by Francis Desharnais
translated by Helge Dascher
Pow Pow Press, 2016
Art Wars is a short little graphic novel about the serious questions in life. How powerful can art be? How vital are artists to our society? Would anyone miss them if they were gone, sucked up by spaceships to defend aliens in a war against the formidable Yousaygoodbyes? Would the impact on kitchen-counter design be anything short of catastrophic?
It’s an imaginative exercise in minimalism: the 90 or so pages are filled using only ten different panels, skyscraper repetitions giving way to space and alien cityscapes. In a comic book that deals in repetition, however, it seems strange—and a relief—to point out that one of the strengths is rhythm and pacing, the dialogue when it appears popping up at just the right moment, more often than not to comic effect. And the narrator’s deadpan delivery is also helped by the pacing, the strange passive/aggressive style adding to the quirkiness:
“Seven months went by… […] Seven months and eleven days, to be exact. […] You seem to care about details like that.”
The forgetful aliens come back to take the plumbers, too, the copied-and-pasted panels and silence perfectly conveying the complete indifference that greets all the artists being taken away, predictably but effectively contrasted with what happens when the plumbers go:
“Aaaaah! Not the plumbers! What’ll we do without plumbers?”
So why exactly have the world’s plumbers and artists been abducted by aliens? Water damage, for a start. And a realization that “Although we are highly evolved… Our society is dying. Not a physical death, no… We’re dying an artistic death. We’ve lost our creativity… Our sense of imagination…” The artists are needed to help the Isayhellos strike back with massive poetic force. What could be more powerful, after all, than the power of words?
And so they wage intergalactic warfare, hammering the Yousaygoodbyes with allegories, arabesques, and fortissimos. But will the humans continue to put their art at the service of war? Art is beautiful, after all; and war is ugly. Will putting the world’s greatest singer in charge of a fleet of kayaks turn out for the best? And will the humans stuck back on Earth be able to survive in a world of melamine and old CCR? All will be revealed…
Review by Peter McCambridge