Celebrating the Unpopular Arts
 

Review time! with ‘Crude’

“The balance sheet is breaking up the sky”

Crude is subtitled “A Memoir,” as it’s the story of Pablo Fajardo, an Ecuadorian lawyer who has been fighting against oil companies for years in order to make them pay for destroying parts of the Amazonian rain forest (Fajardo is a year younger than I am, and he makes me wonder what the hell I’m doing with my life!). He gets the story credit for this book, naturally, while Sophie Tardy-Joubert is the writer, and Damien Roudeau is the artist. It’s published by Graphic Mundi, the new Penn State press, which has done some interesting comics in their brief existence.

As I noted in the above paragraph, this book is about oil exploitation and companies refusing to take responsibility for the destruction they cause and the people that fight against them. The Texaco/Chevron drama is depressing, as Fajardo has gotten favorable court opinions in some courts and unfavorable in others (most notably the United States – because of course – and The Hague), and Chevron, naturally, refuses to pay the 9 billion-dollar fine they’ve been hit with. It’s an important book, as anything to keep this case alive is a good thing, but it probably won’t make too much of a difference until the revolution comes or until the planet kills us all, but at least the oil execs get to keep their Learjets, right?

It’s a noble book, therefore, but as we know about noble books, they’re not always that great. As interesting as Fajardo’s story is, the comic is less of a story and more of a polemic, and while there’s nothing wrong with that, it certainly lacks the tension we want from fiction and doesn’t really have a compelling narrative. We know Chevron is evil and Fajardo is good, and we know, even if we don’t know the specifics of this particular story, that evil will probably win out in the end (although the story certainly isn’t over, so there’s that). Tardy-Joubert does a good job showing us how the tribes in Ecuador were completely cut off from the outside world well into the 1960s, and once Texaco moved in, their way of life was shattered, with tragic consequences not only for them but for the planet. It’s a horrible story, and Tardy-Joubert does a good job implicating the Ecuadorian government as well as Texaco in the scheme, as the politicians in Quito certainly weren’t innocent. Fajardo struggles against the company, is threatened by them, wins and loses court cases, and is portrayed as the crusader it seems he is. As always with these kinds of books, there’s no room for nuance, and that’s why it’s not as powerful as a story. We feel the inevitable crush of plutocracy and capitalism throughout the book, and there’s nothing anyone can do about it. It makes for depressing reading, and while it’s certainly a worthy thing to know about, it’s still lacking a bit. I mean, did “civilization” do anything good for the natives? Possibly not, but I don’t believe it’s a complete loss for them. Maybe it is. It still seems like there could be a bit more about if the natives’ lives improved in any way. But maybe that’s just me. I’m weird that way.

Roudeau’s beautiful art does go a long way toward making the book a must-read. He uses nice thick lines to create a primeval world, one into which the natives blend almost as well as the wildlife, so attuned are they to the jungle. In the early pages of the book and whenever we get a bit deeper into the forest, Roudeau uses the old adage of “no straight lines in nature,” as everything curves around everything else, creating a lush, sensuous world, full of every green hue you can think of. Rivers snake across the land like arteries, bringing life to the jungle, the brownish-yellow water standing out from the greens around it but still mixing nicely with them. It’s an idyllic world, of course, because it has to be so the violation by the oil companies can be more egregious. When Texaco arrives, not only do they carve out space in the forest, they create harsh straight lines, from the borders of the compounds to the thin black wells stretching high above the tree line. Roudeau does a nice job showing how the oil brought “civilization,” sure, but not progress, as shantytowns sprung up near the wells, creating an economy where none had existed but also creating a poverty class. He also does a nice job showing how Fajardo moves between two worlds, as he’s well-dressed when he argues his cases in cities but looks much more relaxed when he returns to the jungle. Roudeau doesn’t get to draw much action, which is fine, but he does an excellent job creating this beautiful place and showing how Texaco destroyed it.

Crude is one of those necessary books that, sadly, is necessary because the world sucks sometimes. Fajardo seems like an honorable man trying to get dishonorable people to take responsibility for the dishonorable things they have done, and we know in today’s world that’s somewhat of a fool’s errand. We can only hope something changes for the better. So I like this book even if I don’t love it, which is how I usually feel about these kinds of books. I like reading about the problems and trying to do something about it in my own very tiny way, but because it’s not really a story, it doesn’t grab me in that way. I think it’s a good book to read, and the art certainly makes it fascinating, but it also feels a bit cool, despite trying to angry up your blood. I’m not explaining it very well, am I? Such is life.

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆ ☆ ☆

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