established in the sake of commerce eventually reasserts itself and a way of life vanishes in the blinking of an eye…

All told, this is a lovely piece of work, thoughtful, precise, beautiful to look at, with much to snag and occupy the mind of even the most casual reader. This is very definitely a book for grown ups (particularly readers of graphic novels for whom quite possibly half a life has passed). You can read the book in a little under an hour but quite possibly you find that you then return to the book and read it again and again, in order to see what you missed and in order to see if there is anything of the life that was capable of being transported into the life that is.

Any Cop?: This is one of those below-the-radar treasures that you should search out at your earliest convenience. Two gold stars for Pascal Blanchet.
 
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Featured artist

Pascal Blanchet

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White Rapids




  KASPAR AND BALONEY reviewed by Vue Weekly

Updated July 21, 2009


ARTS
Graphic Novels
Drawing in the margins: Drawn & Quarterly keeps pushing the edges of graphic novels

Brian Gibson / brian@vueweekly.com

As a sampling of recent comic stories from Montréal's Drawn & Quarterly shows, graphic novelists from all over the globe keep taking the form beyond its lightly humorous, comic-strip origins, inking twists on those same old stories of growing pains and education from the school of sudden blows. The four here starkly illustrate oppression, longing, pain, ignorance and grief in novel ways. Two in particular are masterfully melancholic.

Pascal Blanchet, from Trois-Rivières, won acclaim with his 2007 debut, the mill-town story White Rapids, and now his second book, the comic-opera Baloney: A Tale in 3 Symphonic Acts (78 pp, $19.95), sees him merge his grandly atmospheric, silhouette and '50s-advertising style with a fatalistic fairy-tale imaginatively scored to Russian composers Prokofiev and Shostakovich. This swelling story of a butcher and his daughter in a clifftop town may seem, at first, to take cuts from Seuss and Fantasia.

But Baloney's part-film, part shadow-play scenes, unfolding rhythmically through text-only, picture-only and blank pages, along with a brilliant mix of black, white and red colours, carve out a slab of magnificent tragedy. It's a retro-looking tale about peasants' struggle against power—in this case, as with White Rapids, literal power, for the Duke runs a heating-company monopoly that oppresses the winter-bound town. Yet this dark fantasia manages to not only inhabit a darkly whimsical world but make you hear the music to which it is to be scored ("Brass for arrogance and cruelty" and "Clarinets for calm" in Act II).

In 2008, Israel's Rutu Modan drew attention with Exit Wounds, an award-winning comic-story of two strangers meeting in Tel Aviv in the wake of a street-bombing. Her search for style and subject matter that hits home is showcased in a collection of earlier work, Jamilti & Other Stories (174 pp., $19.95), now translated and released here. The earliest pieces, as Modan admits in her afterword, seem remote. From a serial-killer story to a slightly gothic tale of three girls running a theme hotel, the drama is sometimes rushed and obvious, even a little too easy.

Modan notes her preoccupation with family photos, and it's no coincidence that the unforced, observational, snapshot feel, along with the clean lines and photographic look of Exit Wounds, emerge in "Homecoming" and "Jimalti," when she's turning the camera on her own surreal land. The juxtaposition of romantic memory and terrorist threat isn't quite perfected at the end of the kibbutz tale "Homecoming," but the title story, beautifully and horrifically matching up a suicide bomber and an imploding engagement, closes with a perfect jab. So does the last and most recent tale, "Your Number One Fan" (a look at that particularly Israeli sense of forced solidarity), with a musician finding himself too hopeful for a big break.

The maturity in Diane Obomsawin's Kaspar (82 pp., $15.95) is not only true but more incredible. Her cartoon-figure drawings are as unsophisticated as foundling Kaspar Hauser himself, left by his mother to a man who kept him in a room until his mid-teens, teaching him only a few words and how to walk (awkwardly) before leaving him in the middle of Nuremberg in 1828. He's super-sensitive (his eyes hurt when he cries) and thinks "People are watching us" as he stands before a mirror with his first adoptive mother.

Obomsawin, an animator and illustrator raised in France and based in Montréal, makes Kaspar like a slowly developing artist, learning about perspective (he's amazed not to be crushed by the point where a road meets the horizon) and distance (he thinks the moon is "the sun pasted onto the night"). His still-life watercolour, reproduced here, is gorgeous (though would have been more startling in colour, amid Obomsawin's grayscale frames), but it's Kaspar's own still-life that haunts. He dreams of death and strange assailants attempt to kill him, one finally succeeding in 1833.

Obomsawin's minimalist history (she's sifted through many sources, including Kaspar's own writings, and added some of her imaginings) falters a little as Kaspar is educated; his life with various tutors rushes by and the minimalist drawings mean that the detail of bourgeois German houses and estates, which must have overwhelmed and perplexed this near-blank slate of a young man, is missing. The clashes of nature and culture, of an awed man-child and hardened adult society, could be darkened, and many of the questions about Hauser on the back cover aren't raised within. But if Kaspar, like the man himself, offers a less than full and satisfying history, it can be more than just a short, stunted storyboard of a life, sometimes flickering a simple, powerful light on an educational enigma.

Pascal Girard, now in Québec City, recalls his grief-addled childhood in Jonquière with the death of his younger brother. Nicolas (69 pp., $11.95) moves along the pages from moment to mood without borders, the young Pascal showing off a picture of his dead brother to a classmate one day, sobbing darkly in his bed the next, then worrying about children with his girlfriend in an instant of a decade later. With the spare faces, this looks like a Calvin & Hobbes or Peanuts comic strip, only more flecked with a deeply inward, existential searching. But it's also awfully, wonderfully honest. This mini-masterpiece starts and ends with Pascal's memory of him and Nicolas playing with childish abandon. It's a haunting coda for a "little book" that only grows bigger in its emotions and shows just how successful graphic novels can still be in their outsized ambitions. V
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Featured artists

Pascal Blanchet
Diane Obomsawin

           Featured products

Kaspar
Baloney




BALONEY reviewed by Rain Taxi

Updated July 13, 2009


BALONEY
A Tale in 3 Symphonic Acts
Pascal Blanchet
translated by Helge Dascher and John Kadlecek
Drawn & Quarterly ($16.95)

by Donald Lemke

In his encore to the critically acclaimed White Rapids (Drawn & Quarterly, 2007), award-winning Quebecois cartoonist Pascal Blanchet delivers another refreshing piece of graphic literature with Baloney: A Tale in 3 Symphonic Acts. Originally published in French by Editions la Pastèque, this slender volume reinforces Blanchet’s definitive retro style and reimagines the limitations of sequential art by introducing a musical backdrop and creating a distinctive, media-bending experience.

Translated into English by Helge Dascher and John Kadlecek, Baloney, like the fables of Brothers Grimm or the twisted tales of Franz Kafka, maintains its surrealism across language and culture. Set in an isolated village, high atop a snowy peak, the story begins with Sergei, a once handsome and prosperous butcher whose life—in a single moment of tragic destiny—suddenly changes for the worse. Forced to choose between his wife and daughter, Sergei instinctively saves his only offspring, letting his one true love fall from a rocky cliff to her death. But tragedy for the widowed meatcutter does not end there. As the years pass, his daughter loses an arm and leg to polio, and then loses her eyesight to cataracts. These curses are only exacerbated by the Duke of Shostakov, the town’s ruthless dictator, whose monopoly of the local heating company strangles businesses and keeps citizens in perpetual misery. Sergei’s misfortune, like many others’, leaves him withered and resigned to heartbreak. “Everyone called him Baloney,” Blanchet writes about Sergei, “after the saddest of all meats.” However, luck for Baloney soon takes a turn for the better when an idealistic tutor arrives to school his daughter. Their late-night lessons turn to love—sparking jovial conversations and inspiring a plan to take down the Duke of Shostakov and bring back light to the gloomy village.

Although brief, Blanchet’s narrative is delightfully lyrical, even poetic, at times, and his tale is deliciously dark and gothic; the author offers his characters hope just long enough to hurt them when it’s taken away. The real story, however, is Blanchet’s illustrations—angular geometrics and curvy lines decorate each full-page panel with the modernist flair of a Jim Flora album cover and the deconstruction of a Picasso painting. His characters bodies are perfectly spare of any details, intentionally featureless to avoid any disconnect from the reader. This abstraction of character does not lack complexity, however; instead, simplifying the characters induces greater understanding of moral concepts and creates concrete representations of the underlying themes: love, despair, and heroism. The vibrant shades of red, like the colors of raw or cured meats, enhance these emotions even further.

The most innovative aspect of Baloney is Blanchet’s inclusion of a playlist, which offers a musical pairing for each section of the book. From Prokofiev to Shostakovich, these musical suggestions are anything but ancillary. Read without minding the score, Baloney is a visual escape, but paired with these ballads the book becomes an immersive experience, evocative of the greatest silent films. With any luck, other creators will note this innovation and follow Blanchet’s lead as the sole composer of operatic graphica.
 
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Featured artist

Pascal Blanchet

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Baloney




  BALONEY reviewed by Booklist

Updated June 26, 2009


Issue: April 1, 2009


Baloney: A Tale in 3 Symphonic Acts.
Blanchet, Pascal (Author)
Feb 2009. 80 p. Drawn & Quarterly, paperback, $16.95. (9781897299661). 741.5.

Now this doesn’t look like comics at all. Seemingly inspired by the 1950s Mister Magoo and Disney non- series-character cartoons as well as the commercial art of Jim Flora, Blanchet allows no more than one composition per page, though a few link across the gutter into two-page spreads. And it is as compositions that his images register. Their visual elements seem to be cutouts mounted on backdrops of pure white, black, or red—the only colors Blanchet uses, fading them into grays and pinks for occasional atmospheric effects. They illustrate the fable of a melancholy sausage-maker in a sunless city atop a peak. Years ago, his wife died and his daughter was maimed before his eyes, a coincidence so shocking that the ruling duke
erected the wall that keeps the town dreary. Then an effervescent young man, the daughter’s long-awaited tutor, arrives. But alas. Appended is a playlist of classical selections (mostly Prokofiev and Shostakovich) to accompany the story’s scenes. Blanchet fills a terminally maudlin tale with contradictory verve and charm, however futile.

— Ray Olson

Featured artist

Pascal Blanchet

           Featured product

Baloney




BALONEY reviewed by the North Adams Transcript

Updated May 1, 2009


Tales of gloom and doom
By John E. Mitchell
Posted: 04/24/2009 02:46:33 AM EDT

North Adams Transcript

Baloney By Pascal Blanchet (Drawn and Quarterly)

In the dark and funny graphic operetta "Baloney," Quebecois illustrator Pascal Blanchet crafts a wonderful picture book for grown-ups. With a story built around the music of Prokofiev and Shostakovich and draped in gothic tragedy, Blanchet follows up his retro effort "White Rapids" with a skillful bravado.

