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Louis Riel: A Comic-Strip Biography

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"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 "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.


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"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 "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.

30 review for Louis Riel: A Comic-Strip Biography

  1. 5 out of 5

    Seth T.

    Biography is always a tricky thing to pull off well. Ignoring the matter of interpretation, the biographer still has to grapple with the reality that there are not really any such things as brute facts. The biographer is never simply representing What Happened, but instead puts forth a version of what happened—a story that conforms more or less plausibly with the ultimately unknowable way history actually spun itself out. In my response to Christopher Frayling’s biography of Sergio Leone, I Biography is always a tricky thing to pull off well. Ignoring the matter of interpretation, the biographer still has to grapple with the reality that there are not really any such things as brute facts. The biographer is never simply representing What Happened, but instead puts forth a version of what happened—a story that conforms more or less plausibly with the ultimately unknowable way history actually spun itself out. In my response to Christopher Frayling’s biography of Sergio Leone, I wrote: Oh, certainly in the abstract sense, there could exist some ultimate record of events free from the colouring of memory, vanity, or nostalgia, but that would require an impartial, omniscient observer. And biographers, even if they had access to such an impossible (barring the metanatural) source, probably wouldn’t wish to make use of it for fear of losing some of the more outrageous possibilities in the unveiling of their respective subjects. See, the thing of it is: biographers are every bit as much storytellers as Dickens or Gaiman or Hemmingway or Stoppard. They not only have a responsibility to the historical record, but perhaps more importantly, they are beholden to the attentions of their readers. The occupation of a straight fictionalist almost must be easier—for the simple novelist may take a story in any direction and pace it in a manner that will drive readers to continue until story’s end. The biographer, on the other hand, is more like a film editor who has to craft a compelling story with found material he had no hand in creating. So it’s understandable that biographers might take some license with the truth. As if truth and history even belong in the same sentence. Chester Brown, as he unfurls the history of Manitoba’s founding rascal-hero, carefully chooses which directions to have Riel’s story take and which paths the man should tread. Often in his research Brown is confronted with conflicting reports, some from recollections published well and many years after any of the involved incidents. As interesting as Riel’s decisions and circumstances are, it may be still more fascinating to chart Brown’s own choices as to which of these to portray—and how. To this end, Brown supplies the reader with a gratifying section of endnotes, in which he is allowed to explore questions that his straightforward narrative is unable to ask. He will often use this as an opportunity to show how the history he presents is an amalgamation of reports conflated again with fictionalization to help the story spring to life. As an example, Brown shows a scene in which historical figure Thomas Scott and several others beat a Canadian aboriginal named Parisien. Scott, in the scene, is unhinged and savagely hacks away at Parisien’s head until he is dead. Brown, in his endnotes, discusses the seemingly straightforward scene: During the beating of Parisien, “Thomas Scott was particularly vicious; he struck Parisien on the head with an axe,” Siggens, p. 154). Still, my depiction probably exaggerates Scott’s viciousness. I don’t know whether his axe hit Parisien once or many times. The way I’ve written the scene virtually implies that Scott alone killed Parisien, and in reality it’s likely that the murder was more of a group effort. Neither Sutherland [another casualty] nor Parisien died immediately. Parisien lingered “a few days” (Howard, p. 159), “several weeks” (Bumsted, p. 153), or “a month and a half” (Siggens, p. 154) before expiring. (Stanley (p. 106) agrees with Howard, while Siggins is corroborated by Charlebois (p. 64), who gives Parisien’s date of death as April 4th [Brown in this book has Parisien die on February 16th]. This is just one example among over a hundred. So Brown is forthright about his biographer’s role in the fabrication of Riel’s historical record—and really, that just makes the work that much more intriguing. Knowing that the author is not bound overly by, quote-unquote, historical fact draws more attention to Brown’s skill as a storyteller. He is unshackled enough that he can tell the story he is going to tell in the way he wishes to tell it. And while there is certainly some subjectivity at work, I can say that at least from my reader’s perch, Louis Riel is an unqualified success. With its abrupt and overly simplified style, Louis Riel is able to present Riel’s story in a way impossible for a prose novel. Visual space is used to create story beats, punctuating decisions or underscoring the humour in a given situation. Entire conversations, discussions, and arguments occur over two or three panels, with dialogue as spare as Brown’s art. The pacing and storytelling is excellent throughout. Brown attributes the drawing style he employs across the book to his love for Harold Gray’s Little Orphan Annie. Hollow, pupil-less eyes float detached in wide-open faces. Brown’s rendering of these historical figures is iconic and indelible. Louis Riel explores the founding of Manitoba, the insurrection by the French-speaking half-native, half-European settlers of Rupert’s Land against their fresh landlords, the Canadian government. Brown’s book follows the numerous twists, turns, and double-crosses that littered that historical landscape. What Brown accomplishes by hopping from one vantage to another, unbound by the usual narrative constraints is to draw out very succinctly just how amazing it was that Riel’s rebellion failed. At any number of points, the Métis people (Riel’s group) could have successfully stymied the unprepared and disorganized Canadian government, but always little details conspired against that fate. At times, Riel’s own personal conflicts (both with his given role and with his psychological state) work to thwart the Métis’ goals. More insidious, however, is the blunt scheming of the Canadian prime minister to force Riel into open rebellion for the sake of some lucrative rail contracts. Things could have been greatly different, but that’s not the story Chester Brown chooses to tell. And his version of things might be more compelling anyway. [review courtesy of Good Ok Bad]

