Louis Riel: A Comic-Strip Biography Paperback – Aug 22 2006
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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 --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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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.
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.
This is perhaps the cleanest, loveliest art of Brown's distinguished career. He modestly asserts that he's no competition for either Herge or Gray in the introduction. Well, he is Canadian, and darn, this is fine black-and-white cartooning.
Copious endnotes explain Brown's sources and where Brown changed history in minor ways for the purposes of drama. He didn't have to change much. The saga of reluctant revolutionary Louis Riel, the Metis of what would become Manitoba, Prime Minister John A. Macdonald, the greedy and manipulative Hudson's Bay Company, and the building of the Canadian Pacific Railroad supply pretty much all the drama and absurdity, the comedy and the pathos, that one could want out of a historical event.
One of the most fascinating decisions Brown seems to have made in creating this book was to essentially make it an 'All-Ages' project, with little swearing and no nudity or sex. No nudity or sex in a Chester Brown comic? Holy Moley!
I rarely find books to be 'unputdownable,' but this one kept me reading early into the morning before I finally succumbed to sleep. It's a brilliant accomplishment.Read more ›
Reading this excellent comic book changed all this. Brown's book makes Riel's story come alive in a very clear, and easy to understand way. Prior to reading this, all I knew about Riel were some vague facts about him being a Metis leader who staged a rebellion of some sort. I know know him to be the modern founder of the province of Manitoba, a foe of Sir John A. MacDonald, and savvy political leader with democratic ideas ahead of his time.
Brown makes Riel's story fast-paced, interesting, and even contemporarily relevant. Unlike many other Canadian historians, Brown is not a snob to his audience. You don't need to know much about Riel before reading this book, the author goes out of his way to give all relevant information whenever nessisary.
This book is an excellent educational material for anyone interested in this key period of Canadian history. It is a perfect example of the diverse medium of comics, and proves the art from is suitable for a wide variety of story-telling, even the very serious.
I would love to see more comic book history books of this style. I hope Brown writes another someday.
Most recent customer reviews
This was a captivating and interesting method of telling Louis Riel's story. A lot of historical information combined with an unique style of art. Well worth the read.Published 7 months ago by Al
I quite enjoyed this book. The drawings are simply drawn and easy to appreciate. It's a fun and engaging way to understand history from the Métis people's perspective - from... Read morePublished 22 months ago by Lisa C
This book is a great way to learn or teach the history of Louis Riel and the Red River Rebellion. The comic strip format makes it accessible to everyone. Read morePublished on Feb. 3 2014 by Starrynight
With Louis Riel: A comic-strip biography, we go back to the founding years of Canada, there is to say the rip-off years. Read morePublished on Aug. 5 2013 by Michaël Dumouchel
Louis Riel's story is one of the quintessential products of the colonial expansionist logic which forcefully established Canada as we know it today. Read morePublished on Dec 2 2012 by Clayton A Lent
I decided to read this book after reading the amazing reviews it had received. I found the story to be boring and lacked any depth. Read morePublished on Aug. 24 2011 by Rachel
I read this graphic novel some time ago and there were two or three things that really stuck out for me. Read morePublished on Dec 25 2010 by Matthew Kirshenblatt
Louis Riel is an infamous Canadian personage. His story is very controversial and the story of what happened back then and what is politically correct to say happened can cause... Read morePublished on Jan. 8 2009 by Nicola Mansfield
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