WHITE RAPIDS, BIG QUESTIONS 10 reviewed by Newsarama

Newsarama / Michael C Lorah / November 26, 2007

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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