  2. 4 out of 5

    Michael

    This is an ambitious effort to deal with a very complex part of Canadian history. The artwork is excellent, but unfortunately the resulting story is over-simplistic. Brown compensates for this somewhat in the extensive notes at the end of the comic book, where he goes so far as to admit that he made John A. MacDonald appear more villainous to improve the story. Not sure it's a good idea to take such liberties with important historical figures (i.e. Canada's first prime minister) for something This is an ambitious effort to deal with a very complex part of Canadian history. The artwork is excellent, but unfortunately the resulting story is over-simplistic. Brown compensates for this somewhat in the extensive notes at the end of the comic book, where he goes so far as to admit that he made John A. MacDonald appear more villainous to improve the story. Not sure it's a good idea to take such liberties with important historical figures (i.e. Canada's first prime minister) for something that doesn't explicitly present itself as fiction. Moreover, the reader doesn't come away with an adequate view of the real complexity of Riel as a historical figure. Perhaps this would be best described as historical fiction or fictionalized history? There's little doubt that the Métis and First Nations peoples were treated unfairly but I still can't really recommend reading this as a (primary) way to learn about Louis Riel or Canadian history, though it may inspire the reader to dig deeper. Either way, if you do read this comic book without any prior knowledge of Riel, you'd better also read the notes at the end. The author/artist's 'Paying for It' is a much stronger and more interesting work, because of the extremely frank autobiographical tone.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Aloke

    A must read for those interested in Canadian history. Being a graphic novel it does have obvious trade offs between completeness and artistic license. The cool thing is that Brown is upfront about that in the intro and the very thorough endnotes (in true graphic novel these are handwritten very neatly but somewhat hard to read). These along with the bibliography make it a great starting point to learn about Louis Riel's tumultuous life and his role in history.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Brandon

    Although I’m certain I would have been exposed to Louis Riel during my time in school, I have no recollection of learning about the man until I read Bastards & Boneheads earlier this year and his story blew my mind. While author Will Ferguson wrote a compelling summary of his life in Bastards & Boneheads, I spotted Chester Brown’s comic strip biography and decided to check it out. Brown’s artwork here is tremendous in its simplicity. In the foreword, the author notes that many assumed his Although I’m certain I would have been exposed to Louis Riel during my time in school, I have no recollection of learning about the man until I read Bastards & Boneheads earlier this year and his story blew my mind.  While author Will Ferguson wrote a compelling summary of his life in Bastards & Boneheads, I spotted Chester Brown’s comic strip biography and decided to check it out. Brown’s artwork here is tremendous in its simplicity.  In the foreword, the author notes that many assumed his style was influenced by Hergé, the artist behind The Adventures of Tintin.  While that’s a valid comparison, he says it was Little Orphan Annie that provided the inspiration - and it shows.  I thought it was the perfect fit to represent both the time and the subject matter.  The layouts are clean and clear with about nine panels per page to tell the Metis story. Riel’s life is a strange one as it more or less exists in two parts.  The first being his leadership of what would become Winnipeg, the Red River Settlement, and the establishment of Manitoba.  Brown details the trials and tribulations of Riel’s role in the battle between French and English Canada as both battle for control of the fledgling province.  Brown showcases Riel’s quest for a peaceful resolution and a hope that both the anglo and francophones can come together to fight for their rights against what they felt was a tyrannical Prime Minister, John A. MacDonald. The second part concerns his return to Canada following his complete mental breakdown.  Having spent time in a Montreal insane asylum, Riel believes himself to be a prophet sent from God and his ensuing actions lead to increased hostility between both the Metis of Manitoba and the Canadian government.  That’s not to say the aggression was his fault - the existing population of Manitoba clearly got the short end of the stick - but it was a big departure from what he seemingly stood for before. With Louis Riel, Chester Brown has provided an accessible look into Canada’s past that even those who find Canadian history “dry” will enjoy.  Riel’s story is a tragic one that highlights the struggles that Canada’s aboriginal population have gone through - and continue to go through - to achieve even equal footing to English speaking Canada.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Sam Quixote