Baloney is the town butcher, whose life is filled with tragedy -- his one-armed daughter is also blind and has a wheel for a leg, and he is a widower, his wife having met a horrible end. He inhabits a cold town -- literally freezing, temperature-wise, and covered in snow -- that is held hostage by the sinister Duke of Shostakov, who owns the area’s only heating business.

Love and hope arrive in the form of a young man who might solve the temperature problems, as well as those of Baloney’s daughter’s heart.

In its brightest moments like something concocted by film director Tim Burton -- although perhaps more in line with the work of Canadian master Guy Maddin -- "Baloney" begins with a wicked form of campiness but unfolds into something darker but just as stylized. Blanchet pulls from the horror of opera and folklore to present a pure small tale. The town may strive for light -- and might just find what it looks for -- but physical light does not promise the same in emotional content. The story pummels the reader as hard as the music from which it derives its inspiration and culminates in a celebration of the worst life has to offer.

Blanchet carries this rather depressing story with his typical playful art style. In its retro form evoking 1950s commercial and picture book art, Blanchet connects the dots to the way classical music was sold on LPs in this era through his renderings. Disturbing tales were given a nuclear age chic through their promise of high culture -- Blanchet gets straight to the point in regard to the melange being pushed in the packaging. "Baloney" is less about the story and characters than the way they are presented -- depressing, personal horror as ironic dark whimsy, tragedy as melodrama.
 
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Featured artist

Pascal Blanchet

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Baloney




  BALONEY reviewed by The McGill Daily

Updated March 26, 2009



The saddest butcher of them all
Pascal Blanchet’s newest graphic novel merges music and melancholy

Alexander Weisler
The McGill Daily

Trois-Rivieres artist Pascal Blanchet garnered critical acclaim with his last effort, White Rapids, a graphic novel chronicling the life span of a hydro-electric outpost in northern Quebec. His flat yet dynamic figures struck an aesthetic somewhere between art deco and the TV show Dexter’s Laboratory, integrating text with the artwork to bring fifties Quebec enterprise to life. At the end of the volume, Blanchet, who’s illustrated The New Yorker and Penguin books with his jazzy style, provided readers with a playlist, a sort of soundtrack to the graphic novel.

In his new release, Baloney: A Tale in 3 Symphonic Acts, the artist further incorporates music into the story, adding another element to his unique blend of text and graphics. With an orchestration detailed at the start of each chapter, Blanchet manages to make his illustrations into a graphic manifestation of sound. At the book launch last Wednesday, the artist said the idea for the book came from listening to the Soviet-era Russian composer Dmitri Shostakovich. “His music is renowned for being so over-the-top it’s gross,” says Blanchet, “It’s almost comedic.”

He compared the sound of Shostakovich to an opera, and the plot of Baloney certainly fits that bill. The title is drawn from the book’s lead character, a widower butcher nicknamed for the saddest meat of them all. Baloney the crying butcher resides in a village nested on top of a rocky cliff with his daughter, who has lost a leg, an arm, and her vision. Every night poor Baloney is haunted by nightmares of his departed wife, whose fall from the cliff prompted the town’s corrupt duke, Shostakov, to seal off the town. Baloney desires a proper education for his physically disabled, yet beautiful daughter, while the duke terrorizes the town by regularly raising the cost of heating.

Set in an unnamed eastern European municipality inspired by Shostakovich, the constant wintry gloom of the town recalls snowy Quebec – and the duke, with his heating monopoly, is an easy stand-in for the menace of Hydro-Quebec in White Rapids. Blanchet joked that power is his main pre-occupation; besides having to pay the bills, many of his family members have worked for the power company.

Blanchet says he has received some negative reviews for Baloney, something that may have more to do with the marketing of the book than its contents. Released in English by Montreal-based graphic novel publisher Drawn & Quarterly, Baloney is described as a graphic novel filled with full-page panels. “People just don’t know where to put my stuff,” notes Blanchet. Full-page panels of graphic novels are not so different than the full-page illustrations of picture books, and these seem to be more like the novels. The text is also not divulged through captions and balloons like a comic, but within the artwork or beside it, a trait of picture books. As a graphic novel, it is easy to give Baloney harsh reviews, for it lacks the plot expected of the genre. The form of picture books is more appreciative of art, and this medium allows Blanchet to show off his dynamic skills.

Baloney should be described as a picture book for adults, best read while listening to the playlist. Blanchet’s mixture of silk-screening and computer illustration makes for an interesting showcase of contemporary design. The tragic ending is certainly not for children, and its abruptness may have garnered some criticism; it is incomplete by novelistic standards, but falls in the operatic tradition that inspired the artist. In fact, the tale sits a little uneasily with this reviewer as well, perhaps because the illustrations strain against the confines of the page, begging to be animated and given voice. Still, it’s a testament to Blanchet’s ability that he is able to inject two-dimensional figures with so much vitality.
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Featured artist

Pascal Blanchet

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Baloney




BALONEY reviewed on CBR

Updated March 18, 2009


Baloney
by Pascal Blanchet
Drawn and Quarterly, 80 pages, $16.95.

This is Blanchet’s second book for D&Q, his first being 2007’s tale of the rise and fall of a small Canadian community, White Rapids. Baloney is a bit more ambitious than that book, though it’s not nearly as good.

Little of the fault lies with the art work. Drawing on a number of mid-20th century sources, the work of most notably Jim Flora amd the UPA animation studio, Blanchet’s illustrations use line and shadow to stunning effect, creating a world that is all 45 degree angles, silhouettes and skewed arrows.

More illustrated fairy tale than comic, Baloney tells the story of a miserable butcher, his beautiful but disabled daughter, her bookish swain and the town they live in ruled by a cartoonishly evil duke. Plot-wise it reminded me a good deal of some of James Thurber’s children’s tales, though this work is decidedly for adults, mainly because it ends on such a dark and depressing note.

And that’s a big part of the problem with Baloney. It’s designs and characters are so over the top, so ridiculous that it’s hard to really care about them or their plight. The book veers in tone between slapstick and tragedy and never really manages to find the right note, a perhaps ironic criticism considering how Blanchet attempts to incorporate music into the reading experience (there’s even a playlist in the back of the book).

Baloney is not without its merits, most of them artistic, but because it fails to create an immersible world (unlike Rapids, where the town felt recognizable), it fails to engage the reader as well.
 

Featured artist

Pascal Blanchet

           Featured product

Baloney




  KASPAR and BALONEY reviewed in QUILL AND QUIRE

Updated March 16, 2009


BOOK REVIEWS
Kaspar

by Diane Obomsawin
Publisher: Drawn & Quarterly
Price: $12.95 paper
ISBN: 978-1-897299-67-8 Price: $16.95 paper
ISBN: 978-1-897299-66-1
Page count: 96 pp.
Size: 7 x 8¾
Released: Feb.
Baloney: A Tale in Three Symphonic Acts

by Pascal Blanchet
Publisher: Drawn & Quarterly
Price: $12.95 paper
ISBN: 978-1-897299-67-8 Price: $16.95 paper
ISBN: 978-1-897299-66-1
Page count: 80 pp.
Size: 7 x 8¾
Released: Feb.

If Kaspar Hauser hadn’t actually lived, someone would have made him up. Discovered on the streets of Nuremberg in 1828 by German authorities, the enigmatic teenage foundling quickly became a sensation across Europe, capturing the imagination of a population equally susceptible to Rousseauian philosophy (surely, here was an example of “natural man”) and sensational speculation (was he the long-lost son of the Grand Duke of Baden?). When Hauser died under mysterious circumstances five years later, little more was known about his obscure origins than on the day he first appeared.

In Kaspar, Quebec artist Diane Obomsawin is less concerned with the mythology surrounding Hauser than with retracing the steps of his tentative self-awakening. Drawing on Hauser’s own writings and the accounts of his contemporaries, she depicts the dismal details of his early life (Hauser was raised in a darkened cellar, deprived of “all human and social education”), as well as his life with various guardians, who generally treated him well but soon grew tired of the novelty – and the burden – of his care. Along the way, an unlikely portrait of Hauser emerges as a kind of forsaken everyman, a metaphor for the romantic artist and outsider. “Nature only seems beautiful to me when I look at it through red-coloured glass,” Hauser observes. “The day I see red apples I feel true satisfaction.”

Obomsawin’s simple, stick-like figures and muted greyscale palette are perfectly suited to Hauser’s naive befuddlement with the world. Depicted as an implacable presence at the centre of nearly every frame, Hauser is primped like a toy doll as he’s passed from one guardian to the next. The resulting impression is of a primitive flipbook (Obomsawin has worked as an animator on several NFB-produced films), and the cumulative effect – of life, sped up and in miniature – is oddly moving.

Kaspar’s muted charm couldn’t be further removed from the brash aesthetic of Baloney, Pascal Blanchet’s follow-up to his well-received graphic novel White Rapids, which charted the rise and fall of a fictional Quebec boomtown. The new book, which was actually written before White Rapids and is only now being translated into English, is self-consciously composed as “a tale in three symphonic acts,” with nods to the bombastic styles of composers Shostakovich and Prokofiev.

While White Rapids was suffused with the lambent light of nostalgia, Baloney – set in a “poor, isolated town on a high, rocky peak” – is overpowered by the macabre. Visually, the book is as eye-catching as its predecessor, composed in a stark colour scheme of black, white, and red. Unlike most graphic novelists, Blanchet works on a computer, and his designs here have all the contrast of a German Expressionist film – an apt approach to this tale about a town improbably sealed off from all sunlight. Blanchet finds much nuance in the charcoal-and-grey shadow life of the town.

But while Baloney is undeniably eye candy, it’s an oddly hollow confection. The narrative lurches around disjointedly, pitting the title character (a lugubrious butcher named “after the saddest of all meats”) against the villainous Duke of Shostakov, who rules over the town with an iron fist. When Baloney’s handicapped daughter and her lover uncover the Duke’s monopoly over the town’s energy resources, their punishment is swift and absolute – but the tragic coda feels perfunctory and unearned. None of this is helped by language that feels wooden (“Tragedy played thief to his love and joy....”) and at times completely superfluous (“He stopped at the butcher’s shop, casting a long shadow over its heavy door, and took hold of the knocker”).

