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Louis Riel: A Comic-Strip Biography

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Because of our short history and the small part we’ve played on the world stage, Canada hasn’t had a very exciting history, no matter how much we pretend otherwise. So when controversial figures come along, we latch onto them. Louis Riel was such a figure. He was a leader to the Métis when their land rights clashed with the plans of the Canadian Government in Ottawa.

But as controversial as Riel was, reactions to him were predictable, as they were almost always predicated along linguistic lines. The Métis and French revered him, while the English reviled him. We’re not as beholden to our native language when passing judgment on Riel these days, and there’s certainly no question where writer/illustrator Chester Brown’s sympathies lie. He shows us how Riel and the Métis were victims of the treaty-breaking at which the Anglophones were experts. Even Canada’s first prime minister, John A. McDonald, is shown to be a conniving man who negotiated on bad faith.

Louis Riel: A Comic-Strip Biography covers almost twenty years, but only those years that contained Riel’s contributions to the rebellions in Manitoba and Saskatchewan. Brown’s endnotes are a good indication of how much work and research went into this graphic biography. It’s impressive that, by pinpointing where he has deviated from known history, it becomes clear how many thoughtful decisions Brown made for the sake of the narrative. Yet few of them are so significant as to call the book’s overall accuracy into question.

Louis Riel is a very structured work. There are about 240 pages, each one adhering to Brown’s six-panels-per-page format. The black and white drawings are simple (Brown sites Little Orphan Annie and Tintin as his inspiration), and some of the panels containing no backgrounds at all. But this is not a criticism, as this is a content-oriented work, and the art does have a quiet power of its own.

Its greatest strengths, and what makes Louis Riel so engrossing, is its fast pace and narrative control. There are long stretches where Riel doesn’t even appear; instead, Brown shows us interactions between other people connected with those events of the 1870s and ’80s. But it never becomes confusing, nor does the reader lose track of the many characters. Admittedly, Brown includes captions to identify times and people, but they’re always short and to-the-point. There isn’t an over-reliance on captions to carry the story.

There are a couple of weak sections in the book. Part Two changes scenes too often because Brown covers too many years too quickly. As in any biography where the listing of facts takes precedence, the narrative flow is interrupted and you feel distanced from the action. And Part Four brings the story to an accurate but dull conclusion as we’re taken through the relatively unexciting trial of Riel.

Overall, however, Brown has accomplished what too few comic book artists even attempt: he’s used actual history as his inspiration. Too bad it’s Canadian history.

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About Paul De Angelis

  • calvin

    Yawn. Yet another Canadian putting down Canadian history. So typical. Another example of someone who follows the crowd and is evidently too lazy to explore Canadian history for himself.

  • mikaela

    i personally think louis riel was a hypacryit. He told the surveyors to go no further, but he could have just simply asked whta they were doing.People say that he didnt know how to speak english, if he didnt know how to speak english then why was he an american store clerk? so instead of throwing up some big controverial argument he could have simply talked to the surveyours, so people FACE IT louis riel is bad!

  • Kasey

    I think Louis Riel is a bad man!!!! He shot Thomas Scott, For threating with his life, what if thomas Scott was just saying tht so he could get what he wanted. I do tht!!!!! Like Omg Hes A badd guy !!!!!! face it!!!

  • mikaela

    good job kasey, i tottal agree, not just cuz were in the same calss but yeah he is tottaly a bad guty!!!

  • Kasey

    Good Mikky Lol……… This is So kool
    Luv ya<3

  • mikaela

    and calvin seriusly bequiet! he is pretty much the only father of confederation that ran away from his problems likie name one father of confederation that so called “sacrfised” himself for his people if he sacrifisedhimself he would have stayed and defended the metis people, not ran away like a COWARD!

  • Darun

    I think that louis Riel was a Criminal. I think this because For one he killed Thomas Scott. They say that Thomas scott threatned him but he did not do anything to hurt him phisically. So he had no right to kill him.
    They also say that louis Riel self sacrificed himself. But by running away isnt self sacrificing. If he had really loved his people and his home land He would have stayed and fought for his home land. I mean sure there would have been lots of ppl killed,But lots of great people were killed in the making of Canada and look at what it has become now. A great country. Have you ever seen any other leader run away….NO! ofcourse not they all stayed and fought for there people. So Louis Riel does not deserve the chance to be in History, Because he was a criminal. and criminals do not deserve to be given the title of a hero.

