‘Weapons of Mass Diplomacy’ a must-read graphic novel
Were I in the front row of the White House press briefing room, I would ask spokesman Jay Carney one question above all others: “Have you read Weapons of Mass Diplomacy and if not, why not?”
It’s that good – insightful, like a tall mirror reflecting truth, hung in the halls of power.
Originally published in France as Quai d’Orsay, WMD is a new-to-America graphic novel that should be especially enjoyed by anyone who has ever had to speak for a powerful person for a living. If you work for an agency or embassy, on the Hill or for a head of state, you will appreciate the greatness within these pages.
And if you like House of Cards or reruns of West Wing, this book is for you, too. Beau Willimon can do scheming and Aaron Sorkin can do process, but WMD does both, brilliantly, with no need to go over-the-top; its political foot soldiers break camp without treading into high camp.
What is it about the French, exactly, that they possess such a gift for pitch-perfect political satire? This book – which won the Best Graphic Novel award last year at the Angouleme comics festival – nods to Moliere, even as it splices in splashes of Tolkien and Metallica. Early on, WMD strikes a wry tone of palace surreality.
Part of what makes this book’s smart heartbeat so true is that it is keenly transplanted from reality. It was written by Abel Lanzac, the nom-de-toon of author-diplomat Antonin Baudry. As a young man, he wrote for France’s then-foreign prime minister Dominique de Villepin during the post-9/11 run-up to the Iraq war. The names and some details have been changed; the deftly captured mechanics of diplomacy have not.
In WMD, Alexandre Taillard de Vorms stands in for Villepin. An utterly fascinating figure, he can spin doublespeak till his oratorical victims are rendered senseless or numb. He is quick and mercurial with no time for abstractions. He can tell a Nobel-winning poet: “I hate words. I’m a great admirer of poetry.” And he can drop a political pearl from the heart: “No discourse exists that cannot be elevated.” Without warning, he turns charismatically profound when doing improvisations, such as a singular soliloquy that compares a good political speech to the beguiling rhythms and pacing and perils of “Tintin.”
WMD also introduces us to an entire office of superb Dilbert-meets-Thurber characters who like their political red meat served tartar. And everyone’s put in place for the raising of the stakes, as the right-wing foreign minister (as in real life) prepares his big speech to argue that France should not join George W. Bush and Tony Blair in the invasion of Iraq.
Illustrator Christophe Blain renders all this brisk action and double-time doublespeak as visual poetry with a sense of physicality as fluid as Jules Feiffer’s. In this world where words can mean both nothing and everything, the line and the satire carry out a hilarious pas de deux.
The only higher visual irony these Frenchmen could have unfurled, perhaps, is to have drawn this tale of American invasion, sans Paris, in the style of Bush’s recently displayed paintings. But then, even Moliere knew where to draw the line at pure Gaul.