Baloney will appeal to those attracted by Blanchet’s visual flair, but is unlikely to have the same crossover appeal as his previous work. The book is all horn blasts and booming tympana, with no connecting theme.

Reviewed by Stuart Woods (from the March 2009 issue)
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Featured artists

Pascal Blanchet
Diane Obomsawin

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Kaspar
Baloney




KASPAR, BALONEY and more reviewed by Guttersnipe

Updated March 13, 2009


Some terrific books from Drawn & Quarterly have been collecting sawdust lately. So to rescue them from the stacks of oblivion in middle of renovations, I crammed a bunch into my weekend. Plus, maybe guttersnipe can ride the crest of the Watchmen wave just a little longer by tagging the term “graphic novels.” (Note that some of the publication dates are embarrassingly out-of-date, but better late than never, non?)

Aline and the Others, Guy Delisle (Drawn & Quarterly, 2006). Delisle has (rightfully) earned a reputation as a first-class travelogue artist for his graphic memoirs on Pyongyang, Shenzhen, and Burma. Aline and the Others, like its companion Albert and the Others, is a small (D & Q refers to this series of elegant little tomes as “petits livres”), modest collection of sight gags in thumbnail-size panels. Many focus on identity and gender roles: in “Bernadette”, a large woman works off her weight, her slimmer self gets picked up by a large photographer, she merges with him and she’s back to her old self (he, meanwhile, has disappeared, leaving behind just his camera). An interesting way to pass a bus ride.

Kaspar, Diane Obomsawin (Drawn & Quarterly, 2009). If the name “Kaspar Hauser” sounds familiar, it could be because of the 1974 Werner Herzog film The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser. A mysterious foundling (birthdate unknown) in 19th century Germany, Hauser claimed to be raised in total isolation. When he was found, he carried a note: “I wish too be a cavalryman, just as my father was.” Obomsawin’s graphic retelling uses minimal lines, almost stick figures, and gray tones to recount the story, based on research. The artist’s technique well-suited to the fascinating story, another in D & Q’s petits livres series.

Jamilti and Other Stories, Rutu Modan (Drawn & Quarterly, 2008). Boy, D & Q really does it up right sometimes: Jamilti and Other Stories is just an outstandingly handsome volume. Modan is the Israeli author of Exit Wounds, a stunning graphic novel first published and translated in 2007 and winner of the 2008 Eisner Award for Best Graphic Album. Collecting some of her early stories, Jamilti includes black and white and colour work and shows Modan’s growth as both a story teller and artist; by “Your Number One Fan”, the grimly funny last story (I’m assuming thes are chronologically ordered), Modan has grown into the artist capable of pulling off the themes and art in Exit Wounds.

Dogs & Water, Anders Nilsen (Drawn & Quarterly, 2007). I’ve really been enjoying Nilsen’s series Big Questions, with its shifting narrative (crows and finches at a plane crash in the middle of nowhere are the main characters). A friend reading Dogs & Water said she thought the book took too long to tell its story, and she might have a point; but Nilsen’s art has a great line, and that’s what kept me reading this story of a man walking through a mostly deserted landscape, a teddy bear strapped to his back.

Baloney, Pascal Blanchet (Drawn & Quarterly, 2008). As a follow-up to 27-year-old Blanchet’s ridiculously accomplished 2007’s White Rapids, Baloney is a bit of a disappointment; on its own, it’s another stylishly told tale (Blanchet seems to have learned his craft from Gene Deitch’s art deco jazz album covers of the 50s), albeit one without the autobiogrophical heart of the previous work. More of a fable, Baloney has style to burn, and is worth a look simply as an instructive lesson on new ways to tell old(fashioned) stories.

Aya, Margerite Abouet and Clement Oubrerie (Drawn & Quarterly, 2008). Bucking trends, Aya is a collaborative effort (Abouet writes, Oubrerie draws)—and just plain sweet. As such, I had misgivings, and it sat on my shelf for awhile. But the story of teen love problems on the Ivory Coast in the 1970s (based on Abouet’s childhood memories), Oubrerie’s lighthearted lines and the bright colours of Africa won me over.
 
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Featured artists

Guy Delisle
Pascal Blanchet
Diane Obomsawin

           Featured products

Aline & the Others
Kaspar
Baloney




  WHITE RAPIDS, PAUL GOES FISHING, & 365 DAYS reviewed by the Montreal Gazette

Updated July 21, 2008


The 100-mile cultural diet:
A look at some new releases from Drawn & Quarterly and Conundrum Press
CHRISTINE REDFERN
Montreal Gazette
Saturday, July 19

"Art is a very different industry than agriculture, but one that also often promotes and imports the exotic, while local produce withers on the vine. Montreal is known for having the right environment for the development of graphic novels, so I recently packed a bag full of the most recent crop and headed out to the woods to read.

The first question I was asked by one of my fellow forest-dwellers was: "What is a graphic novel?" I'm not sure what he was expecting, but I believe it was more lascivious than my response of "ah... comics." But soon everyone who was old enough to read was poring over the selection of books. At times funny, insightful or dark, they can usually be consumed (though not always digested) in one sitting - perfect summer reading...

White Rapids is the first English translation of award-winning Quebec cartoonist Pascal Blanchet's work. This story uses a minimal number of words, combined with artwork inspired by 20th-century design, architecture and jazz. It is pure eye candy that convincingly takes us back in time. He tells about White Rapids - a company town founded in 1934 on a northern stretch of the St. Maurice River. The Shawinigan Water and Power Company dammed the river and built White Rapids to house its employees and their families. Situated deep in the wilderness, its only link to the outside world for years was by train. Blanchet constructs an idyllic tale of this half-French, half-English town: from its inception, through log drivers, fishing and hunting trips, its first cars, to the changes in technology that ultimately caused its demise in 1971.

Paul Goes Fishing, by Michel Rabagliati, is once again an English translation of an award-winning French comic - the fourth in his semi-autobiographical Paul series. Rabagliati uses a more traditional comic book style in his work. This latest instalment finds Paul off for a summer vacation at a fishing camp with his pregnant wife. The narrative weaves together moments from his childhood with the adults and children who surround him in the present, as he slowly moves toward becoming a parent himself. You will find yourself identifying many Montreal and Quebec locations when you read this engaging yarn. Also filled with many local places and individuals is 365 Days, a graphic diary by Julie Doucet. Featuring principally ink drawings with the occasional collaged element, this diary offers a portrait of the artist as she travels, contemplates life, buys shoes, creates art and mops her kitchen floor.

For a complete view of what's out there in graphic novels, head over to the Drawn & Quarterly Bookstore, where all these and many other books can be procured. Or if you want to see some original work, stop by Le Cheval Blanc Brewpub, where an exhibition of birdhouses built and painted by many of Montreal's finest comic artists, including Suicide, just opened.

For further information go to www.conundrumpress.com and www.drawnandquarterly.com or visit the Drawn & Quarterly Bookstore located at 211 Bernard St. W., 514-279-2224.

The exhibition Cou Cou runs until Aug. 15 at the Cheval Blanc, 809 Ontario St. E. For more information, go to www.lechevalblanc.com or call 514-522-0211."
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WHITE RAPIDS reviewed by Book By Its Cover

Updated July 4, 2008


BOOK BY ITS COVER
July 3, 2008

White Rapids

I love the retro style of Canadian Pascal Blanchet’s work. His illustrations are so well designed and so consistent stylistically with limited palettes and sharp geometric curves. He also uses some intense perspectives making an illustration of just an office building so exciting to look at. This book is one of his graphic novels about a isolated town made by the Shawinigan Water and Power Company created so that workers could move there with their families while working on a dam. There’s very little text on each page and when it is there, it’s creatively mixed into images like on signs, the credits on a movie screen, or a paper someone happens to be holding. There’s a little bit of dust speckle all over the illustrations too giving the paper an interesting old cardboard-ish feeling. The story follows the whole history of the town from it’s beginning to it’s demise in 1971. It kind of reminds me of this historic town in Chicago we visited called Pullman created by the railroad car company headed by George Pullman. It was really interesting to see this weird neighborhood and imagine what it once was. Anyway, you can get a copy of this book here and see more from Pascal here.
 
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  WHITE RAPIDS reviewed by Comics in the Classroom

Updated April 10, 2008


White Rapids / Rapide Blanc: A History Comic With Something For Everyone
Scott Tingley
COMICS IN THE CLASSROOM
March 29, 2008

I used to teach in Northern Saskatchewan in a tiny little fly-in community called, Stony Rapids. It was a hard and wonderful couple of years, and my wife and I learned a lot and got to know about some of things that we had never even thought of before then. One thing I learned about is what happens to a town when the company that built it decides to shut down operations at that site.

Uranium City used to be a thriving Northern town (though never actually a city), but by the time I moved to the region, it had been reduced to a few homes, and few prospects. Apparently, the uranium mine had just shut down all of a sudden years before. The remaining inhabitants were still proud of their town, but it was falling apart around them. They kept things going as well as they could (they had a great curling rink); the hospital was still there, but not for long, and houses were sold for nothing.

White Rapids, by Pascal Blanchet tells the part fact, part fiction tale of a Quebec company town built around the Rapid Blanc dam in the late 20s. One day, four decades later, the decision to automate the dam was made and the idyllic, isolated town in northern Quebec was shut down. Blachet's “retro-inspired” “Art Deco” graphic novel tells this fairly simple story power and emotion. He does such a nice job of showing how ideal life could be there, that you can feel the disappointment and loss the families felt having to leave their isolated paradise. You know what is coming, but the set-up makes the reader hope for a different outcome.

Founded in 1928 in an isolated region of Quebec forest, the town was conceived and constructed by the Shawinigan Water & Power Company to function as a fully-equipped, self-contained living community for workers at the nearby dam and their families. Intended as an incentive to lure workers to the remote and inaccessible region, White Rapids provided its residents with all the luxuries of middle-class modern life in a pastoral setting—until the town was abruptly shut down in 1971, when the company changed hands. (from Drawn and Quarterly.com)

I know that this book is being presented as a graphic novel, and a great example of what a graphic novel can be, but I keep thinking of it as a children's book for adults / young adults . That needs some explaining. This is not some book that looks like a kid's book but is filled with adult language and situations. No, this is an adult / young adult book through and through, but it feels like Blanchet is trying to do for us what great children's book creators do for kids. They create a world in which they draw in the reader – they make that world count while you are reading and they make you want to come back and visit again and again.

