- Hardcover: 272 pages
- Publisher: Drawn & Quarterly; 1 edition (Oct. 15 2003)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1896597637
- ISBN-13: 978-1896597638
- Product Dimensions: 23.6 x 16.1 x 2.9 cm
- Shipping Weight: 785 g
- Average Customer Review: 18 customer reviews
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #346,337 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
Louis Riel: A Comic Biography Hardcover – Oct 15 2003
Customers who viewed this item also viewed
What other items do customers buy after viewing this item?
No Kindle device required. Download one of the Free Kindle apps to start reading Kindle books on your smartphone, tablet, and computer.
To get the free app, enter your mobile phone number.
"Behold the Dreamers" is an unforgettable debut novel about a family's struggle to make a new life in America from author Imbolo Mbue. Learn more
The life story of Louis Riel has been told in almost every form imaginable, from traditional historical fiction (Rudy Wiebe's The Scorched Wood People) to punk rock (Thee Headcoats' "Louie Riel"). Chester Brown's Louis Riel: A Comic-Strip Biography introduces the Métis rebel to yet another medium: the graphic novel. Brown covers the Riel tale from the arrival of Canadian surveyors in the territory that would become Manitoba to Riel's martyr's death on a Regina gallows. Brown tells a highly subjective version of the story but provides maps, plenty of footnotes, and an extensive bibliography, making accessing the historical record very easy.
Riel is Canada's most famous folk hero, and only a country like Canada could turn someone like him into a national icon. He was a religious zealot, a probable lunatic, a tormented, charismatic despot with a good but hopeless cause. His memory is usually defiled by complacency; Canadian nationalists like to bandy his name about, but the social ills that drove him to rebellion continue to fester. It is to Brown's credit that he resists the temptation to present Riel as an unimpeachable hero, or to pretend that Riel's legacy has become part of the Canadian state.
The drawings in Louis Riel are impeccable. Brown notes in his introduction that his work is commonly compared to that of Tintin creator Hergé, and he cites Little Orphan Annie as a primary influence for this book. Both are abundantly evident here, combined with a feeling that Brown is illustrating a minimalist political play, staged under Brecht's dramatic principles. Landscape and period detail take a back seat to character and caricature: Riel is stout and taciturn; Gabriel Dumont, his deputy, is stouter yet and oozes righteous violence; Sir John A. MacDonald is given the small head of a moron and a huge gin-guzzler's schnozz. Brown's weakness is his use of language; his dialogue pushes the plot along and gets the story told, but there is no snap or sparkle to it. Readers with no special affinity for the artwork will probably find the book flat, but those who are immediately drawn to his illustrations will find Louis Riel a visually stunning and pleasingly accessible take on the old Riel tale. --Jack Illingworth
From Publishers Weekly
Brown's exploration of the life of a [...] 19th-century Canadian revolutionary Riel is a strong contender for the best graphic novel ever. Over five years in the making, Brown's work is completely realized here, from the strikingly designed two-color cover to the cream-colored paper and pristinely clear drawings. The story begins in 1869, with the sale of the independent Red River Settlement area of what's now Canada to the Canadian government. The area is inhabited by the French-speaking Metis, of mixed Indian and white ancestry, who are looked down upon by the Canadians. Riel is bilingual and becomes a de facto leader for the Red River Settlement, demanding the right for them to govern themselves within Canada. Not surprisingly, this request is denied, and the conflict is set in motion that ultimately consumes Riel's life. Brown doesn't deviate from a six-panel grid for the entire book, telling his story in a cartoon realism style reminiscent of Little Orphan Annie. And while the book concerns imperialism, empire, nationalism and the chaos that results, Brown maintains a still, almost silent atmosphere. He brilliantly renders a lengthy courtroom sequence by setting figures against a black background, heightening the tension of the events by employing minimal effects. Even the battle scenes are subdued. All of this will hook readers' minds and eyes, but never tell them what to think or feel. Instead, Brown calmly lets his story unfold, making the reading process deeply affecting. This is an ingenious comic and a major achievement.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Top customer reviews
To be clear, Brown's version of events is biased by his own admission and certainly some elements were invented to fit the comic-strip. An example of this is the conversation between Lord Granville and Sir John A. MacDonald about sending troops to apprehend Riel. Brown admits that such a conversation never actually took place but certainly MacDonald did have to obtain permission from mother Britain.
