Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Louis Riel - A Comic-Strip Biography By Chester Brown

After graduating from law school, I, like most aspiring attorneys, did nothing but study for the bar exam 24/7. During my two months of studying I spent a lot of time at the café of my local Barnes and Noble. Whenever I took a break, I’d wander the store looking at all the new books I wish I could be reading instead of my boring BAR/BRI study guides. I ended up buying a ton of books that summer that I never got around to reading and have been patiently sitting on my bookshelf for the past 3 and a half years. So last week I decided it was time to start putting a dent in the book collection I’d amassed and yet never read.

Louis Riel: A Comic-Strip Biography by Chester BrownThe first book I picked to finally read was a hardback, limited edition signed and numbered graphic novel I picked up based on the recommendation of one of my favorite indie comic book writers/artists Dave Sim. After reading a review by Sim of Louis Riel: A Comic-Strip Biography (published by Drawn and Quarterly), I figured I’d give it a shot. Sim is a very controversial figure in comics but I’ve always held his magnum opus Cerebus the Aardvark in high regard. Louis Riel’s author Chester Brown and Sim are friends and both are Canadian, which is why the story of Louis Riel may have appealed to them both. Plus, what’s not to love when the book’s tagline is “Martyr or Madman – The passionate rebel history can’t close the book on.” (link)

Chester BrownLouis Riel, originally a 9 issue comic book series, is an extremely easy read, but is a historical biography so if you’re not interested in the early history of Canada and the two political revolts led by Riel in the late 1800’s you might want to skip this graphic novel. According to Wikipedia, Louis Riel “was a Canadian politician, a found of the province of Manitoba, and the leader of the Metis people of the Canadian prairies. He led two resistance movements against the Canadian government and its first post-Confederation Prime Minister, Sir John A. Macdonald.” (link) Riel has a really interesting past and is something of a folk hero to the Canadian people, especially to those hailing from the Manitoba province. The focus of Louis Riel: A Comic-Strip Biography is on Riel’s struggle “to preserve Metis rights and culture as their homelands in the Northwest came progressively under the Canadian sphere of influence.” (link)

A Page from Louis Riel: A Comic-Strip Biography by Chester Brown
This is definitely not my typical cup of tea, but the story was riveting and I really enjoyed Brown’s style of art. While Brown admits to taking liberties with the timeline of Riel’s life story, no one can argue that Riel led an amazing life which I am sure most of you can appreciate. If you are looking for a new graphic novel to read then I definitely recommend picking up a copy of Louis Riel: A Comic-Strip Biography by Chester Brown. A softcover version of the graphic novels is out in book stores now or can be purchased directly from Drawn and Quarterly here.
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