White Rapids is, in a way, an all ages book. This is a book you can get for anyone interested in the history of towns, or in various art styles or in good stories. Your grandfather might enjoy it because of all three, but your kids might just like to look at the beautiful pictures. I plan on adding it to my grade three class' graphic novel library (filled only with the very best) and I know that it will be a hit. They may not find the story very interesting (grade three after all), but I know they will enjoy the art.

French teachers: This was originally published in French under the name Rapide Blanc. I consider the English version to be kid-safe, so I would think that the French version would be as well.
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WHITE RAPIDS reviewed by Playback:stl

Updated March 27, 2008


White Rapids
Written by Steve Higgins
Friday, 21 March 2008
PLAYBACK:stl
Days 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 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.
 
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  WHITE RAPIDS in Canadian Review of Materials

Updated March 20, 2008


White Rapids.
Pascal Blanchet.
Grades 8 and up / Ages 13 and up.
Review by Pam Klassen-Dueck.
CANADIAN REVIEW OF MATERIALS

*** /4


excerpt:

On that cold December night, the story of Rapide Blanc, named after the white rapids running through a northern stretch of the St. Maurice River, was about to begin …

In the late 1920s, on the top floors of the Shawinigan Water & Power Company’s Montreal headquarters, the village of Rapide Blanc is born. The village, which will be located on a northern expanse of the St. Maurice River, is intended to house the employees of the SW&P Co.’s new dam and power plant. Despite the location’s isolation and its freezing winter temperatures, the SW&P Co. creates a cozy hamlet with pretty houses and many amenities in order to attract workers and their families. A community life develops in Rapide Blanc, and the village’s residents are content with their employment and their living situation. However, with the nationalization of Quebec’s electric power industry, the pastoral situation begins to change, and the lovely village of Rapide Blanc is gradually abandoned.

White Rapids is a sentimental tale of the birth and death of a community within the span of less than 50 years. Ironically, despite Rapide Blanc’s artificial beginning as a way to lure employees to live in a cold and lonely locale, Blanchet portrays a thriving village life of nuclear families enjoying their leisure time with dancing and outdoor pursuits, as well as stocking up on the latest consumer goods, such as trendy living room furniture and new Chryslers. Nostalgia for the bygone years of the 1950s and the 1960s permeates the book.

White Rapids refers to the designs of both Art Deco and Modernism in its beautiful illustrations, which incorporate various tones of browns, oranges, and creams. The retro-inspired appearance of the book and its pages mirrors the decades of the twentieth century in which the story takes place, and bolsters the narrative’s nostalgia for these years.

Although I found White Rapids to be a lovely and interesting book, its subject matter (i.e., urban planning, economics, et cetera) is dense. As such, the audience may not be grade school students, and so I doubt the usefulness of White Rapids in schools. However, perhaps it might be useful as a resource for studying communities and how they change over time.
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WHITE RAPIDS reviewed by The Daily Cross Hatch

Updated February 21, 2008


White Rapids by Pascal Blanchet
February 6, 2008
DAILY CROSS HATCH


Pascal Blanchet stated in a recent interview that Rapide Blanc, the small Canadian town at the center of White Rapids, is the story’s main character. The small Canadian town, created by a water and power company as a home for its workers and their families, was signed into existence in 1928 and dissolved by 1971.

Blanchet presents broad scenes of town life and works to give readers an idea of the Rapide Blanc’s place in the region. We never meet or get to know any individual residents, those we do see are draw in a unified style—all sporting generally exaggerated noses, with one eye visible to the viewer and perpetual grins on their faces.


As a result, it’s difficult to feel truly sad when the town closes down. In a few very poignant spreads at the end, the now-empty houses echo with abandonment; yet because the novel is so short and the amount of interaction between the reader and any personal characters so minimal, we come away feeling less like eyewitnesses and more like distant spectators.

The artwork is the book’s most engaging and cohesive element. Blanchet uses muted colors, mainly varying shades of orange and brown with the occasional white or grey thrown in. The entire book consequently basks in nostalgia, like an album of old sepia photographs resting in your hand. He also creates incredibly dynamic pages by drawing his buildings or buses at sharp, expressionistic angles; by playing with the text—varying fonts and sizes and the way words and sentences are positioned on the page; and by elongating shadows to dramatic effect.

White Rapids depicts the town of Rapide Blanc as an oasis of sorts, its inhabitants contented people who rarely found themselves unhappy (until, of course, they’re ultimately forced to move when their town shuts down). And who knows, maybe the real Rapide Blanchians were the happiest in all of Northern Canada. But more likely, it seems that Blanchet abandoned the prospect of delving beyond the stereotype of superficial 1950s happiness in favor of mining the era’s aesthetic possibilities. The enjoyable outcome proves the endeavor’s worth.

–Jillian Steinhauer
 
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  WHITE RAPIDS reviewed by The McGill Daily

Updated January 31, 2008


The literary picture show
Local illustrator Pascal Blanchet recounts the rise and fall of an idyllic Quebec small town in his newest book, White Rapids
By Alex Weisler
January 28, 2008

Like Persepolis and Maus, White Rapids is a testament to the rising mass appeal of the graphic novel.


Graphic novels have been garnering increasingly mainstream attention and critical respect in recent years, with “slice of life” stories overshadowing the capes and tights familiar to the medium. The genre’s literary merits have come to light with a slew of popular new works: Persepolis, recently adapted into a feature film; the Pulitzer Prize-winning Maus; as well as more subversive books like Alan Moore’s Lost Girls, an erotic take on Victorian children’s fiction.

The term “graphic novel” remains controversial: it’s used to refer to any comic book longer than the traditional newsstand format, but mammoth publishers like Marvel Comics employ the designation to market their titles. Most noticeably, graphic novels have pushed their way onto the shelves of public libraries, as librarians struggle to keep recovering Harry Potter fans literate. Alternative comics creators, such as the influential Harvey Pekar and the Hernandez brothers, have long advocated the literary legitimacy of graphic novels, but only now is the public beginning to listen.

Like the current conundrum of “indie” music, the term “independent comics” is problematic. It really just refers to any sequential art album not associated with the dominant superhero publishers; most successful graphic novels are published by established companies, rather than distributed guerilla-style like zines. In the U.S., Fantagraphics Press has published non-genre graphic novels like Ghost World since the 1970s.

Down the rapid

Montreal-based Drawn & Quarterly has also amassed a number of awards with its eclectic catalogue. The company’s store, located in the Mile End, is a veritable showcase of the most respected graphic novels. One work garnering a considerable amount of mainstream attention is White Rapids, a true story set in Quebec, written and illustrated by Trois-Rivieres born artist Pascal Blanchet. Blanchet's previous effort, La Fugue, captured the 2005 Bédélys award for best Quebec graphic album.

At first glance, Blanchet's debut English-language translation isn't particularly literary. “Graphic” is more dominant than “novel,” and Blanchet is clearly more of an illustrator than an author. Except for a few expository passages, words are scant and generally unnecessary. The summary on the back cover gives readers the whole story before they even set eyes on the first page, which depicts an ominous portrait of a Montreal skyscraper cloaked in Art Deco shadows. Structurally, White Rapids has more in common with children’s picture books than great literature; if read like a usual comic book, it could be digested in minutes. However, Blanchet’s emphasis on graphics rather than text does not undermine his storytelling abilities.

Rapide blanc, as it was marketed in French, presents the historically relevant tale of the eponymous town erected in Northern Quebec in the 1930s. As detailed in a shadowy opening segment, the Shawinigan Water & Power Company decides to establish a power plant on the desolate shore of the Saint Maurice River. Workers and their families are lured to the isolated plant by modern amenities, and the town of White Rapids is born. The work’s second segment showcases the middle-class suburban lifestyles enjoyed by the jolly, mixed-tongue residents of White Rapids. The most striking sequence of the book depicts the relationship between the White Rapids residents and the surrounding wilderness. Hunting and fishing on the vast lands owned by Shawinigan prove tranquil pastimes for employees. This idyllic lifestyle, a regular American dream surrounded by the vast Canadian landscape, comes to a sudden halt in 1963 when Shawinigan is enveloped in Hydro-Quebec’s nationalization project.

In an interview with the comic book news site Newsarama, Blanchet claims that he doesn’t really like comics, and is influenced more by swing music from the 1930s and 1940s. The work reflects his tastes. In fact, Blanchet lists a number of songs in the final pages which are meant to accompany the story. At no point is the narrative partitioned into the horizontal panels of traditional comics, nor are word balloons employed. Text either sits alongside the illustrations, like in a picture book, or interacts with them, forming a sort of visual poetry that survives translation. Blanchet is evidently more at ease as an illustrator than cartoonist.

Personal narrative is entirely absent, a rare characteristic for comics (Drawn & Quarterly’s other recent release, Julie Doucet’s 365 Days, is literally a diary). But the third person approach isn’t alienating, particularly in light of the intimate portrait he presents of the town. Its wholesome happenings provide a sentimental tone to accompany Blanchet’s proposed soundtrack. In fact, the work’s most noticeable weakness is when Blanchet attempts to develop a character beside the settlement. A large, elusive fish gains the nickname “The General,” and provides a sort of awkward symbolism in the narrative.

More than meets the eye

Blanchet’s intentions in producing the biography of White Rapids seem innocent enough on the surface. He has claimed to be inspired by his grandfather’s fond memories of fishing in the region. But the artist also told the CBC that he is “a big fan of sinister things,” and a certain amount of paranoia and claustrophobia are communicated in the book. Though seemingly appreciative of the happy-go-lucky 1950s suburban lifestyle, the machinations of Shawinigan make a pronounced, if inadvertent, statement about modern life. The opening pages are visually terrifying, with Blanchet’s trademark style portraying the halls of the office building as a hard-boiled monster. The company President’s proclamation that White Rapids exists “to serve the people” is presented along with Shawinigan’s menacing logo, an imperialist pair of horses chasing lightning bolts. Residents are portrayed living satisfied lives, but readers are constantly reminded that their luxuries are contingent upon Shawinigan. A shuttle bus to the beach, for instance, has the company’s initials stamped on the front.

The sequences detailing the pleasure of hunting and fishing up North are the only ones that don’t communicate a sense of suffocation, but the connection with nature is quickly followed by Hydro-Quebec’s decision concerning the fate of the town. Technology, which conjured the town into existence, has streamlined it out of existence. The fact that it is only 1971 when White Rapids is abandoned raises the question of how much more dominant technology has become today. It is unclear whether White Rapids is intended as a commentary on technology and corporations, but the scarcity of text and emphasis on images allows for interpretation and consideration. So while the work might not be as strictly “literary” as other influential graphic novels, its silence allows for a kind of graphic literature.
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PASCAL BLANCHET interviewed by Newsarama

Updated January 18, 2008


PASCAL BLANCHET ON WHITE RAPIDS
by Michael C. Lorah
January 17, 2008
NEWSARAMA

In the early part of the 20th century, the Shawinigan Water and Power Company intended to build a power plant on the St. Maurice River in the Quebec wilderness. Dubbed the Rapide Blanc Powerplant, the dam was built ten miles from the nearest rail station, and nearly sixty from the closest road.