    Brown retells the history of Louis Riel using his unique drawing skills. Each of the characters are given blank eyes and expressionless faces, as well as enormous hands and small heads - deliberate choices by the artist. The story is a bit dusty for most of the book. This law was passed which meant this border changed which meant this happened which meant people had to move until this law was passed, blah blah. Unless you're really into 19th century Canadian history regarding the Metis people Brown retells the history of Louis Riel using his unique drawing skills. Each of the characters are given blank eyes and expressionless faces, as well as enormous hands and small heads - deliberate choices by the artist. The story is a bit dusty for most of the book. This law was passed which meant this border changed which meant this happened which meant people had to move until this law was passed, blah blah. Unless you're really into 19th century Canadian history regarding the Metis people you'll gloss over these sections. Maps are included to show the shifting borders. What's interesting is when Louis Riel loses his mind and believes he's a prophet from God. There are some brilliant sections like the siege or when Louis and his men are held captive. There's quite a comedic scene with one of the racist prisoners shouting expletives (you just see "XXX" in the caption baloon) and coupled with his blank face and cavernous mouth it made me laugh. "Louis Riel" shows a more confident storyteller in Brown and his drawing style has developed since "I Never Liked You". It's a good, thorough read and reminded me of Rick Geary's work which is also brilliant.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Paul

    Being French-Canadian, Québécois, and Acadian, this story hit home for me. I don`t know if I had family in Manitoba back then... quite possibly, as the deportation of the Acadians took part a little prior to the story in Riel, and many Acadians did 'flee' West. One of the sad things about deportation, is that you tend to loose touch with family members and Neighbors, and they tend to be `forgotten` after a generation or two. Stories like that of Riel to help to `refresh` our memories... and Being French-Canadian, Québécois, and Acadian, this story hit home for me. I don`t know if I had family in Manitoba back then... quite possibly, as the deportation of the Acadians took part a little prior to the story in Riel, and many Acadians did 'flee' West. One of the sad things about deportation, is that you tend to loose touch with family members and Neighbors, and they tend to be `forgotten` after a generation or two. Stories like that of Riel to help to `refresh` our memories... and although I obviously had heard or maybe even read about Riel in high school... no history course made it as clear as this poerwerful litlle book. Thank you Mr. Brown for this glimpse into our ancestros` lives. Your book is now on my 'prioritiesed' shelf... in good company, as it is right next to Spiegelman's Maus. Do you know another book that'd look really nice up there... on telling the history of the Acadian/Cajun people... hint hint hint

  7. 4 out of 5

    Sotiris Makrygiannis

    A factual, historical comic book about the early days of Canada and the story of Louis Riel. He fought about the rights of the native people, with a bit of megalomania, a big of insanity that is needed to curry such a cause against the government. Again the Rail road and financing the lines that connect the country and subsequently the money needed for such effort, was behind his execution. Now days is a national hero for Canada, back then an insane. A very good, fast, Sunday morning coffee A factual, historical comic book about the early days of Canada and the story of Louis Riel. He fought about the rights of the native people, with a bit of megalomania, a big of insanity that is needed to curry such a cause against the government. Again the Rail road and financing the lines that connect the country and subsequently the money needed for such effort, was behind his execution. Now days is a national hero for Canada, back then an insane. A very good, fast, Sunday morning coffee read.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Emmkay

    Interesting graphic novel treatment of the North-West Rebellion, focusing on the figure of Louis Riel. Very simple black-and-white graphics in a distinctive style, coupled with simple, casual dialogue, but augmented with interesting maps and fascinating endnotes about the narrative choices and historical liberties taken by the author.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Andrew

