Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Reading Riel #1

Louis Riel: A Comic-Strip Biography, by Chester Brown, softcover collection published in 2006, Drawn & Quarterly, 280 pages, $17.95

Let's try something a little different here: I'm going to read Chester Brown's Louis Riel and write a series of posts as I read it.  My goal is to dig deeper into: (1) the story; (2) the art; and (3) why I am or am not enjoying it.

Also, I'm not going to presume anything, but if anyone feels like reading along with me (whether you've read this before or not), go for it.  Weigh in with a comment.  Maybe we can get a little book club-type discussion going.  I'll bring the stinky cheese plate if you bring the margarita mix.

But before I get into the book proper, I thought I should tell you what I know about it, so that you have a sense of what sort of baggage I am carrying with me as I embark on this project.

First, I'm embarrassed to admit that I know next-to-nothing about Chester Brown.  He's the author of the long-running series Yummy Fur, which I have not read.  And he's Canadian.  That's all I know, unfortunately.  But hey, that's one reason why I sought this book out.  Gotta start somewhere.

Next, here is what I know about Louis Riel: zip.  I'd never heard of him before hearing about this book.  From the back of the book, I know that he helped to lead a rebellion on the western frontier of Canada back in the 1800s.  It sounds like he is a pretty important figure in Canada's history, and as with Chester Brown, I feel like I should know more about him.  Sadly, my history classes here in the United States never covered him, to the extent that they acknowledged the existence of Canada at all.

As for the book, I know that it's considered one of the best comics of the 00s by many critics and reviewers.  It was originally serialized from the late 90s through the early 00s, and collected into hardcover in 2004.  (That's why  I completely missed it and only learned about it recently: like many people, I quit reading comics for the most part from around 1996 through 2006.)  It was published by art/literary comics publisher Drawn & Quarterly, which is pretty much a surefire stamp of quality.  Note: D&Q is a Canadian publisher.  I would guess that D&Q considers this acclaimed book, by a Canadian about a famous Canadian historical figure, as the jewel in its crown.

So that's what I know.  Unless you have already read this book, you are probably in the same boat as I am.  Let's all LEARN together.

NEXT: I talk about the cover and the introductory material in the book.  Exciting, right?  You will be able to find all my posts on Louis Riel here.  (Thanks to Tom Spurgeon for that idea.)

READ MORE: Here are the first six pages, and here is an interview with Brown about the book.  Also, a lot has been written about this book, but after I'm done with it the first place I'm going is over here, where comic critics Jeet Heer and Tom Spurgeon discuss the book.

BUY IT: From Drawn & Quarterly here or from Amazon here: Louis Riel: A Comic-Strip Biography


  1. I read it when it first came out in hardcover and I already knew about Chester Brown and Louis Riel.
    I'm Canadian and I enjoy alternative comics more than spandex.
    I am excited to see further posts about this.
    I would join you in rereading but sadly, I lost this huge book, I know what you're thinking though...I AM that talented.

  2. Thanks for the comment, Dylanio. I'm interested in hearing about how important Louis Riel is in Canadian history -- do you learn about him very early on in school, the way people in the US learn about Washington and Lincoln? Is he on that level of importance for your country?

  3. In a nutshell, Sandy, yes and yes. Look, for example, on the (rather well done) wiki page on him. Extensive and compelling. TONS of material on him, more so than any other Canadian.

  4. Yeah, I'm planning on hitting the wiki page AFTER I read the book, to avoid spoilers (HA). I was also going to include a link to it in my next post.

  5. Now you've made me want to read this book.

  6. I read this a couple of years ago, and loved it. Don't want to talk about it too much, cos I don't want to spoil your experience, but I'll watch this process with interest, and chip in now and again, I think.

    This has also given me the idea to set up a comic book reading group through a local cafe... Hmm.