To convince workers to relocate their families and take work at the plant, Shawinigan created, from the ground up, an entire village, also named Rapide Blanc. Settled in 1934, the small village soon grew into an unlikely success, a slice of small-town idealism writ into the Canadian frontier.

By 1971, with automation making the plant staff redundant and new, paved roads making trips to the dam more plausible, the village of Rapide Blanc faded into the pages of history… and comics.

Pascal Blanchet took some time to talk to Newsarama about his graphically stunning book White Rapids, explain his personal connection to the nearly forgotten town, and discuss the approach to designing and creating Rapide Blanc’s biography.

Newsarama: Pascal, how did you discover the story of Rapide Blanc, and what made you decide to adapt it to comics in White Rapids?
Pascal Blanchet: I’ve heard about this story since I was a child—my grandfather worked for the Shawinigan Water and Power Company during the 1950s and he had to go to Rapide Blanc many times a year. As a fisherman, my grandfather loved to go fishing there and was a friend of many of its residents.
That place has always fascinated me, and during the Montréal Book Fair in 2005 I was talking with my publisher about it. He told me it was a great story, and that lit up a light in my head!

NRAMA: The artwork is simply amazing. How did you develop your approach to the story?

PB: I first tried to gather the whole story of Rapide Blanc, which meant a lot of research because most of the houses and building were demolished. Once I collected all the technical information I needed, all I had to do was have fun. Maybe it sounds a bit simple, but that's how I work.

NRAMA: Did you worry at all that you might be painting the town’s history in too broad of strokes?

PB: No, it was my intention. I wanted the village as the main character and wanted to represent it in a broad way to express the fact that Rapide Blanc was just a little town that was born and died without leaving a trace, to try to give a bit of a cold look on the story—the same kind of look that big boss must have had on that village at the time, thinking of everything but the people for whom that little place was home.

NRAMA: You painted the town as a very idyllic, 1950s community, almost the definition of “the American dream” circa Harry Truman’s administration. I found that an interesting contrast because Rapide Blanc was far out in the Canadian wilderness. What was your intent in depicting the town as such a tight-knit, upbeat community?

PB: Every time I hear people asking old people, "How it was when you were young?" it makes me laugh, because it seems some people think that people were living like in the 17th century during the 1940s! I just depicted the reality of that time: it was the radio, modern kitchen and swing music era! I think it makes a nice contrast with the wilderness of Rapide Blanc.

NRAMA: It certainly does. Given the demolition of so much of the town, how difficult was it to research the history of Rapide Blanc?

PB: Not difficult, mostly because it was part of my family history, and also because many of the old residents are still alive.

NRAMA: In the course of your research, did you find any skeletons that contrast the happy vistas in your book?

PB: No! And I have to say that I tried hard to find some. [laughs]

NRAMA: I rarely ask this question unless I think the answer is going to be particularly interesting (and perhaps inspire me to study some of the answers on my own), but what influences do you see if your approach to White Rapids?

PB: I think the first influence on the book is music. I tried to swing lines, to give them a musicality. I also worked the “ouverture” sequence like movie sequences. I don't think there's any influences from comics, maybe because I'm not a big fan of comic books.

NRAMA: Really? Was this your first book-length comic?

PB: No, my first one was a book called La Fugue published by Les Éditions de la Pastèque in 2005.

NRAMA: What sort of day job do you have?

PB: I'm first of all an illustrator. To me it's more than a day job, it's something I really love to do (maybe because I work with great art directors—I’ve heard many horror stories from illustrator fellows, so I think I'm pretty lucky to work with such nice people). I made some covers for Penguin Books and illustrations for the New Yorker... well, I'm lucky!

NRAMA: Are you interested in doing more comics when time permits?

PB: Sure! But I have a terrible fear to do it! There's so many great cartoonists and I'm afraid to make bad books. I'm now working on a new one that should be called In the Still of the Night. As a night owl, I live mostly at night and want to make a tale about a night in a city.
 
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  WHITE RAPIDS on The Onion A.V.'s best of list

Updated January 10, 2008


The Best Comics Of 2007
By Noel Murray, Keith Phipps, Tasha Robinson
January 4th, 2008
ONION AV

1. Pascal Blanchet, White Rapids (D&Q)

It's rare to find a book as formally innovative and profoundly lovely as Blanchet's second graphic novel, which lays out the brief history of a northern Quebec company town in a series of full-page spreads that resemble Art Deco posters. Blanchet uses the clean designs of commercial art and the nostalgic pull of retro advertising to create an effect not unlike an extra-long children's picture book, pitched at adults. White Rapids is historical and wistful, and blazes a path that other fine-art-minded young cartoonists would be wise to follow.
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WHITE RAPIDS in The Montreal Gazette

Updated January 10, 2008


LISA FITTERMAN
Saturday, December 22, 2007
MONTREAL GAZETTE


Growing up in Trois Rivières, illustrator Pascal Blanchet always looked forward to summer fishing trips up to Rapide Blanc, an abandoned village on the St. Maurice River in northern Quebec. His grandfather had worked there for a nearby power plant owned by the Shawinigan Water and Power Co., as did his dad. The little boy listened to stories of days gone by, of a busy, genteel and self-contained world where neighbours supported each other and there was warmth and dancing, even in bitter winter.

Blanchet also listened to stories of the village's fall from grace, a process that began in the 1960s after Hydro-Québec bought out the privately owned company and decided to automate the plant, allowing it to be run from far away.

The result is White Rapids, a graphic novel that was first published last year in French as Rapide Blanc by Les Éditions de la Pastèque. A paean to a past, it draws on mid-20thcentury influences like art deco, modernist design and Bing Crosby as it melds fact with fiction, and memory with a sense of wistful whimsy.

Blanchet, who counts among his clients Penguin Books and Brigham Young University, is not your typical graphic novelist. He doesn't use multiple frames on a page or dialogue bubbles to tell a story.

Rather, each page contains a single, sombre-toned drawing that evokes a time when a whole village sprang up in the bush as if by magic, with elegant single-family dwellings, a private fish and game club, a tennis court and a curling club; a community that, nearly 37 years after the last residents left, people still talk and write about.

Consider, for example, the website, lerapideblanc.com, to which former residents and their descendants have posted numerous photographs and memories.

And Blanchet understands. There is something about Rapide Blanc that grabs hold of you, he says in an interview from his home in Trois Rivières, given that it was so vibrant for 40 years and then so quickly abandoned.

Blanchet may never have lived there, but he brilliantly conveys the sense and innocence of it with simple and angular lines.

There is the tired droop of an eyelid, the silhouette of a boss smoking a cigar, the sidelong, forbearing glance a husband gives his wife who is singing much too loudly into his ear, and the cap that jauntily sits on the head of an evasive, sharp-toothed pike in military uniform that residents took to calling "The General."

"The fish really did exist, although the uniform is, of course, my embellishment," Blanchet says, laughing.

Indeed, local legend had it pulling a deer drinking by the river's edge down into its depths.

Music is important to Blanchet, to the point that he provides a scene-by-scene discography at the end of the book; it includes an overture of George Gershwin's Piano Concerto in F, Stardust by Artie Shaw and His Orchestra and Bing Crosby's You Are My Sunshine.

Blanchet's drawings are like sheet music, too, each flowing naturally into the other as they tell the story not only of a singular place and time, but also deliver a subtle treatise about the toll progress takes on human scale.

They begin with the decision in 1928 in a downtown Montreal boardroom to build the village in tandem with a new power plant. Company brass decide they need something akin to Montreal's most stylish neighbourhoods to attract qualified workers and their families to the bush, which for years had no way in or out save for the occasional train. In summer, it wasn't so bad. In winter, temperatures regularly plummeted to below minus 50 degrees Celsius, with storms that buried the village in white.

The book closes with a bespectacled character standing alone on a bridge, his wife calling from the car, "Why are you stopping?"

"I'll be only a minute," he replies, then drops his house key into the river, plop!

The sharp-toothed pike silently swims by and swallows it up.

"The General was never caught," Blanchet writes in a coda.

Its legend - and that of Rapide Blanc - lives on.

Lisa Fitterman writes a weekly column for The Gazette's Arts & Life section.
 

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  WHITE RAPIDS in The Toronto Star

Updated January 10, 2008


A graphic homage to a company town; When the blue-suited swells in Montreal automated a northern Quebec dam, a vibrant village became the instant preserve of ghosts. Now they haunt us again.
The Toronto Star
Sunday, December 23, 2007
Suzanne Alyssa Andrew


Given Toronto's real estate prices, it's hard to imagine abandoning your home, but scattered across remote areas of North America are thousands of empty neighbourhoods. These ghost towns are the casualties of industrial shifts and finite natural resources. When a local logging outpost, cannery, mine or mill shuts down, vibrant working-class communities fade away.

In his graphic novel follow-up to the award-winning La Fugue, illustrator Pascal Blanchet tells the semi-fictional story one such forgotten town, the northern Quebec village of Rapide Blanc (a.k.a. the eponymous White Rapids en anglais). The brainchild of J.E. Aldred, the Montreal-based president of the Shawinagan Power Company (and his in-house architects), Rapide Blanc was a lively and elegantly appointed village built on the banks of the St. Maurice River where SW&P Co. decided to erect a massive new hydroelectric dam.

When Rapide Blanc was established in the late 1920s, the entire area was a wilderness accessible only by train. Yet the town plans, Blanchet notes, were "on par with Montreal's most stylish neighbourhoods. After all, the company needed an incentive to get employees to live out in the middle of nowhere."

More than 1,000 workers were hired to build the dam and the hydro plant. By the time they finished the project in 1934, the village of Rapide Blanc was taking shape.

Blanchet's full-page illustrations in warm bichrome hues of orange and brown depict a genteel community. Summers are for swimming at the lake, fishing, hunting, camping in the woods and dancing late into the night. Ten-cent movies and lively parties at the curling club sustain the inhabitants through the brutal winters.