    In 1870, the Canadian government incorporated Manitoba, and the Powers That Be sought to disenfranchise the territory's French-speaking Métis population. Louis Riel petitioned for equitable Métis representation in the Canadian government, and when that failed, he escaped to the United States to organize an ill-fated armed rebellion. Throughout, Riel was both inspired and hampered by his own religious fanaticism. Chester Brown tells this incredible true story in a unique way. He uses rigid In 1870, the Canadian government incorporated Manitoba, and the Powers That Be sought to disenfranchise the territory's French-speaking Métis population. Louis Riel petitioned for equitable Métis representation in the Canadian government, and when that failed, he escaped to the United States to organize an ill-fated armed rebellion. Throughout, Riel was both inspired and hampered by his own religious fanaticism. Chester Brown tells this incredible true story in a unique way. He uses rigid formalism and minimalism (each page is a 2 x 3 panel grid with wide margins and gutters; the characters' faces are often blank and affectless) to heighten both the humor and the heartbreak of this desperate, small-scale rebellion. In an early sequence, a Métis captive escapes from Anglo soldiers by breaking through an outhouse. He then shoots an innocent bystander. The soldiers recapture him and hack him to death with an ax, while the bystander bleeds to death nearby. The scene blends comedy and horrific violence in a way that reminds me Stanley Kubrick or the Coen Brothers. Louis Riel is a fascinating character. He's a man who believes he communes with God and knows all the secrets of the universe, but he cannot grasp the scale of what he's up against, or how to deal with the combined forces of the Canadian government, the Canadian Pacific Railway, and the Hudson's Bay Trading company. In this way, he's a classic Western hero - a strong man made obsolete by capitalist progress. The extensive handwritten end notes make this an even richer reading experience. In them, Brown obsesses over his text's historical inaccuracies and questions how his own political/philosophical biases shaped the story. The comic is an engrossing, one-of-a-kind history, and the end notes are an impressive historiography and self-critique. That Chester Brown provides both in under 300 pages is a truly remarkable achievement.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Sarah

    Really nice to re-learn this chapter of Canadian History, but as a novel, it didn't work for me. The visual style was very static, so it didn't convey the movement and chaos that I would expect to accompany an armed rebellion, and the dialogue was very stiff and emotion-less. It gave me the impression of an illustrated list of facts, as opposed to a dramatic re-telling of fascinating real-world events. I didn't feel connected to any of the characters, like they were all two-dimensional comic Really nice to re-learn this chapter of Canadian History, but as a novel, it didn't work for me. The visual style was very static, so it didn't convey the movement and chaos that I would expect to accompany an armed rebellion, and the dialogue was very stiff and emotion-less. It gave me the impression of an illustrated list of facts, as opposed to a dramatic re-telling of fascinating real-world events. I didn't feel connected to any of the characters, like they were all two-dimensional comic strips, as opposed to real people with twisted, or confused motives. In general I saw so much potential for this book to be better than it was, so I was disappointed with what was actually in front of me.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Margaret Sankey

    This is a brilliant re-telling of the metis uprising led by Louis Riel against the Hudson's Bay Company and the British Empire, as laid out in graphic novel form. This is historically well-researched and thoughtfully illustrated to draw out all of the complexities of this event's religious, racial, economic and colonial implications.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Stewart Tame

    An interesting and impressive graphic novel. Not being familiar with Canadian history, I had never heard of Loius Riel before. Brown tells the story of his life. The clear line and simple drawing style serves the story well, and Brown's footnotes at the end are worth reading, detailing his sources as well as pointing out where he took liberties for narrative purposes. Well worth reading.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Jason

    Really fantastic- I loved the art and the extensive notes at the end with additional information. An excellent example of comics' ability to marry fact and fiction.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Joshua

    Although Louis Riel is a well recognized name in Canada, as school aged students we barely scratched the surface for the time period of Canadian westward expansion and the Manitoba Act. This book was a great introduction to the issues, Metis grievances, and important players of the time. The biography is broken into 4 main parts: Canadian gov't expansion into the West resulting in displacement of the Metis and the first rebellion, Riel's exile, Riel's return and the 2nd rebellion, and finally Although Louis Riel is a well recognized name in Canada, as school aged students we barely scratched the surface for the time period of Canadian westward expansion and the Manitoba Act. This book was a great introduction to the issues, Metis grievances, and important players of the time. The biography is broken into 4 main parts: Canadian gov't expansion into the West resulting in displacement of the Metis and the first rebellion, Riel's exile, Riel's return and the 2nd rebellion, and finally Riel's trial and execution. Brown has certainly done his research and the content is well referenced, but as expected for a comic-strip biography, he takes certain artistic liberties to keep it both interesting and concise (ie. PM Macdonald character represents both actions of Canadian gov't, as well as himself; multiple priests are represented by one; PM Macdonald and the CPR are generally cast as the villains) but these seem justified and if you read the whole book and endnotes, Brown acknowledges each of these so it shouldn't be considered misleading. I did find myself augmenting facts and details from other sources as I read, but that's only because Brown's presentation heightened my interest in the whole affair. This was a real page-turner that often had me laughing, angry, or incredulous, and I highly recommend it for anyone interested in an engaging and fresh take on Canadian history.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Pamela J

