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Louis Riel: A Comic-Strip Biography (Louis Riel)

3.86  ·  Rating details ·  4,272 Ratings  ·  273 Reviews
"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 ins
Paperback, First Paperback Edition, 272 pages
Published August 22nd 2006 by Drawn and Quarterly (first published 2003)
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Seth T.
Jul 25, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: comics
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.

Louis Riel by Chester Brown

In my response to Christopher Frayling’s biography of Sergio Leone, I wrot
Oct 18, 2012 rated it it was ok
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 th ...more
Sep 04, 2017 rated it it was amazing
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.
Aug 29, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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 h
Sam Quixote
Jul 31, 2011 rated it liked it
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 yo
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 althou
Sotiris Makrygiannis
May 21, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: comics
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
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.
Apr 29, 2016 rated it it was amazing
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 formal
Apr 16, 2015 rated it it was ok
Shelves: home-library
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 str
Margaret Sankey
Jul 23, 2011 rated it really liked it
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.
Stewart Tame
Mar 29, 2013 rated it liked it
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.
Jan 21, 2010 rated it it was amazing
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.
Jean-sylvain Brochu
Concision et finesse dans le rendu graphique. Excellent résumé de ce pan controversé de l’histoire canadienne.
Feb 28, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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 Rie
Andrew Dirgo
Mar 21, 2017 rated it really liked it
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
Je ne connaissais pas grand-chose de Louis Riel & des Métis avant de lire ce livre. & même si j'ai aimé les petites cases souvent à moitié vides de Chester Brown, ses personnages trapus, son Riel ébouriffé & naïf, je me demande un peu si, pour moi, la bande dessinée est vraiment un médium satisfaisant pour remplir les trous qu'ont laissé les cours d'histoire du secondaire. Ça n'a peut-être pas aidé que ce soient les dialogues qui propulsent l'action, presque sans mise en contexte. To ...more
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 ...more
Apr 13, 2015 rated it liked it
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 nativ ...more
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 C
May 04, 2012 rated it really liked it
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 th ...more
Jun 18, 2010 rated it it was ok
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 chara ...more
Jun 15, 2009 rated it really liked it
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 actio ...more
Nicholas Aune
Mar 03, 2015 rated it really liked it
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 ey
Jan 13, 2017 rated it really liked it
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 a
Jan 19, 2011 rated it it was amazing
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 y
Nov 13, 2011 rated it really liked it
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 d ...more
Dec 02, 2011 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: comics
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.


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 doe
Apr 02, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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...
Sep 02, 2012 rated it really liked it
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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Chester Brown was born in Montreal, Canada on May 16, 1960 and grew up in the nearby suburb of Chateauquay. His career path was set at the age of 12 when the local newspaper, The St. Lawrence Sun, published one of his comic strips.

Librarian Note: There is more than one author in the GoodReads database with this name.

At 19, he moved to Toronto and got a day job while he worked on his skills as a ca
More about Chester Brown...

Other Books in the Series

Louis Riel (1 - 10 of 11 books)
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  • Louis Riel # 4
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  • Louis Riel # 7
  • Louis Riel #8
  • Louis Riel #9
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