photo & text by nacrowe
loving stylized to evoke the MODERNIST ARCHITECTURE, GRAPHIC and INDUSTRIAL DESIGN of the first half of the 20th century, the POIGNANT graphic novel WHITE RAPIDS (DRAWN & QUARTERLY, 2007) by FRENCH-CANADIAN illustrator/graphic novelist PASCAL BLANCHET depicts the REAL-LIFE rise and fall of a company town created to oversee the maintenance and day-to-day operations of a nearby private HYDRO-ELECTRIC POWER STATION well north of MONTREAL on the SAINT-MAURICE RIVER. conceived and built in the 1920s when the area was largely wilderness, the town of RAPIDE BLANCHE by the late 1960s due to INFRASTRUCTURE efforts was integrated into MODERN society to the point that its existence was deemed OUTMODED, closing its doors by the early 1970s after CANADA nationalized its electric grid and consolidated the parent company into its fold.
the romance of the period is evocatively portrayed with lyrical references to BIG BAND JAZZ and streamlined illustrations of BUILDINGS, ROADS and CARS that evoke the work of ED RUSCHA and his REVERED ADVERTISING-influenced depictions of GAS STATIONS. with BLANCHET's illustrations you get a VIVID sense of the PALPABLE OPTIMISM of this halcyon era when new TECHNOLOGY, of both the INDUSTRIAL and CONSUMER VARIETY, provided improvements in lifestyle that allowed for an appreciation of life and nature that ironically dovetailed with the latter being rained in by such. over time what was once NOVEL became ROUTINE and then rendered IRRELEVANT. this self-contained village was made an ANACHRONISM by the forward march of TECHNOLOGICAL PROCESS that allowed the operations of the dam to be conducted by REMOTE AUTOMATION and maintenance through day trips to the site. RAPIDE BLANCHE was a victim of its own SUCCESS. that OPTIMISM in essence fed on itself in an act of SELF-CANNIBALIZATION.
its difficult to take in the example of the COMMUNITY of RAPIDE BLANCHE and not expand such out to our present day when new TRANSFORMATIVE TECHNOLOGIES ranging from MRNA VACCINES, ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE, CRISPR GENE EDITING, ELECTRIC VEHICLES and even PRESCRIPTION WEIGHT LOSS REMEDIES like OZEMPIC and WEGOVY are set to radically affect not only the future trajectory of our economy, but also our COLLECTIVE RELATIONSHIP to one another and our basic individual sense of IDENTITY. when emerging new technological capacities are inevitably rendered PEDESTRIAN and UNREMARKABLE, something about ourselves quietly dies along with that PROCESS and WHITE RAPIDS strikingly details such. OPPORTUNITY and INNOVATION leads inescapably to expectation and ultimately AUTOMATION. i am not convinced that BLANCHET is necessarily NOSTALGIC for the cultural trappings of the period so eloquently evoked in WHITE RAPIDS, but maybe he is slightly for that sense of buoyant CONFIDENCE and CAMARADERIE that came with exploring and leveraging COMMUNITY and big ideas to affect change (in this case, taming a river and its HAZARDOUS rapids for the public good). by comparison today the scale of our TECHNOLOGICAL INNOVATIONS seem more PAROCHIAL and MARKET-DRIVEN, which allows for more excuses concerning value creation on the behalf of the interests of SHAREHOLDERS and an INVESTMENT CLASS rather than the betterment of a COMMUNITY at large. progress moves forward but with the advent of the INTERNET and SOCIAL MEDIA our sense of AGENCY in the mix seems DIMINUTIVE and ever more PRECARIOUS. paradoxically we seem to live in a smaller world as TECHNOLOGY expands ever outward.
WHITE RAPIDS is most definitely a COMPELLING graphic novel that deals with deep issues in an EFFICIENT manner that parallels its STREAM-LINED illustrative style. definitely worth checking out.