Another interesting event to me was the meeting between Riel and then US President Ulysses S. Grant in 1875 to discuss plans to invade Manitoba. There were certainly some sympathies from some Americans such as in Minnesota who were pro-annexation but as Brown correctly points out Grant was in no position at the time to risk war, especially since the country was still amidst the reconstruction following the costly civil war.
Perhaps most controversial is Brown's characterization of MacDonald. The father of confederation, Brown portrays MacDonald as a ruthless conniving egomaniac hell-bent on expanding the railway (with kickbacks), ethnic cleansing of the Metis, and making an example out of Riel. Based on the sources that we have now, I would have to agree with Brown. MacDonald was a brilliant politician, he out-witted all his opponents including the British, the Americans and the natives. MacDonald was a master manipulator of which there has been no match since.
I've read a few comic-strip novels and I think that in certain situations they work extremely well. In this case, I would have to agree, the illustrations along with Brown's wit and choice of dialogue make this both an accurate historical representation and enjoyable reading.
This book is very biased to the Louis Riel, hero, side of the story. There are many things that I'm sure the author took license with and made up conversations between the Prime Minister and others to promote the big, bad, conservative, English government view point. However, even though the book is unabashedly pro-Riel, the author did manage to show the opposite viewpoint of him by showing Riel to be the man who thought God had talked to him and told him he would be resurrected three days after his execution. Whether he was a hero of the Metis people or a madman fanatic my person view is that either way he was a traitor to the country of Canada. This is what *I* was taught in school but a more revisionist point of view is taken nowadays to be politically correct.
While I laughed at many parts of the book that I think were supposed to be serious, I did enjoy reading the book. It was fun to read and the Canadian history aspect was great to see in a graphic novel. I'd love to see more in the same vein! If you are already familiar with the story of Louis Riel, I think you'd enjoy reading this. But don't start here if you know nothing of the history. Here's a website with a brief intro and a little video that was part of series shown here on Canadian television.
What sets this book apart is the fact that it's a big comic book. Brown tells the story using silent pictures whenever possible. Characters are drawn in a flat but beautiful way. No one is depicted as a cartoon, but the tone never matches a straight history book, either. Brown goes further by using the footnotes in a surprising way: He tells you that he got things wrong. Then he says he isn't sure why. At first, these tiny confessions seem strange, but then you realize he's just being honest.
If you're looking for a great graphic novel, this is the book to buy. Chester Brown has taken the story of a historical figure very few Americans have heard of and presented it in a unique way. Although it was written for adults, Louis Riel is a perfect gift for a young reader --- it's a comic book, but a very sophisticated one.
Want to see more reviews on this item?
Most recent customer reviews
Look for similar items by category
- Books > Arts & Photography > History & Criticism
- Books > Arts & Photography > Instructional & How-To
- Books > Biographies & Memoirs > Historical > Canadian
- Books > Biographies & Memoirs > People, A-Z > ( R ) > Riel, Louis
- Books > Biographies & Memoirs > Regional Canada > Prairie Provinces
- Books > Comics & Graphic Novels > Comic Strips
- Books > Comics & Graphic Novels > Graphic Novels > Biographies & History > Biographies
- Books > Comics & Graphic Novels > Graphic Novels > Biographies & History > History
- Books > Comics & Graphic Novels > Publishers > Drawn and Quarterly
- Books > History > Americas > Canada
- Books > History > Canada
- Books > Humour & Entertainment > Humour
- Books > Literature & Fiction > Canadian