Saturday, December 20, 2008

Louis Riel: A Comic Strip Biography by Chester Brown

“It has the thoroughness of a history book yet reads with the personalized vision of a novel.” –Time
Chester Brown reinvents the comic-book medium to create the critically acclaimed historical biography Louis Riel, winning the Harvey Awards for best writing and best graphic novel for his compelling, meticulous, and dispassionate retelling of the charismatic, and perhaps insane, nineteenth-century Métis leader. Brown coolly documents with dramatic subtlety the violent rebellion on the Canadian prairie led by Riel, who some regard a martyr who died in the name of freedom, while others consider him a treacherous murderer.
The best way to start with this review is to tell a story. I was at work one day and there were some men visiting from out west. At work this is this very large painting of Evangeline, a figure from east-coast history. It is a gorgeous painting, I have no idea how my work acquired it, and they had no idea who she was. So, I gave them a history lesson and pointed out that people from the west coast should learn who she is in high school because I learned all about Canada in school. Well, they got rather offended and decided to try and stump me. Their question? Who was Louis Riel? They were not impressed when I answered correctly, that's for sure! This sets the stage for just how important a figure Riel was in Canadian history. When I saw the book in comic form, though, I just had to have it! It took me forever to get around to reading it, though.

Recapping the story requires a history lesson, so to be very brief. For those that do not know, Louis Riel was a Metis (half French and half Native) man from Manitoba. Back when Canada was acquiring the land that they have today, though, they were living on their own land. The Hudson Bay Company (a fur-trading company) claimed it was theirs, though, and sold it to Canada. The Metis did not believe that their free land could sold and got rather angry when the people in Ontario started to make drastic changes. While I have always known who Louis Riel was, I have to say that this is the most extensive I have ever read about him, so there were things brought up in this book that I was not aware of. It was a learning experience, but at the same time, it was told in comic strip form with a bit of humour thrown in.

So, do I recommend it? It might not be a book you just read. It is likely more of a book for those that are interested in Canadian history and important figures. Since that really interests me, I really liked this book, but it might not be for everyone. I actually wish this was a series! It is a good idea for a series, in any case.


  1. This does sound like it would be a wonderful series. I'm currently reading Rick Geary's Victorian Crimes series and a famous Canadians graphic series would be wonderful.

    I have a question to ask, though. Is this a non-biased take on Louis Riel, showing both sides and opinions? Or is it written with a a politically correct agenda?

  2. It is marketed as unbiased. I think he really tries to make it that way, but sometimes I felt he was leaning a bit too far one way or another...

  3. Thanks, I think I'll give it a try.