    While I enjoyed the historical transparency and creative liberties Hines takes with Riel's role in Canadian history, I am not as over-the-moon as many as the critics were in their reviews.Gor the record, I've avidly read & taught graphic narratives. My criticism falls under stylistic and structural preferences. Just comes down to what I find aesthetically pleasing. I appreciate the endnotes and bibliography; they are there for those of us who want to consult them. Hines does lean on Tom While I enjoyed the historical transparency and creative liberties Hines takes with Riel's role in Canadian history, I am not as over-the-moon as many as the critics were in their reviews.Gor the record, I've avidly read & taught graphic narratives. My criticism falls under stylistic and structural preferences. Just comes down to what I find aesthetically pleasing. I appreciate the endnotes and bibliography; they are there for those of us who want to consult them. Hines does lean on Tom Flanagan's texts; Flanagan may not be sympathetic to the Métis claims, but Hines seems to show how the Métis were totally silenced by Ottawa & its power brokers. Sure, religious zealots are fascinating--to a point--, but maybe legendary figures are not always heroic just out of the ordinary?

  16. 5 out of 5

    Andrew Dirgo

    Very interesting blend between a beautifully drawn comic and historical subject matter. I didn't grow up in Canada and, thus, didn't learn anything about Louis Riel or the Metis culture he defended. Given the comic strip nature of the book I expected something along the lines of a traditional comic. While this read far more like a biography (not my expectations) I still throughly enjoyed it. Different, but very good. Brown does a great job including notes in the back and clarifying exactly what Very interesting blend between a beautifully drawn comic and historical subject matter. I didn't grow up in Canada and, thus, didn't learn anything about Louis Riel or the Metis culture he defended. Given the comic strip nature of the book I expected something along the lines of a traditional comic. While this read far more like a biography (not my expectations) I still throughly enjoyed it. Different, but very good. Brown does a great job including notes in the back and clarifying exactly what he's simplified for narrative purposes. Very interesting overview of this little bit of history; I'll probably be picking up one of this recommended history books in the future thanks to this clever Comic-Strip Biography.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Big Al

    And people think Canadian history is boring! :’)

  18. 4 out of 5

    Blue

    A valiant and successful attempt to explore a complex and important part of Canadian (and North American) history. Chester Brown is a meticulous researcher who does not shrink from having strong (well informed) opinions. In telling Louis Riel's historic years, from the founding of Monitoba to his execution, he presents a simplified, yet memorable and clear picture of how the colonial, indigenous, capitalist, and emerging national forces impinged upon this land, the formation of greater Canada, A valiant and successful attempt to explore a complex and important part of Canadian (and North American) history. Chester Brown is a meticulous researcher who does not shrink from having strong (well informed) opinions. In telling Louis Riel's historic years, from the founding of Monitoba to his execution, he presents a simplified, yet memorable and clear picture of how the colonial, indigenous, capitalist, and emerging national forces impinged upon this land, the formation of greater Canada, and the success of Canadian Pacific Railway. Perhaps the most interesting aspects of Riel's story is outside of the land disputes and rebellions and petitions, more about his mental state, his relationship with religion and god, his view that he was a prophet. The copious endnotes are particularly fascinating about this, from Riel's secret commitment in Canadian asylums to his reported belief that he was actually a French infant who was switched in for the real Louis Riel. Regardless of his own opinions of Riel, Chester Brown explains his choices throughout and presents varying (often conflicting) opinions and accounts of the man and the events that shaped the region. He often chooses the most likely option or the scenario that makes the most sense when all accounts are considered. He also makes some aesthetic and plot choices, either to simplify the complicated situations (four lawyers defending Riel become one, three representatives traveling to meet the Canadian government officials become one, etc.) He also confesses to some divergence from fact, having drawn a character thin, while he was reported to be portly or having drawn men on horses, while reports indicate they were on sleighs, etc. As a result, Louis Riel is a doubly fascinating read: it is about the fascinating, obviously charismatic, not all that villainous, somewhat kooky man who became the hero and champion of a disadvantaged people, and it is also about how a biographer constructs a narrative that is both engaging and truthful. Two things that drew my attention, though Brown did not spend too much time on them (probably because others have): the Jewish thing kept coming up, probably because of Riel's religious beliefs, but there was some unexpected ways this happened (like Nolin accusing Riel for promising land to many peoples, including the Jews during Riel's trial, and the whole story about how Riel was actually someone else, a Jew, from France, etc.) Also, Scott's mental state is not really discussed, but seems to me that he was mentally disturbed, which led to his execution, which led to the life-long arrest warrant for Riel and his ultimate execution. It seems that if it weren't for the execution of this ONE man (who was a British subject) in the hands of the Metis, these would not have been such bad blood between the anglophones/British/Canadian government and Riel et al. (Of course, a historian could argue that they would find something else to hold over Riel eventually.) Recommended for those who like maps, history, and political intrigue.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Jessica

