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Louis Riel : a comic-strip biography by…

Louis Riel : a comic-strip biography

by Chester Brown

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A fun jaunt into Canadian history. An informal piece on the life of a Canadian historical figure. Great art and easy to follow. ( )
  holysmokinkitty | Oct 29, 2015 |
Louis Riel - revolutionary leader, mystic, possibly mad, champion of Metis and First Nations rights - is one of the most fascinating figures in Canadian history. I found this "comic strip biography" very interesting and I appreciated the detailed notes that explained exactly what had been changed to make the story fit the graphic media format, as well as a nice bibliography for further reading. I feel like I learned a lot. For some reason Louis Riel was not really talked about when I was in school - even though I took a Canadian history course in high school. Which is bizarre - every Canadian student should get a copy of this book.

Riel's story ties in intricately to the formation of our nation, as we see here how John A. MacDonald wanted to incite rebellion among the Metis in order to drum up support for the completion of the CPR, because they would use the railroad to ship their soldiers out west. Very interesting stuff. Reading this, it seems to me that Riel had a good heart, was trying to protect the lives and well being of his friends, family and community and the Canadian government used the racism of the day to inspire their fear tactics in the English settlers and pit everyone against each other so that they could stay in power. At least, that's the portrayal here. I would like to read a couple of additional biographies on Riel to see how they compare. But for now? I really enjoyed this one. ( )
  catfantastic | Jul 25, 2015 |
A chapter of Canadian history I knew nothing about. Very interesting. ( )
  Sullywriter | May 22, 2015 |
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. ( )
1 vote gypsysmom | Dec 9, 2011 |
Showing 1-5 of 19 (next | show all)
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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