For Americans, the last months of 2001 and the years immediately after were a tumultuous, confusing, and terrifying time. The rest of the world, equally abashed, watched as an angry and frightened superpower came to grips with its vulnerability and went on a rampage looking for the parties to blame. As part of an interconnected world, other countries tried to help the wounded warrior bend towards reason rather than revenge, and one such country was France. The attempt to bridge this gap between America and the rest of the world is chronicled in Weapons of Mass Diplomacy, a graphic novel as humbling as it is hilarious.
A fictionalized account of the events in 2002 surrounding the lead up to America’s invasion and occupation of Iraq, Weapons of Mass Diplomacy introduces us to Arthur Vlaminck, who has landed his first job: a speechwriter for French Foreign Minister Alexandre Taillard de Vorms. Storming through the halls and slamming doors in the Quai d’Orsay, de Vorms is a powerful intellectual of bombast and vision, simultaneously an admirable diplomat and a callous taskmaster. Arthur is immediately thrown into the wringer of international politics and debate, drafting speeches over and over with tight deadlines and the literal fate of the world thrown into question. He becomes one of de Vorms’ cadre of charismatic and eccentric advisors, and the dynamics between these characters are what drive the narrative of these historic events.
Writing from his own experiences within the Quai d’Orsay, author Antonin Baudry (here using the pseudonym Abel Lanzac) brings us a story that is both a compelling international thriller on par with Thirteen Days and a very funny and true-to-life comedy of daily life reminiscent of Office Space. Arthur could not be a more sympathetic protagonist – smart but constantly under the gun, well-meaning but often railroaded by co-workers, and plunged immediately into a situation completely out of his depth and demanded to swim. Artist Christophe Blain breathes life into these experiences with simple yet striking art, a style that reminds us of comics like Doonesbury and The Far Side. De Vorms, in particular, is literally larger than life. His stature, his gestures, and his prodigious nose all dominate the panels he populates, often towering over poor Arthur as he makes his demands, quotes classic literature, and verbally smacks around other members of the diplomatic corps. Words written from the truth of life coupled with unforgettable art make Weapons of Mass Diplomacy a compelling read from start to finish.
Winner of the Best Graphic Novel Award at the Angoulême International Comics Festival of 2013, Weapons of Mass Diplomacy is highly recommended. It’s both a cultural touchstone and a fantastic reading experience. It makes you laugh, it makes you think, and it brings you into the whirlwind experience of international politics. The view from the inside is informative and illuminating, show us both that it’s some of the highest stress work imaginable, and yet not so different from our mundane, everyday lives. If you are at all interested in the tapestry of our interconnected world, or just want a great story about what history may consider great men in our modern age, Weapons of Mass Diplomacy definitely belongs on your shelf.