Pascal Blanchet’s “poetic conception”

Pascal Blanchet illustrated our Books Quarterly this past weekend at the Post. He is also the man behind a great graphic novel called Rapide Blanc (White Rapids). When it came out back in 2007, I interviewed him for the Post.

Here it is, from the archives:

Poetic urban planning
by Brad Frenette
First published:
October 25, 2007 

“Poetic conception”. That’s how Quebecois illustrator Pascal Blanchet defines his tendency to idealize things. It’s 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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