10 for the Top 10: Chester Brown

The panelists are in the process of deciding which book they want to bring into the ring for the February debates. We'll reveal who they are — and the titles they choose — on November 23 on CBC Radio's Q and right here on CBC Books.

In the meantime, we want to introduce you to the 10 authors you voted onto the Canada Reads: True Stories Top 10 list.

Today, it's Chester Brown, author of Louis Riel: A Comic-Strip Biography.


Award-winning comics artist Chester Brown had his first cartoon published when he was just 12. He has gone on to create a highly acclaimed body of work, and is a member of the Canadian Comic Book Creator Hall of Fame. His other books include the comics series Yummy Fur and the autobiographical graphic novels The Playboy and I Never Liked You. His latest publication is the graphic novel/memoir Paying for It.

Q: In three lines or less, describe your book to Canada.

CB: The book depicts the life of Métis leader Louis Riel from age 25 to his death, focusing particularly on his antagonistic relationship with the Canadian government.

Q: What inspired your book?

CB: I wanted to tell an anti-government story.

Q: What do you most enjoy about writing non-fiction?

CB: Reading a historical book is more fun when I'm imagining how I could turn the events it describes into comic-strip scenes.

Q: What are the biggest challenges?

CB: As a cartoonist, when I'm dealing with a historical subject, the thing I dislike the most is doing the research for the surface details for my drawings — research about what people wore, what the buildings looked like, that sort of thing. And when I'm drawing a story that involves people who are alive and who might actually read what I'm creating, I worry about what they'll think of my book.

Q: What makes you fall in love with a non-fiction book?

CB: The books I love the most are the ones that change what I think about a particular issue. The more a book transforms me, the more I love it.

Q: Describe where you write and draw.

CB: I write and draw at home in my tiny apartment. My desk is by a window that overlooks a courtyard with a large lawn and several trees. Gazing down at this courtyard, I'm sometimes tempted to walk downstairs and work surrounded by its greenery. I only did that once, and after about five minutes the sprinkler system started spraying me with water, and I had to run back inside.

Q: Where are your favourite places to read?

CB: Doesn't everyone like reading in bed most?

Q: Is there a non-fiction book that had a great influence on your writing?

CB: I didn't realize how much fun non-fiction books could be until I read Cosmic Trigger by Robert Anton Wilson when I was 18.

Q: What did you want to be growing up? Why?

CB: I loved drawing and thought I was good at it, so I wanted to be an artist of some sort. In my teenage years I decided that the sort of artist I wanted to become was a cartoonist.

Q: What's your guilty pleasure when you take a break from writing?

CB: I'm having trouble with this question — there are lots of things that give me pleasure, but I don't feel guilty about any of them. I usually only interrupt work if a friends calls up wanting to do something like see a movie, or play tennis or have lunch.

Q: If you could pick any Canadian personality to defend your book, who would it be and why?

CB: I don't know if he counts as a "personality," but I'm going to say David Cayley of CBC Radio's Ideas. I have enormous respect for what he does on that show. I have no idea what he would think of any of my books.

Which Canadian personality do you think would be the best defender of Chester's book? Enter our "perfect pairings" contest for a chance to win a complete set of the Canada Reads: True Stories Top 10!

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