  • Darun

    Sonya Pichler..likes Louis Riel!

  • Kasey

    lol Darun thts so funny!!! But true

  • katarina-anne ~>Awsome

    no, i think hes good :^)
    he thought it was his land rightfully, in his mind it was HIS land. being the leader ofhis tribe and all.
    he was never informed about the land being purchused. so in his mind they were trespassing on their home land.
    what are you gunna gdo when somebody is trespassiong on your property and you dont speak 100% their language…?

  • katarina-anne ~>Awsome

    he killed thomas scott for a reason. and plus when he did it he was not going agenst any rules :^)
    there was no government :)

  • darun

    yes he THOUGHT it was his land….key word THOUGHT!..for example katarina you may think in your mind that your mind that your the most awsomest pearson and so cool…but its all in your head…i dont actually mean it its an example. and therfor the surveyors wernt doing anything wrong because riel didnt know that the land was sold. and the surverys werent doing anything to change the way of the mètis way of life..they were just looking at it. So face it he is bad!

  • darun

    and FYI Katarina he did know ther language enough to talk to them…he worked as a store clerk in the U.S. HELLO! you will have to know english to work in an all english speaking country!

  • darun

    I agree with kasey…Thomas Scott didnt so anything to hurt Riel phisically. And everyone remeber SELF SACRIFICE doesnt mean running away from your peoplee and your home land and all your belifs. Self sacrifice would have ment he wouldnt have run away in the first place he would have stayed even if it ment he would have died. He would have been a hero. Not a hero that was a coward and ran away then got caught then killed than is a hero supposevly now today!

  • darun

    NO GOVERNMENT!! its still wrong to kill someone KATARINA! VERY VERY VERY VERY WRONG! so dont say oh there was no government..OK!

  • Kerrie and Brit

    Kerrie: I have mixed oppinions on him! His motives started out good, but ebded out bad! Hia everyone!! :)
    Brit: he always was bad duhhhhhhhhh
    Kerrie: HMPH! So says you! Use he EVIDENCE!
    Brit:use he evidence? okay he is a butt with funny hair
    Kerrie: Dude looks like a lady, dudu, dudu…LOL!
    Brit:okay now!!!!

  • Ann


  • Kasey

    Hehe omg this is so gayyyyy!!!!!!!!!!!!!!1 lol Darun i love your goats:P

  • dot

    dot so is he or was he ever be a good guy or is he a bad guy?



  • sup

    i think reil is a really good guy. dont pick on him.

  • Mackenzie

    Dude stop insulting him. Hes my ansestor! my last name is Riel and hes my ansestor so DONT MAKE FUN OF HIM!

  • julia

    This book is soooooooooooo boring. I get enough of this stuff in history class. bore-fest. But, Louis Riel is an interesting man himself. He went crazy due to the stress put upon him by the Canadian government over the rights to Riel’s land (which the government bought, but the HBC never owned ALL of it in the first place…). And he may be a criminal in today’s society, but remember what it was like when he was alive. The government was make-shift and he was the “President”. As I’ve heard many times (And I’m sure Riel and his followers would agree with this), ‘If the President does something wrong- it’s not illegal if he says it’s not.’ And, if you think about it, yeah, h killed Thomas Scott, but it was because he was losing respect, but he still wanted to avoid blood-shed. And, the people who killed Riel killed a man who wanted to protect his rights and land and people. Though, I must say, it was a mistake not to get everything in writing before he started to expect something from the government. Sir John A. MacDonald did set out the expectations to the other politicians from then until now; politicians only *rarely keep their promises. (*Only on the 31st of February, -289993098 B.C.E., when purple-people-eaters fly and the moon turns all the colours of the rainbow; sadly, Sir John A. could’ve gotten so drunk he may just have seen that- but it’s apparent he didn’t.)

  • Social

    HAH i totally agree hes dosnt deserve the title “Hero” can anyoen tell me what month and year he rank to america in