Although Blanchet's homes, cabins and woodlands are lush with activity, his narrative is told in a sparse voice-over style. Few words are required to show how locals react to the town's demise. In 1963, Hydro-Quebec nationalized the electric power industry and decided to automate the Rapide Blanc dam, close the village and relocate its workers. By 1971, "the pleasant murmur of summer evenings would be silenced forever."

Blanchet speaks through his images, taking aim at the long-distance decision- making powers of grim-faced elite urbanites. He also mirrors the era's escalation of consumer culture through the growth of materialism in Rapide Blanc.

The first car arrives in the village in 1935, "and in just a few years, almost everybody had one." The train "pulled in every day to deliver milk and mail, often bringing along the latest model refrigerator, a four-burner stove, a fashionable living room set or a brand new Chrysler." The local Co-op gleams with ads for Kellogg's Corn Flakes, Minute Rice and Jell-O.

To show the progression of decades, Blanchet slowly shifts his illustration style from angular Art Deco to a curvier Machine Age Modern. While the buildings and characters representing SW&P Co. are drawn with consistently sharp lines, the inhabitants of Rapide Blanc begin as suspender-clad workers in the '30s and evolve with the times - wasp-waists and flannel trousers in the '40s and '50s to beehives and sweaters in the '60s. The final inhabitants leave in sundresses and T-shirts by the early '70s.

White Rapids is reminiscent of a mid-century documentary. As you watch the snow fall or oversized convertibles glide down the street, you can almost hear children talking in rapid French/English in the schoolyard, fish jumping in the lake and workers sharing gossip - until the faux film reel ends as abruptly as the village itself.

Buried in the Canadian industrial infrastructure we now take for granted is an important history from below - the stories of workers and company towns. Blanchet has rescued the memory of a northern ghost town from oblivion.

Suzanne Andrew is a Toronto writer and editor.

Featured artist

Pascal Blanchet

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White Rapids




SHORTCOMINGS, WHITE RAPIDS in Eugene Weekly

Updated December 21, 2007


DECEMBER 13, 2007
EUGENE WEEKLY

Growing, Inch by Inch
SHORTCOMINGS by Adrian Tomine.
DRAWN & QUARTERLY, 2007. HARDCOVER, $19.95.
A NEW YORK TIMES NOTABLE BOOK OF 2007.

Adrian Tomine’s stories about ordinary, flawed, lovely, insecure people are intimate and familiar, full of heartbreaks, what-ifs and should-haves, all rendered in rounded, elegant black and white. Shortcomings, a hardcover that collects three issues of Tomine’s Optic Nerve series, is an arresting image of a relationship caught in the act of dissolving amid disagreements about ideas and identity and how people define themselves, together or apart.
Ben Tanaka’s girlfriend Miko has been getting more interested in her Japanese heritage, to Ben’s disinterest; in the face of his dismissal of what matters to her, Miko accuses Ben of having a thing for white girls (“It’s like you’re obsessed with the typical Western media ideal, but you’re settling for me,” she says, heartbreakingly, when she confronts him about his porn collection). Ben vents about Miko — and everything else — to his friend Alice, a Korean lesbian whose pointed observations and willingness to accept her friends’ choices about how they define themselves make her a gentle, if sassy, counter to Ben, whose stubborn refusal to consider race as a central part of a person’s identity is tested again and again.
Neither Miko nor Ben is blameless in the dissolution of their relationship; neither is truly right about the other, either. With crisp, biting, funny dialogue and spare, evocative art, Tomine charts their bumpy course to a relatively settled point, though not exactly a happy one. Shortcomings is less statement than suggestion, as Tomine widens his scope from the small moments between people to the larger questions — be they about race, relationships, fallacies or futures — that shape them. —Molly Templeton



panel discussion
THE BEST GRAPHIC NOVELS OF 2007 by Aaron Ragan-Fore

Perhaps it’s the modern inheritance of an art form originally designed to be bundled up with yesterday’s newspaper and tossed to the curb at the end
of the week, but comic books are always in such a gosh-darn hurry. The growing mainstream acceptance of graphic novels as legitimate cultural commentary has led to an explosion of quality material, and the taste of the current trend is rarely out of the mouths of the nerderati bloggers, convention attendees and guys who dress up as Stormtroopers before they want to sample next month’s flavor. So here’s a little garden of roses the comics fan on your holiday shopping list might want to stop and smell: 2007’s best graphic novels.

White Rapids (Drawn & Quarterly, $27.95), Pascal Blanchet’s lush sophomore effort, also uses history as a template for an intimate story, the abbreviated life cycle of a Québécois company town. Each page is composed like a stylishly snappy 1950s travel ad, probably making this the most visually stunning graphic novel of the year. Blanchet’s strictly structured artistic toolbox only serves to underscore the creative skill he employs in advancing the narrative. The
book’s formalism compares favorably with Chris Ware’s Jimmy Corrigan, but while Ware focuses on the foibles of humans, here it is the town of Rapide Blanc itself that takes center stage.
 

Featured artists

Adrian Tomine
Pascal Blanchet

           Featured products

Shortcomings (HC)
White Rapids




  JAMES STURM'S AMERICA and WHITE RAPIDS in the Edmonton Journal

Updated December 21, 2007


Save bookshelf space for graphic novels
From Popeye to James Sturm, 2007 saw steady flow of high-quality titles with great artwork and writing
Gilbert A. Bouchard
Wednesday, December 19
EDMONTON JOURNAL

- James Sturm's America (Drawn & Quarterly Press, hardcover). While a bit on the dark side, James Sturm's America was undoubtedbly one of the best things (in any medium) I read this year. This talented trio of period narratives ranges from a heartbreaking story of pioneer hardship set in an early 19th-century evangelical revival meeting to a quirky tale about itinerant Jewish baseball players in the 1920s.

- White Rapids by Pascal Blanchet (Drawn & Quarterly Press, tradepaper). Words don't do justice to this quirky tome by Canada's Pascal Blanchet, but if I had to pick two, I'd settle for "heartwarming" and "funky." Using a nostalgically laden visual vocabulary that evokes mid-century advertising illustration, this book tells the compelling rise-and-fall story of the tiny, titular White Rapids, a hamlet built to service a huge Quebec hydro-project.

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Featured artists

James Sturm
Pascal Blanchet

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James Sturm's America: God, Gold, and Golems
White Rapids




WHITE RAPIDS, MOOMIN 2 and SHORTCOMINGS reviewed by The School Library Journal

Updated December 21, 2007


Drawn & Quarterly – School Library Journal Reviews – January, 2008
School Library Journal

BLANCHET, Pascal. White Rapids. tr. from French by Helge Dascher. illus. by author. 156p. discography. Drawn & Quarterly. 2007. pap. $27.95. ISBN 978-1-897299-24-1. LC number unavailable.
Gr 10 Up–In a tour de force exhibiting both style and substance, a graphic artist recounts the creation, populating, daily life, and eventual planned destruction of a Canadian town. White Rapids came into being as part of a private power company’s need for manpower at a site rich with potential hydroelectricity. Fifty years later, after the boom years immediately following World War II, that power source was no longer needed by the now-state-owned company. Blanchet’s retro artwork depicts not only the town’s emergence and eventual abandonment, but also the power of capitalism to create a social organism and then destroy it. The book includes facts and figures as well as views of daily life on the river during construction, habitation, recreation, and final human departure; a discography suggests auditory complements to the images for a truly dynamic realization. An excellent resource for social science research as well as inspiring to nascent artists and graphic novelists.–Francisca Goldsmith, Berkeley Public Library, CA

JANSSON, Tove. Moomin: The Complete Tove Jansson Comic Strip. Bk. 2. illus. by author. 88p. Drawn & Quarterly. 2007. Tr $19.95. ISBN 978-1-897299-19-7. LC number unavailable.
Gr 10 Up–A collection of comic strips that Jansson wrote during the 1950s for adults, based on the characters from her children’s books. In this volume, the cute hippolike Moomins stay in their Scandinavian home and let the follies of the world–a self-glorifying athlete, snobbish new neighbors, or competing prophets–come to them. But folly can also be home-grown, as Moominpapa one winter decides that his family will eat pine needles and sleep on a pile of hay, because that is how their ancestors lived. Whatever the challenge, though, good sense always triumphs and all ends well. Jansson’s gentle skewering of human foibles is as relevant today as it was 50 years ago. Teens will readily identify modern-day incarnations of Jansson’s characters and appreciate her message that the path to happiness lies in being true to who you are and trusting in the support of caring friends and family. The whimsical black-and-white artwork conveys both the characters’ emotions and the informality of life in Moominvalley.–Sandy Schmitz, Berkeley Public Library, CA

TOMINE, Adrian. Shortcomings. illus. by author. 112p. Drawn & Quarterly. 2007. Tr $19.95. ISBN 978-1-897299-16-6. LC number unavailable.
Gr 10 Up–Ben Tanaka is a Japanese American in his late 20s, living in Berkeley and working in a movie theater. His confusion and frustration with his girlfriend, Miko, are compounded when she moves to New York for a four-month internship at a film institute, leaving him to have some “time off” from their relationship. The women in his life now include his best friend, Alice, a Korean lesbian; a beautiful, white bisexual who chooses her ex-girlfriend over him; and a performance artist who delights in photographing her own urine and having sexually explicit musical stage shows, but finds kissing icky because of germs. When Ben goes to New York with Alice, he finds that Miko has hooked up with a photographer and isn’t in the city for an internship at all. Tomine uses an understated drawing style that is simple yet effective, and fits well with characters who are intelligent, reflective, and honest. In addition to tackling modern relationships and racial politics, pop culture, art, and cinema are also discussed. Ben acts as an Everyman, standing in for all Americans of mixed ethnicity and the confusion that often surrounds a person divided between two worlds. The wordless final frames speak volumes for his quiet contemplation, and many readers will identify with his struggle.–Jennifer Waters, Red Deer Public Library, Alberta, Canada

 

Featured artists

Adrian Tomine
Tove Jansson
Pascal Blanchet

           Featured products

Shortcomings (HC)
Moomin: The Complete Tove Jansson Comic Strip, Book Two
White Rapids




  WHITE RAPIDS reviewed by The North Adams Transcript

Updated December 17, 2007


WHITE RAPIDS
John E. Mitchell
North Adams Transcript
12/13/2007

When it comes to picture books, industrialism just isn't cool anymore — environmental concerns have taken over.

There was a time, however, when the archetypes of industry were scattered throughout children's books — just take a look at the landscape as viewed by Scuffy the Tugboat in the old Golden Book of the same title. Steamshovels, factories, lighthouses made to feel small next to sprawling bridges that heralded in the engineering triumphs of the new age of man — all these things were routinely celebrated in picture books of old.

