Monday, 3 October 2011

Chester Brown, "Louis Riel: A Comic Strip Biography" (2004)

I had high hopes for this graphic novel. Not too long ago I reviewed Chester Brown's Paying For It on this blog. I had seen his Louis Riel book many times in book stores, and been intrigued. I had browsed through it briefly. I know someone who assigned it as a text for the students taking a history course concentrating on Canadian history since 1867. It seemed to be right up my alley. I was suspicious that a graphic novel could not do Riel and the Metis conflicts with Canada justice, however. My suspicions were right.

Maybe I'm a politics and history geek. Maybe I demand too much of a graphic novel. As a particular kind of tool, for a particular kind of audience, this work may be a great 'teaser' work. The very format of the graphic novel - or perhaps this particular graphic novel - simply did not allow the ambiguity and complexity of the situation to be well communicated. Instead, it offered the kind of guilty Canadian anti-nationalism that Jack Granatstein so lamented a few years ago in Who Killed Canadian History?

Yes, this is a quick read. Yes, it's about the kind of topic that I'd be glad to see high school students reading about. Yes, it's by Chester Brown, whose Yummy Fur series I loved. No, it's not that great a book if you're interested in Canadian history and capable of reading straight prose for more than ten minutes.

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