    According to Wikipedia, "Louis Riel was a Canadian politician, a founder of the province of Manitoba, and a political and spiritual leader of the Métis people of the Canadian prairies." In this comic-strip biography, Chester Brown details some of Riel's life as it pertains to the relationship between the Metis natives (mixed French and native Canadian) and the Canadian government. In the 1860s, modern-day-Manitoba is passed from the Hudson's Bay company to Canada, despite the wishes of the According to Wikipedia, "Louis Riel was a Canadian politician, a founder of the province of Manitoba, and a political and spiritual leader of the Métis people of the Canadian prairies." In this comic-strip biography, Chester Brown details some of Riel's life as it pertains to the relationship between the Metis natives (mixed French and native Canadian) and the Canadian government. In the 1860s, modern-day-Manitoba is passed from the Hudson's Bay company to Canada, despite the wishes of the native people. Riel is chosen as a representative based mostly on his ability to speak English, and he continues to represent/pseudo-govern the area. He leads some resistances, is exiled from the country, finds some fanatical religion, returns, and is ultimately executed for treason against the Canadian government. I didn't know anything about Louis Riel before reading this book. Brown tells Riel's story in an almost conversational and very accessible way; it certainly doesn't read much like a history text. The art is a better version of Brown's signature style, which reads to me as more expressive than his other works (kind of sad since I see other people noting that it is very blank). At the very least, there is definitely a lot more detail present than in, say, I Never Liked You or Paying for It. It's cartoony, clear, and serious. Riel's story is pretty interesting - he seemed to be thrust into his role as sort-of-revolutionary. It is only through what seemed to me to be his practical method of governance that he continued to be elected as representative/ruler. It may be Brown's own ambivalence at life bleeding through, but Riel just doesn't seem to care much if he is chosen to represent his people or not. During his exile he goes crazy has a vision and begins to go by another name and claim he is a prophet. After this point he alternates between very reasonable ideas and the message he believes he was given by God. It ultimately seems to be a sad story of a fair and well-liked man who fought for the rights of his people only to be executed for trying. Recommended for mature middle schoolers through adults, as long as they have some interest in history or patience for a slow story without too much action. There is some historical violence off the page, but no sexual content and very little language (mostly *** censored).

  20. 4 out of 5

    Michael

    I am strongly drawn to histories in cartoon form, but almost always a little disappointed by them. The problem is that the leading work in the genre -- Larry Gonick's many-volumed Cartoon History of the Universe -- is so outrageously good that it is hard for anyone else to compete. Gonick's books are treasures, and I would never wish them away, but the field of non-fiction cartooning might be a little more healthy if its pioneer hadn't set the bar quite so high. Louis Riel is the biography of a I am strongly drawn to histories in cartoon form, but almost always a little disappointed by them. The problem is that the leading work in the genre -- Larry Gonick's many-volumed Cartoon History of the Universe -- is so outrageously good that it is hard for anyone else to compete. Gonick's books are treasures, and I would never wish them away, but the field of non-fiction cartooning might be a little more healthy if its pioneer hadn't set the bar quite so high. Louis Riel is the biography of a Canadian populist, rebel, and, arguably, nut-job who was involved in two local conflicts during Canada's late 18th Century expansion onto the prairies. He led working-class, French-speaking, Metis inhabitants of the prairie provinces in their struggles against the great powers of the Canadian government and the Canadian Pacific Railroad. Students of westward expansion anywhere in the Americas will not be suprised to learn that minorities and those who opposed the expansion of capitalism and its attendant systems, here as elsewhere, end up with a fairly raw deal. Brown's treatment of this history attempts a factual, relatively "literal" retelling, and makes no particular effort to be funny. Me, I'm old-fashioned -- I prefer comics that are, you know, comic, so as a matter of taste Louis Riel is not especially my cup of tea. I can attest that it is well-drawn in a style reminiscent of Tintin, albeit in stark black and white. As far as I can tell it is quite well researched. The incidents in question illustrate some of the real concerns and conflicts of "The West," which is nice; Western history has been so buried under more than a century's worth of competing mythologies that any glimpse at actual documented incidents is always full of surprises. Learning about the expansionist phase of Canadian history, furthermore, is a good exercise for those United Statesians who always imagine a halo floating up there above the Maple Leaf. This particular work of "comix history" did not ~wow~ me, especially, but it illustrates the strength of the form: in a short evening, I went from total ignorance of a historical episode to having a comfortable layman's understanding of what happened and why it was significant. Thanks, Chester Brown! I salute Louis Riel as a successful effort in an important and underdeveloped genre. I would love to see many, many more books like this one.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Chazzbot