Revisiting that territory is Pascal Blanchet's "White Rapids." Blanchet, a Quebecois cartoonist, has fashioned a stylistically impressive tale of the communities raised and destroyed by the movements of industry. There is no animated, sentient heavy equipment here — instead, a dam, power plant and workers' community built on the St. Maurice River, making mankind's stamp on the wilderness in a haughty attempt to tame it for our comfort. It does not go as expected — but rather than a disaster, mankind's failure is a whimper and a retreat.

Blanchet's artwork is gloriously retro, but stylized with a smart hindsight that straddles affection with a knowing glance. He can tread the same territory as any other illustrator who depicts the pre-1960s world of commercial style and suburban socialization, but the breathtaking moments here are reserved for the trappings of big business — the retro-futuristic control room at the dam, the tunnel and township maps, boardrooms, train bridges, skyscrapers — all as exotic in their presentation as the wilds of Canada. This frontier, however, is tamed by outdoorsmen brandishing the latest gear, by housewives and block parties, by modern products flying off the grocery store shelves, of that old chestnut of a word that we don't think about anymore because it's no longer a novelty, progress.

Blanchet's work is a paean to progress as nostalgia, a time when industry was a code for mankind moving forward, an era when the future was an exciting fad for people to buy into. The ultimate lesson is that we dream big and build big, but the mammoths of our ambitions are actually as delicate as the nature we trample over in our fury to move ever onward
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Pascal Blanchet

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White Rapids




SOUTHERN CROSS, WHITE RAPIDS reviewed by The Globe and Mail

Updated December 17, 2007


We always knew politics was a comic affair
In the season's harvest of graphic novels, Nathalie Atkinson finds that the personal is political (and vice versa)
NATHALIE ATKINSON
GLOBE AND MAIL
December 15, 2007

Earnest and largely political, this format had its heyday in the 1920s and '30s, usually dealing with the oppressed underclass. The one Canadian offering, Southern Cross, is from 1951, and while the concerns are different - Pacific island atom bomb tests - the earnestness remains. Great publishing minds think alike, and Drawn & Quarterly has published Southern Cross (255 pages, $27.95) in a beautiful facsimile edition, reproducing the 118 wood engravings in their original 4- by 3-inch format.


Québécois cartoonist Pascal Blanchet chronicles the creation and closing of a company town in White Rapids (Drawn & Quarterly, unpaginated, $27.95). Beginning on a snowy Montreal evening, the story settles in on the boardroom of the Shawinigan Water & Power Company in the late 1920s, with the board members casting long, ominous shadows.

To house the hydroelectric dam workers (and eventually their families), they create the town of Rapide Blanc on the St. Maurice River in northern Quebec. It's a self-contained community accessible only by train and, although it is remote, several generations lead an idyllic life there: beaches and fishing in the summer, hunting in the winter and dances all year round.

In the 1960s, when the province takes control of the dam and installs automation by way of a remote monitoring station, the town is shut down, much to the chagrin of the residents. Blanchet unfolds the story of how large resource projects affect our lives, using an amalgam of storybook and comics, with a two-tone palette of orange and brown (recalling vintage sepia photography) and in a style that progresses with the narrative from art deco to a Modernist 1950s style.

 
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Featured artists

Laurence Hyde
Pascal Blanchet

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Southern Cross
White Rapids




  Pascal Blanchet interviewed by the CBC

Updated December 10, 2007


Q with Jian Ghomeshi
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Featured artist

Pascal Blanchet

           Featured product

White Rapids




WHITE RAPIDS on The Calgary Herald blog

Updated December 7, 2007


IMPRESSIONS
Nancy Tousley
December 5, 2007

A Remembrance of Things Past
It’s amazing how something as seemingly simple as ink on paper can create a whole world.
Pascal Blanchet’s White Rapids does this in an elegant graphic novel that embraces the reader with the warm colour of the full-page spreads, in ones and twos, that advance the story with very few words. The colour palette is basically three hues, brown, orange and grey, used in different delicately calibrated values. And the images are bled to the edge of every page, giving the book a feeling of lushness as it fills the eye. Rather than linear, the visual impact of Blanchet’s book is feuled by beautifully modulated tonal power that animates the unfolding scenes.

Cover of White Rapids by Pascal Blanchet
The style of the 27-year-old Quebec graphic artist, whose work can be seen on the covers of Penguin Books and in The New Yorker, is a blend of ’50s illustration and advertising and the look of movies from the ’30s. In White Rapids, he has found a tale that matches it perfectly, or maybe that sense of perfection is the result of the art.

Self-portrait by Blanchet
White Rapids is the true story of a town on the Maurice River in which Blanchet, who was born down river in Three Rivers, recalls an episode in the history of industrialization in Canada. Founded in 1928 in the wilderness of northern Quebec, White Rapids was an isolated company town built by the Shawinigan Water & Power Company.
Its population was there to build a dam, and to make living in a place that was not reachable by road, the company provided “an elegant little town on par with Montreal’s most stylish neighborhoods.” It was a town with amenities.
The stately houses on Cresent Street were made of brick, the appliances were modern. The train brough food, milk, mail and new Chryslers. There were churches, a school and a co-op. In the summer, residents could play tennis on the village courts, go to dances, watch movies and swim at the beach. They could hunt or try to snare the elusive pike nicknamed The General at the Fish and Game Club. For the months of deep winter, there was ski hill and a curling club that gave memorable parties.
Blanchet describes the life of the town as a utopian idyl in the images of pages with almost no text. The march of industry, set at the beginning of the book in the capitalist seat of power, is a story of modernization. The White Rapids Power Plant and Dam was completed in 1934. The post-war Trenche Power Plant and Dam was erected down river in 1950, bringing roads to the area. In 1963, the provincial government nationalized the electric power industry to amalgamate all the plants in Hydro Quebec.
This step sounded the death knell for White Rapids. The plants were to be fully automated and the town emptied of its 54 families by 1971. In the last section of the book, Blanchet takes us through the empty, light-filled rooms of a soon to be vacant house in a sequence that becomes an elegy for a warmly remembered way of life.
“From now on, the train would no longer stop at Rapide Blanc station. The priest would stop coming and the pleasant murmur of summer evenings would be silenced forever.”
Where many stories about company towns are tales of corporate greed and exploitation, this one conveys the promise of ideas about enlightened industry and progress. It has the anecdotal, insider feeling of an aural history that’s been given a visual form. A bittersweet nostalgia for times past, grounded in the book’s very colour scheme, carries over into the Rapide Blanc Discography that Blanchet includes at the end.
The songs, from Gershwin to Dean Martin, are all old favourites. You can close the book thinking of Bing Crosby and Louis Armstrong singing Gone Fishin’ or The Crewcuts singing Sh-boom and be right in the mood.
White Rapids by Pascal Blanchet is publised by Drawn & Quarterly in Montreal, Quebec and distributed by Raincoast Books, Vancouver, and Farrar, Straus and Giroux, New York.
 
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Pascal Blanchet

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White Rapids




  WHITE RAPIDS, BIG QUESTIONS 10 reviewed by Newsarama

Updated November 30, 2007


NEWSARAMA
November 26, 2007

White Rapids
Written & Illustrated by Pascal Blanchet
Published by Drawn & Quarterly
Reviewed by Michael C Lorah

The real life history: In 1928, the Shawinigan Water and Power Company began construction on the Rapide Blanc Power Plant in the remote Quebec wilderness. The massive dam would harness energy from the St. Maurice River, if only the Shawinigan company could find a way to staff it. Hundreds of miles from the nearest highway, the residents would be completely cut off and any traditional form of commute would be impossible. Thus, the Shawinigan company came up with an outside-the-box answer to their workforce problem. They created a town. In 1934, the village of Rapide Blanc was settled, a tiny hamlet populated by the families of the power plant workers.

What you’ll find inside the covers: White Rapids, based on the town’s official history, photographs of lives lived there, and the author’s own imagination, is artist Pascal Blanchet’s history of Rapide Blanc. As a history, it’s not particularly enlightening. With few concrete details and or actual characters, the book is a broad portrait of a remote village whose people are brought together by employment and geographic inconvenience. Rapide Blanc, if Blanchet can be trusted, was a nearly idyllic model of 1950s smalltown life. It’s the American dream, written into the Canadian wilderness.

Blanchet’s art deco, full-page illustrations and 1950s advertising design sense, however, make this a book far more engaging and enjoyable than it has any right to be. Each page, a comfortable and homey mix of orange and brown pastels, pulls you into Rapide Blanc. Sections of the book are devoted to the construction of the town, the workers’ limited contact with the outside world, the social activities families engaged in, the outdoor lifestyles available, the harsh brutality of wintertime, the upbeat, smiling gaiety of Christmas, the whispered rumors of changes in Shawinigan’s plans for the community, and ultimately, the sad exodus of station wagons from Rapide Blanc’s borders.

The book is ultimately a testament to the power of visual storytelling. Using words only sparingly, often incorporated into the page design, Blanchet makes you care about the town using nothing more than universally appealing images. If Norman Rockwell painted the same images that made him famous, but opted for the stylized design-intense motifs of Fritz Lang’s Metropolis, he would’ve created work much like the images found in White Rapids. It sounds an unlikely pairing, but Blanchet ably combines the warmth and hominess of the former with the stylistic impressionism of the latter to recreate a forgotten piece of Canadian history. The birth, life and death of the idyllic small town community that you always imagined existed somewhere is spilled out across the pages of White Rapids. If you flip through a copy, you’ll find that you want to revisit it often.

Big Questions #10: The Hand that Feeds (Drawn & Quarterly; by Mike) – After reading Anders Nilsen’s tragic, found-art masterpiece Don’t Go Where I Can’t Follow, I’ve been wanting to read more of his work. Jumping into the tenth issue of an ongoing project wasn’t the best idea, as I certainly did not grasp the larger picture of what is unfolding in Big Questions. Fortunately, Nilson’s clean, voyeuristic linework makes the scenes easy to read, and you find yourself drawn into the lives of the birds (and humans) who star in the story thanks to his comfortable, natural dialogue. The pacing is excellently done, though readers who hate decompression may disagree. Having 42 pages of story and art, however, goes a long way to ensure that there’s still enough story to justify the purchase. Plus, honestly, I just love the sturdy paper and cardstock cover. More serial comics should follow Nilsen’s lead on that count.

