Louis Riel by Chester Brown
How on Earth could a story about the founding of the province of Manitoba in Canada be even remotely interesting? Seriously— It plays the role of headpiece to Minnesota, America’s most boring state. And it’s in Canada, the Mexico of the North Pole! And yet, this isn’t the first wildly fascinating piece of semi-nonfiction I’ve encountered regarding the region. The first is the Guy Maddin movie My Winnipeg, which falsely but amusingly claims that the eponymous provincial city is the sleepwalking capital of the world, and that buffalo are attracted to the neighboring Red River by powerful underground magnets, as well as a host of other “wish-it-were-really-true”s. It is, by the way, one of my favorite movies. Winnipeg, Manitoba is also the setting of Maddin’s The Saddest Music in the World, another favorite of mine. But how could non-fiction about anything that happened before 1900—especially if it takes place in Central Canada—not be excruciatingly boring?
One: It has to look like a Tin-Tin comic. Brown explicitly states in his notes that Herge wasn’t an influence on his layout and style for his book. He instead cites Harold Gray, whose work I am infinitely less familiar with.
Two: Brown cites a different historical document for every panel on every page of this book. It sounds excessive, but sometimes it’s reassuring to know the dialogue from a work of historical fiction is pulled directly from a court document or surveying bill or whatever else Brown culled from. The research on this book must have taken years. And this stuff is really interesting! Who knew that Canada’s history was so political?
Three: Brown is very, very good. If I Never Liked You is light salad, then this book is Porterhouse Steak. It took me multiple sittings to finish, it challenged and enlightened me, and I can safely say that it is one of the best comic books I have ever read. Move over, Sandman, Vol. 4: Seasons of Mist! You’ve got company.