    I knew nothing of Louis Riel, or any Canadian history for that matter, before reading this, drawn to the series only because of my admiration for Chester Brown's other work. Spare, unsentimental, and by no means exhaustive, Brown's graphic biography of Riel and his times is all the more powerful for its limitations, openly acknowledged by Brown in his extensive footnotes. The power of this biography, then, comes from Brown's choices; like a savvy director, he directs the reader's gaze to only I knew nothing of Louis Riel, or any Canadian history for that matter, before reading this, drawn to the series only because of my admiration for Chester Brown's other work. Spare, unsentimental, and by no means exhaustive, Brown's graphic biography of Riel and his times is all the more powerful for its limitations, openly acknowledged by Brown in his extensive footnotes. The power of this biography, then, comes from Brown's choices; like a savvy director, he directs the reader's gaze to only the most relevant of incidents and actions, portraying Riel, for all his hesitations and misguided beliefs, as a man situated in an extraordinary moment. The most affecting of Riel's situations as depicted by Brown is his first revelation from God (as pictured on the cover of this collection). Brown depicts the moment without judgement, using Riel's own testimony as the template for his illustrations. Later, when Riel's own sanity is questioned at his trial, the earlier moment resonates in the reader's memory, putting us among the jury. Such is the power of Brown's nearly objective portrayal of Riel that the reader is left to decide on his own whether Riel's revolution was justified or merely the byproduct of his mental illness. A haunting, powerful work of comics biography, to my mind unrivaled.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Jayme

    I liked the concept of this a lot better than the actual book. The artwork and the writing are super simplistic. The artwork is also poorly proportioned, with tiny heads and huge hands. And normally I would forgive this if it suited the writing, or had a purpose, or even if the writing was just so kick ass that you didn't care what the artwork looked like. But none of those are true, it was just kinda bad art. The writing itself was just too oversimplified for words. There was no flow, the I liked the concept of this a lot better than the actual book. The artwork and the writing are super simplistic. The artwork is also poorly proportioned, with tiny heads and huge hands. And normally I would forgive this if it suited the writing, or had a purpose, or even if the writing was just so kick ass that you didn't care what the artwork looked like. But none of those are true, it was just kinda bad art. The writing itself was just too oversimplified for words. There was no flow, the characters weren't so much talking to each other as they were relating what happened historically to each other. Like this gem: Knock knock. -Yeah? (Charles Nolin) -Hey Charles, we're organizing the new provisional government today, and Riel wants you to be part of it. (Gabriel Dumont) -Well I don't want to be part of it. (CN) -Okay. (GD) Cause that's exactly the kind of dialogue you expect when you're trying to get someone to join your rebellion...

  23. 4 out of 5

    Nicholas Aune

    I love the tale of Louis Riel. And I especially love the fact that this book comes in comic form so that I can share it with my son. This version of the Louis Riel story is sort of the beginner's guide to Riel. There are a lot of factual errors. Sources aren't cited very well ( and as this takes place in the world of Canadian espionage and political backhanding, it's very important to use good sources.) Even the illustrations aren't accurate portraits. A lot of people who study Riel roll their I love the tale of Louis Riel. And I especially love the fact that this book comes in comic form so that I can share it with my son. This version of the Louis Riel story is sort of the beginner's guide to Riel. There are a lot of factual errors. Sources aren't cited very well ( and as this takes place in the world of Canadian espionage and political backhanding, it's very important to use good sources.) Even the illustrations aren't accurate portraits. A lot of people who study Riel roll their eyes at this book. But it is an extremely approachable biography. My two year old loves it. I recommend this book as a starting point to anyone interested in learning about the Red River Rebellion.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Norman

    Took me over three years to finish. Sheeeesh. On one hand, it's a very Chester Brown-like book in its steady pacing and relatable dialogue. On the other, it's a completely different beast void of the emotion from his autobios and strictly fictional works. I got the sense Brown wanted to glamorize the plot and its inhabitants a bit, and so the story must be taken with a grain of salt. It certainly is not an academic read on Louis Riel; moreover it's not childsplay either. It's a heavy narrative Took me over three years to finish. Sheeeesh. On one hand, it's a very Chester Brown-like book in its steady pacing and relatable dialogue. On the other, it's a completely different beast void of the emotion from his autobios and strictly fictional works. I got the sense Brown wanted to glamorize the plot and its inhabitants a bit, and so the story must be taken with a grain of salt. It certainly is not an academic read on Louis Riel; moreover it's not childsplay either. It's a heavy narrative and probably-important topic to French Canadians. Myself not being one, I read it as a fan of Chester Brown. While not my absolute favorite, his mastery still shines. Good art with depth beyond the surface, which is a fresh experience amidst all the junky war nonsense coming out in comics.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Hillary