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Featured artists

Anders Nilsen
Pascal Blanchet

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White Rapids
Big Questions #10: The Hand That Feeds




SPENT, WHITE RAPIDS named Quill and Quire Book of the Year

Updated November 23, 2007



 
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Featured artists

Joe Matt
Pascal Blanchet

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Spent
White Rapids




  ADRIAN interview, review of WHITE RAPIDS, SPENT, DOGS AND WATER in fast forward weekly

Updated November 16, 2007


New comics, the Drawn and Quarterly edition
Adrian Tomine on his new book Shortcomings, reviews and more
Published November 15, 2007 by Bryn Evans in Books

Adrian Tomine’s self-portrait

Adrian Tomine’s cartooning ranks among the best in modern comics, each new issue adding to a mythology of lovelorn slackers, family politics and sex. His latest, Shortcomings (Drawn and Quarterly, 104 pp.), serialized in Optic Nerve issues 9 to 11, is the story of Ben Tanaka, a disgruntled movie theatre manager who, like most men his age raised on a steady diet of pop culture — detritus and all — lives a private life of strong opinions and hidden desires. His already-strained relationship with his girlfriend Miko becomes increasingly antagonistic, as she accuses him of wanting other women — white women.

Shortcomings is Tomine’s most expansive story yet, told more through rich visuals than words, cadenced panel compositions and his inimitable facial characterizations and expressions. Fast Forward asked Tomine about getting into comics and the creation of Shortcomings.

Fast Forward: The first Optic Nerve issues were printed in 1995, when you were 21. What inspired you to get into comics?

Adrian Tomine: I was doing some mini-comics even earlier, at age 15. Love and Rockets was my gateway drug into more artistic, personal comics.

Did you go to art school?

I had a self-guided education. I went to college in Berkley, California, as an English major. Well, I started as an art major, but quickly grew disenchanted with that. I enjoyed English more. For me, it was a good thing to learn on my own and at my own pace. I also got to know some pros when starting up that were generous with their time and very helpful.

You’ve done commercial work for The New Yorker and Rolling Stone. Do you still do much of that?

I used to. It’s one of the nice things about the change in the market — getting to the point now that people can make money from comics. (Comics are) a pure labour of love, so there’s a hustle to do illustration work. Gratefully, I can now work on my comics and do commercial work that doesn’t overtake that.

Would you consider illustrating another writer’s work?

I don’t think so. It has been proposed — some high-profile stuff. Maybe the net result would be better, but the process of drawing is so slow and frustrating. I work slowly, and it would be too much work in service of something that my heart wasn’t in.

What inspired Shortcomings?

It had been kicking around for a long time, before I put pen to paper. I was feeling very aware of just how apparent my artistic influences were in my work. I was reaching a point of being frustrated at not being able to break free of that, but there’s no way that I could. Rather than immerse myself in a new drawing style, I wanted to explore new avenues of content, story and characters.

Is there a biographical element to the work?

It’s not an autobiographical work. There isn’t any type of fiction totally sprung from the artist. Because of the nature of working in this form, it’s not like you’re making statements — there’s some kind of protection from working in private. I was more worried about offending people esthetically (laughs). The pitfall I was most conscious of was running the risk of being sanctimonious.

When I started working on it, I thought, “what is it about books and art that address race that doesn’t appeal to me?” (I wanted to) build a story around that — not just art that deals with race, but anything fake, that houses simple messages and characters. I tried to create characters that felt real to me, so that any kind of thematic content was suggested, or gently emerged.

Joe Matt gives himself quite the self-loathing critique in his new work, Spent (Drawn and Quarterly, 120 pp.), another entry in the sad sack, chronically masturbating cartoonist pantheon. He’s a hugely selfish prick, but elevates the hatred with humorous, cartoony art, and the eight-panel page structure doesn’t feel cluttered.

Anders Nilsen’s latest dystopian work, Dogs and Water (Drawn and Quarterly, 96 pp.) is pretty much that — a boy wanders across a dreary wasteland with a pack of wild dogs. The dreamlike quality of the work doesn’t necessarily connect, but Nilsen’s sharp line work has a delicateness to it that adds to the eerie story, made even grander through expanses of nothingness.

Québécois artist Pascal Blanchet’s White Rapids (Drawn and Quarterly, 156 pp.) has recently been translated to English, giving readers a chance to check out this gorgeously constructed tale of Rapide Blanc, a town created in northern Quebec in 1928 by the Shawinigan Water and Power Company that housed families who maintained the area’s dam. Blanchet’s Art Deco-inspired work flits between quaint and sinister, and the muted tones and rusted orange colours make it look like a pamphlet you’d find in an old roadside gas station.
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Featured artists

Adrian Tomine
Joe Matt
Pascal Blanchet

           Featured products

Spent
Dogs & Water (hardcover edition)
White Rapids




WHITE RAPIDS, SOUTHERN CROSS in The Vancouver Courier

Updated November 16, 2007


VANCOUVER COURIER
More than meets the eye in latest batch of graphic novels; Quebec company towns, atomic bomb test fallout, post-Rapture sinners
Friday, November 9, 2007
Byline: Shawn Conner
WHITE RAPIDS
SOUTHERN CROSS


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.
 

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Pascal Blanchet

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White Rapids




  WHITE RAPIDS in The Walrus

Updated November 16, 2007


Review — White Rapids
by Jared Bland
Published in the December 2007 issue

Notwithstanding some jejune symbolism involving a fish named The General, Pascal Blanchet’s new graphic novel is a beautiful and intelligent account of the rise and fall of a small Quebec town founded in 1934 on the Saint Maurice River. It is the first English-language release for the young Blanchet, whose work recently appeared in the New Yorker, and the elegance of its aesthetic is sure to propel him to the forefront of cartooning culture.

The (true) story of Rapide Blanc begins in the Montreal offices of Shawinigan Water & Power, where plans are being made to build a hydroelectric dam 230 kilometres north of Trois Rivières. Unsurprisingly, nothing much is happening north of Trois Rivières in the late 1920s, so an entire village has to be built to house the dam workers and their families. White Rapids moves from the village’s early days to 1969, when the recently amalgamated Hydro-Québec decides to automate the dam, sounding the death knell for what in Blanchet’s version is a swinging place of jazz and small-town conviviality.

Blanchet refuses to divide his story into smaller panels, and frequently stretches his large-scale art across consecutive pages, pushing the narrative along with an energy that echoes the vigour with which the village itself is constructed. He uses text sparingly, and when he does it’s often incorporated into elements of the images. His narrative is written out on an office building address plate, a plank of wood, or a movie screen — a technique that cleverly suggests the ingrained inevitability of not only this particular story but the age-old cycle of optimistic greed of which it is a part.

Unlike many who work in a nostalgic mode, Blanchet is not interested in minutiae. Instead, White Rapids trades in archetypes. There are no traditional characters here, only the power company and the hamlet it creates. But they’re rich enough for the work being done, and in reaching for the universal Blanchet’s hand is steady.
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WHITE RAPIDS reviewed by The National Post

Updated October 25, 2007


Poetic urban planning
Pascal Blanchet illustrates the story of Rapide Blanc, the life and death of idyllic industry town
Brad Frenette, National Post
Published: Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Quebecois illustrator Pascal Blanchet defines his tendency to idealize things as "poetic conception." And the fruit of that tendency is demonstrated in Rapide Blanc, his new graphic novel, available now for the first time in English as White Rapids.
Founded by The Shawinigan Water & Power Company, the town of Rapide Blanc was carved from the dense Quebec bush in the late 1920s and built into a pastoral, middle-class haven for employees and their families. Blanchet's grandfather worked for the utility company and would often bring his son and young grandson to the town's fishing holes. Rapide Blanc left an impression on Blanchet, and he chose to document its 50-plus-year history -- from its conception by the Shawinigan Water & Power upper brass in a downtown Montreal office tower to its demise in 1971 after the utility company changed ownership. For Blanchet, telling the story of the little-known town imposed a sense of responsibilty. While most big cities -- and many rural settings -- already own a place in the collective imagination, the story of Rapide Blanc was a blank slate.
"Even if there are not many people who once lived at Rapide Blanc, it was really important for me to see them say, 'Yes, it was that way,' because I was thinking about them while I made this book."
The book is a blend of fact and fiction, part sequential history and part recollection. It is in the telling of the narrative where Blanchet differs from many graphic novelists. He is an illustrator, by nature and trade, and tells his story with full page illustrations, as opposed to the panel comics of many of his contemporaries.
Blanchet's sense of poetic conception is further demonstrated in his distinct style. Comprised of angular lines and geometric shapes presented in subtle hues, the art retains an organic texture, and effectively evokes a warm tone. And while it may recall a jazz-age feel, it's not so much the look of the time but rather the sound of that time that fuels the art: "Without music there's no drawing." He cites Bing Crosby as the main musical inspiration for the book, and he provides a scene-by-scene chronological discography as an appendix.
Blanchet appears to have the soul of the archivist. From subject to style, it's about rendering the ephemeral.
"Just seeing an old deserted building or an old chair in the garbage makes me feel blue, not because of the object, but because I'm thinking about the people around it, about the memories that will disappear with that object." - White Rapids is currently available from Drawn & Quarterly ($25.16).
 
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  WHITE RAPIDS reviewed by Thick Magazine

Updated September 27, 2007


White Rapids
Monday, September 24, 2007
THICK MAGAZINE

You can guarantee if it's from publisher Drawn & Quarterly it will be different. These aren't your usual funny books by a long shot. I was introduced to the company upon receiving Chester Brown's Louis Riel hard cover as a gift. Great read and just the kind of 'different' I like. I also like that they are Canadian, and let Canadian artists tell Canadian stories. This beautiful book is a keen example. It's a true story about a town built solely for the purpose of housing and safising the workers of a power plant in a remote area. The prime site for a new dam was too far from any town, so the Shawinigan Water & Power Company simply raised a community from the ground, in a manner of speaking. It actually took six years and apparently more than 1000 men to build the dam and White Rapids community! The village itself was rather chic for the times (1930s) and even had a movie theater and Co-op store. By the last page of this book Pascal Blanchet has run through many of the memories common to anyone raised in Eastern Canada; from cabin country and fishing tales, to extreme winters and snow-ins. There's only text every couple of pages, so the visuals are left the responsibility of expressing the procession of the plot. The simple lines filled in with solid autumn hues are a standout combination. The representation of architecture is also clean and elegant, unlike the characters who are slightly abstracted. At the very end, as a companion piece to the story, there is a list of songs (many of them by Bing Crosby) that go with each chapter. This is graphic novel that surpasses the genre's confines, it enters pricey coffee table book territory in the way it can be opened to any page and enjoyed.
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Pascal Blanchet

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