By Pascal Blanchet
Drawn & Quarterly
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.