Martyr or Madman? The Passionate Rebel History Can't Close The Book On Is this the future of comics? Respectably penning the dowdy pages of history? Don't be fooled This is one of the hippest comics going and will be a controversial musthave inLegendary cartoonist Chester Brown reveals in the dusty closet of Canadian history there are some skeletons that won't stop rattling To some Louis Riel was one of the founding fathers of a nation but to others he was a murderer who nearly tore a country apart A man so charismatic he was elected to government twice while in exile with a prize on his headbut so impassioned his dramatic behavior cast serious doubts on his sanity Riel took on the army, the government, the Queen, and even the Church in the name of freedom Will Riel's visionary democracy ever be enough to defend him from the verdict of history? Having already read Maus by Art Spiegelman, Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi, Palestine by Joe Sacco, Jimmy Corrigan by Chris Ware, Fun Home by Alison Bechdel andrecently Epileptic by David B., this was another one in a long list of acclaimed graphic novels that I had to read and I’m glad I did.This “comicstrip biography” is a triumph To me, it succeeds in narrating a complex historical figure in the most simple way possible It achieves this in two ways: firstly through a script that despite it being informed by hours of varied research has been boiled down to a story that is detached and captivating, aided by dialogues that are easy to follow You don’t have to be an expert in Canadian history to understand what is happening The trial scenes in Part Four alone took my breath away.Secondly, through the art: the cartoonish features of the characters (big hands, comical noses, white eyes), minimal details to the scenery that are both cold and clear, the excellent use of shading and darkness, the omissions, and the voluntary limits of using only square panels (like a comic strip, no less safe for the two Map sections) are just some of the features that make me think of Chester Brown as an artist that is risktaking in his embracement of simplicity The outcome of such limits is rewarding enough for it to strike a chord with me.This 10th anniversary edition contains the Notes (which I haven’t read as I wanted to read the story all the way through, but will certainly do in the future), Index and Bibliography of the first edition, as well as sketches, illustrations, covers and drafts of the comics along with further notes by Brown The essay by Sean Rogers is also a great addition and gives further insight. 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 conformsor less plausibly with the ultimately unknowable way history actually spun itself out In my response to Christopher Frayling’s biography of Sergio Leone, I wrote:Oh, certainly in the abstract sense, there could exist some ultimate record of events free from the colouring of memory, vanity, or nostalgia, but that would require an impartial, omniscient observer And biographers, even if they had access to such an impossible (barring the metanatural) source, probably wouldn’t wish to make use of it for fear of losing some of theoutrageous possibilities in the unveiling of their respective subjects See, the thing of it is: biographers are every bit as much storytellers as Dickens or Gaiman or Hemmingway or Stoppard They not only have a responsibility to the historical record, but perhapsimportantly, they are beholden to the attentions of their readers The occupation of a straight fictionalist almost must be easier—for the simple novelist may take a story in any direction and pace it in a manner that will drive readers to continue until story’s end The biographer, on the other hand, islike a film editor who has to craft a compelling story with found material he had no hand in creating So it’s understandable that biographers might take some license with the truth.As if truth and history even belong in the same sentence.Chester Brown, as he unfurls the history of Manitoba’s founding rascalhero, carefully chooses which directions to have Riel’s story take and which paths the man should tread Often in his research Brown is confronted with conflicting reports, some from recollections published well and many years after any of the involved incidents As interesting as Riel’s decisions and circumstances are, it may be stillfascinating to chart Brown’s own choices as to which of these to portray—and how.To this end, Brown supplies the reader with a gratifying section of endnotes, in which he is allowed to explore questions that his straightforward narrative is unable to ask He will often use this as an opportunity to show how the history he presents is an amalgamation of reports conflated again with fictionalization to help the story spring to life As an example, Brown shows a scene in which historical figure Thomas Scott and several others beat a Canadian aboriginal named Parisien Scott, in the scene, is unhinged and savagely hacks away at Parisien’s head until he is dead Brown, in his endnotes, discusses the seemingly straightforward scene:During the beating of Parisien, “Thomas Scott was particularly vicious; he struck Parisien on the head with an axe,” Siggens, p 154) Still, my depiction probably exaggerates Scott’s viciousness I don’t know whether his axe hit Parisien once or many times The way I’ve written the scene virtually implies that Scott alone killed Parisien, and in reality it’s likely that the murder wasof a group effort Neither Sutherland [another casualty] nor Parisien died immediately Parisien lingered “a few days” (Howard, p 159), “several weeks” (Bumsted, p 153), or “a month and a half” (Siggens, p 154) before expiring (Stanley (p 106) agrees with Howard, while Siggins is corroborated by Charlebois (p 64), who gives Parisien’s date of death as April 4th [Brown in this book has Parisien die on February 16th] This is just one example among over a hundred So Brown is forthright about his biographer’s role in the fabrication of Riel’s historical record—and really, that just makes the work that muchintriguing Knowing that the author is not bound overly by, quoteunquote, historical fact drawsattention to Brown’s skill as a storyteller He is unshackled enough that he can tell the story he is going to tell in the way he wishes to tell it And while there is certainly some subjectivity at work, I can say that at least from my reader’s perch, Louis Riel is an unqualified success.With its abrupt and overly simplified style, Louis Riel is able to present Riel’s story in a way impossible for a prose novel Visual space is used to create story beats, punctuating decisions or underscoring the humour in a given situation Entire conversations, discussions, and arguments occur over two or three panels, with dialogue as spare as Brown’s art The pacing and storytelling is excellent throughout Brown attributes the drawing style he employs across the book to his love for Harold Gray’s Little Orphan Annie Hollow, pupilless eyes float detached in wideopen faces Brown’s rendering of these historical figures is iconic and indelible Louis Riel explores the founding of Manitoba, the insurrection by the Frenchspeaking halfnative, halfEuropean settlers of Rupert’s Land against their fresh landlords, the Canadian government Brown’s book follows the numerous twists, turns, and doublecrosses that littered that historical landscape What Brown accomplishes by hopping from one vantage to another, unbound by the usual narrative constraints is to draw out very succinctly just how amazing it was that Riel’s rebellion failed At any number of points, the Métis people (Riel’s group) could have successfully stymied the unprepared and disorganized Canadian government, but always little details conspired against that fate At times, Riel’s own personal conflicts (both with his given role and with his psychological state) work to thwart the Métis’ goals More insidious, however, is the blunt scheming of the Canadian prime minister to force Riel into open rebellion for the sake of some lucrative rail contracts Things could have been greatly different, but that’s not the story Chester Brown chooses to tell And his version of things might becompelling anyway.[review courtesy of Good Ok Bad] 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 oversimplistic 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 appearvillainous 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 that doesn't explicitly present itself as fiction Moreover, the reader doesn't come away with an adequate view of the real complexity of Riel as a historical figure Perhaps this would be best described as historical fiction or fictionalized history? There's little doubt that the Métis and First Nations peoples were treated unfairly but I still can't really recommend reading this as a (primary) way to learn about Louis Riel or Canadian history, though it may inspire the reader to dig deeper Either way, if you do read this comic book without any prior knowledge of Riel, you'd better also read the notes at the end The author/artist's 'Paying for It' is a much stronger andinteresting work, because of the extremely frank autobiographical tone. 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.