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Louis Riel : a comic-strip biography by…
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Louis Riel : a comic-strip biography

by Chester Brown

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As the title suggests, this is a biography of Louis Riel, Canadian politician, prophet and all round nice guy. Louis Riel was the leader of two rebellions against the Canadian government in the 1800s and a spiritual leader for many French Canadians. Yet another great biography from Chester Brown. ( )
  clstaff | Jul 24, 2013 |
This is only the third graphic novel for me. My book club decided to read it for December 2011 to see how we felt about this format. I'd say it was a mixed success.

I thought it was really well researched. Brown is upfront about the fact that he took some liberties with the truth but he has copious notes at the back that show where he changed things and why he did so. Reading those notes were almost as interesting as the book itself. I would certainly recommend that people read them but you'll have to choose whether to read them as you go through the book or, as I did, after finishing the book.

I liked the graphic style which reminded me of TinTin comics, which Brown acknowledges as one of his sources of inspiration. He also said he was inspired by Little Orphan Annie which I couldn't really see.

Louis Riel was either adored or reviled while he lived. And long after his death by hanging there were probably as many people in one camp as in the other. Around the 1950's or 1960's a transformation in how he was perceived occurred. Now he is acknowledged as the father of Manitoba and a hero for Metis rights. Manitoba even has a holiday named for him. Personally, I think he suffered from schizophrenia but he was brilliant and charismatic and he was the right person at the right time.

Read this book if your memory of history is a little dim. It really brings that time to life. ( )
  gypsysmom | Dec 9, 2011 |
Louis Riel: A Comic-strip Biography is a graphic novel by Canadian graphic novelist, Chester Brown. It won Harvey Awards for best writing and best graphic novel.

As the title implies, the book is a graphic novel biography on nineteenth century Metis leader, Louis Riel. The majority of the graphic novel centers on Riel’s role during the Red River Rebellion in Manitoba and the North-West Rebellion in Saskatchewan. While many still assume that comics and graphic novels are intended chiefly for children, Louis Riel: A Comic-strip Biography deals with a variety of mature and complex themes including, imperialism, violence, discrimination and religion.

Overall, both the writing and illustrations are of high quality, which make for an enjoyable read. I would definitely recommend this graphic novel to anyone studying Louis Riel or is interested in Canadian history. ( )
  chengc28 | Nov 19, 2011 |
This comic-strip biography makes the story of Louis Riel accessible to a broader range of readers than a more academic text ever could. Mr. Brown has done an excellent job of telling the basic story, supplemented with footnotes to expand on some historical points.

(Those footnotes are also a source of minor irritation as they are not marked in the text. Also, some of the notes explain things the author has portrayed unnecessarily -- e.g. to say a ship should have been pointed in the other direction -- why not just draw it that way in the first place? Or that it probably wasn't snowing...so why draw snow?)

The drawings are well done and add depth to the words. This, I think, is an important feature that makes graphic novels/histories more than adult comic books. Mr. Brown has given us a portrait of Riel as a man committed to his people and his beliefs -- a Father of Confederation. Flawed, but who isn't? ( )
  LynnB | Nov 17, 2011 |
Riel's time in exile and leading the Metis spoke to the cause of his mental breakdown. I felt like there was no way back after that -- his increasing obsession with religious visions lived side-by-side with his just political visions. Chester Brown uses dialogue to tell the whole, tightened narrative and puts the most meaning in an expressionless face that I have ever seen. ( )
  allison.sivak | Jan 19, 2011 |
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In a remarkable move that lets Brown tell the best story and tell the truth, every deviance from recorded history is meticulously footnoted at the end. Deeply researched yet carefully manipulated, the final result goes past history and into literature....Louis Riel," as told by Chester Brown becomes a deeply personal, utterly compelling page-turner in the guise of a 19th-century history book.

 
Louis Riel: A Comic-Strip Biography is yet another landmark work by Chester Brown, an artist considered to be one of the greatest cartoonists living today. This is not hyperbole: each of his major works – Ed the Happy Clown, I Never Liked You, and The Playboy – have broken new artistic ground in their different ways. His work has not only upped the high-water mark for fellow comics artists, but has served as a portal for the medium into mainstream culture....Brown’s black and white art is vibrant and striking – you feel the artist’s hand on the page. Not overly intellectualized yet dense with detail, the book is a wonderful combination of factual resources and powerful art and storytelling.
 
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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.
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"This award-winning Canadian bestseller tells the story of the charismatic, and perhaps mad, nineteenth century Metis leader, whose struggle to win rights for his people led to violent rebellion on the nation's western frontier"--P. [4] of cover.

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