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Louis Riel: A Comic-Strip Biography Paperback – August 8, 2006

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Editorial Reviews

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.

From Booklist

Brown, better known for such outre projects as his scatologically surreal Ed the Happy Clown (1989), now tells the story of a controversial nineteenth-century Canadian political figure in comics. A charismatic leader who championed the cause of the half-French, half-Native Canadian metis community in their rebellion against the English Canadian government, Riel was hounded into religious fanaticism and madness before being hanged for treason. For his nonsensationalistic treatment of this momentous life, Brown adopts an intentionally flat drawing style reminiscent of 1930s comics (Harold Gray's Little Orphan Annie was a key visual influence) and a straightforward storytelling approach based on six square panels per page. These prove perfectly suited to his heavily researched, extensively footnoted subject matter. Although a folk hero in Canada, Riel is largely unknown by Americans, many of whom will be fascinated to learn that their northern neighbor country also cheated and exploited native peoples. Comics artists have tackled history before (see Larry Gonick's Cartoon History series) but seldom as artfully and intelligently as Brown does here. Gordon Flagg
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 280 pages
  • Publisher: Drawn and Quarterly (August 22, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1894937899
  • ISBN-13: 978-1894937894
  • Product Dimensions: 6.2 x 1 x 8.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.7 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (29 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #654,847 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By SPM on January 6, 2004
Format: Hardcover
Chester Brown spent the better part of five years on this comic book biography. It was worth the effort. Louis Riel was a religious leader of an uprising in Canada in 1885. Brown describes the events leading to the uprising, he shows how it played out, and then he wraps up the story with Riel's final fate. Along the way he touches lightly on issues of religion, political conspiracy, and insanity. For those readers who want additional information --- or who want to double-check Brown's accuracy --- there is a bibliography and extensive footnotes.
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.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Matthew Higgins on September 26, 2004
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Most of the previous reviews have touched upon how well this book has covered its subject matter and there is no disagreement here.

A few mentioned the artwork but not enough. Brown's work is astounding. In the introduction to Louis Riel: A Comic-Strip Biography, Brown mentions the influence of Herge's Tintin and Harold Grey's Little Orphan Annie on his work and his wondrous black and white, six panel pages are truly an homage those great comics he cites.

For both story and artwork, five stars are too little for Brown's beautiful comic-strip biography. This book belongs on the shelf of anyone interested in either history or graphic novels/comic strips.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By A. Ross HALL OF FAMETOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on January 18, 2006
Format: Hardcover
Noted Canadian graphic artist Brown here mines his country's less distinguished history to tell the captivating story of Lous Reil, a late 19th-century Metis (mixed French and Indian) leader. The story begins in the 1860s, a time when only a small portion of present-day Canada was actually known by that name, the middle third of present-day Canada (Manitoba and Saskatchewan) was claimed as the property of the British Hudson Bay Company, and the Western third of present-day Canada was claimed by Britain. In the middle of the Hudson Bay Company land, about 50 miles north of the Minnesota border, a loose cluster of English and French parishes known as the Red River Settlement was home to several thousand settlers. When the Canadian government struck a deal with the Hudson Bay Company to purchase their land, it upset the Red River locals. These settlers, many of whom were of mixed French and Indian blood, and some of whom had been there for generations, were concerned (and rightly so) that they would loose their land under this arrangement. They embarked on a course of self-rule that put them in a state of rebellion against the Canadian government, and the educated, bilingual Louis Reil emerged as their leader.

Brown does an admirable job of retelling the fairly complex story of the settlers' 16 year struggle to stave off rule from Ottawa. There's a lot of to-and-fro, as Reil and other key figures move around a lot, including trips to Ottawa, Montreal, Washington, DC, and London. There are also some major time shifts that make the story a bit choppy, but there's no doubt that history comes alive in Brown's hands.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By J.J. McCullough on May 9, 2004
Format: Hardcover
For many years I had little interest in the story of Riel. It seemed obscure, irrelevant, and uninteresting.
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.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Brian Almquist on December 23, 2004
Format: Hardcover
Chester Brown's drawings are stark and sparse. The six-panel format used consistently throughout the biography is an excellent frame for telling history. The evenness of the presentation suggests that a flat and neutral point-of-view is used to tell the story of an apparently controversial figure. Not that you should necessarily trust such an assertion about Brown's telling, but it is highly effective.

It strikes me as highly unfortunate and typical that I have to come to this fascinating bit of Canadian frontier history this late in life and in such a format. Still, this is what I find myself looking for in comic books these days. Interesting stories about unusual topics.
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