SOUTHERN CROSS, WHITE RAPIDS reviewed by The Globe and Mail

“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)” / Globe and Mail / Nathalie Atkinson / 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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