    Yes, it's shelved in the history section at the library, and yes it should be. This is the first thing I've read by Chester Brown, and I was pretty massively impressed. I don't know anything about the actual story, although I've been to the area of Canada in which it takes place, so I can't say how much is altered or shaped (although I don't really have to; Brown provides a bunch of endnotes that explain choices he made). The art seems amateurish at first, especially in panels that feature Yes, it's shelved in the history section at the library, and yes it should be. This is the first thing I've read by Chester Brown, and I was pretty massively impressed. I don't know anything about the actual story, although I've been to the area of Canada in which it takes place, so I can't say how much is altered or shaped (although I don't really have to; Brown provides a bunch of endnotes that explain choices he made). The art seems amateurish at first, especially in panels that feature action, like running, but it grows on you, and it definitely does seem like Brown's imitating predecessors (he mentions Lil' Orphan Annie specifically). Plus it has a certain charm. The whole thing is impressive and compelling and weird.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Kate

    I very much enjoy graphic novels and Brown's ability to tell a complicated story through his art and limited text are the hilights of this work. Brown pays particular attention to historical detail and it is obvious that Louis Riel has a champion in the author. In this book, we are exposed to a version of the settlement of western Canada and the treatment of Canada's First Nations and Metis people that you won't read in history books written by acacemics of middle class European descent. Brown I very much enjoy graphic novels and Brown's ability to tell a complicated story through his art and limited text are the hilights of this work. Brown pays particular attention to historical detail and it is obvious that Louis Riel has a champion in the author. In this book, we are exposed to a version of the settlement of western Canada and the treatment of Canada's First Nations and Metis people that you won't read in history books written by acacemics of middle class European descent. Brown does not paint our country's historical leaders in particularly flattering light. An easy, entertaining, and educational read.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Halden

    Chester Brown’s Cartoon biography of Louis Riel is a fantastic piece of art meets history. The story focuses on a small portion of Louis’s story and by the author’s own admition makes some stretches and assumption about some elements. The Book is drawn simply but is still beautiful to look at and hold. The story is well paced and flows well. I read the entire 200 pages in an evening. The book is a great summary for those that know Riel’s story or a great introduction to it but this should not be Chester Brown’s Cartoon biography of Louis Riel is a fantastic piece of art meets history. The story focuses on a small portion of Louis’s story and by the author’s own admition makes some stretches and assumption about some elements. The Book is drawn simply but is still beautiful to look at and hold. The story is well paced and flows well. I read the entire 200 pages in an evening. The book is a great summary for those that know Riel’s story or a great introduction to it but this should not be your sole source of information regarding the events surrounding Riel’s life and the Red River settlement. Fans of Chester’s and anyone interested in Graphic Novels should give this book a read.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Michael

    Brown biography of Riel is direct to the point of simplicity and he never really hits the emotional core of his subject who at times seemed to be a politically astute revolutionary and at others to be a self-deluded messianic holy man. I like the power of Brown's simple art, though. Notes: Brown's narrative style is a little too direct to allow for total immersion in his tale. Riel's story is important, but I'm not sure the comic book form helps us understand it any better the way Sacco's work Brown biography of Riel is direct to the point of simplicity and he never really hits the emotional core of his subject who at times seemed to be a politically astute revolutionary and at others to be a self-deluded messianic holy man. I like the power of Brown's simple art, though. Notes: Brown's narrative style is a little too direct to allow for total immersion in his tale. Riel's story is important, but I'm not sure the comic book form helps us understand it any better the way Sacco's work does with his subjects. Rie's conviction that he is a new world savior makes the claim, made by his lawyer, that he is insane, quite believable.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Andrea

    A great recounting of the early history and rebellion of the Metis and Canada's machinations to annex their lands -- my favourite comics expose evil and this does it well. It also does it complexly, which is good. I loved the liveliness of the drawing, and I know very little of this history but felt this did beautifully at illuminating one view into the fascinating character and contradictions of Riel. Of course, I was rooting for Gabriel Dumont the whole time...

  30. 4 out of 5

    Jason

    If only history were taught using the very human elements at the heart of it all... I hated studying Louis Riel in high school, what with the stodgy texts and the tests for memorized dates & names. But this, this is wonderful storytelling from start to finish. Let's hope that someday an inspired artist sets down the truths about Prime Minister Harper and his lot's lies, too.

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