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Chester Brown’s comic-book hero, Louis Riel

The Story

Chester Brown has put a new face on the biography of Louis Riel. Brown is an artist and writer who uses the expressive panels of comics to bring stories to life. In 1999 he began a series of comic books on Riel. As Brown tells the CBC's The Arts Today, his own stance as an anarchist triggered his interest in Riel. "Anyone that was rebelling against the government appealed to me," he says. 

Medium: Radio
Program: The Arts Today
Broadcast Date: Jan. 20, 2004
Guest: Chester Brown
Interviewer: Eleanor Wachtel
Duration: 11:15

Did You know?

• Brown began researching and writing the story of Louis Riel in 1998. In 1999 the comic-book publishing house Drawn & Quarterly put out the first volume of Brown's biographical series on Riel. Nine more volumes followed over the next four years.
• In September 2003 Drawn & Quarterly released Louis Riel: A Comic-Strip Biography, a compilation of all ten volumes.
• Chester Brown was born in 1960 and grew up in Châteauguay, Quebec. As of 2004 he was living in Toronto.
• Brown's first foray into comics was in self-publishing in 1983. In 1986 he launched a series of comic books called Yummy Fur. He later became known for such titles as The Playboy, I Never Liked You, The Little Man and My Mother Was a Schizophrenic.
• The book was met with great popular and critical success, finding a place on Canadian bestseller lists and into the pages of Time.com, The New York Times Magazine, Booklist, L'actualité, Publishers Weekly, and many more.
• Quill and Quire named it one of the top five Canadian non-fiction books of 2003.
Louis Riel: A Comic-Strip Biography also won Brown two 2004 Harvey awards, the comic-book industry's recognition of excellence. Brown won in the categories of Best Writer and Best Graphic Album of Previously Published Work.
• In April 2004 Brown told Time.com that he was influenced by Harold Gray, original creator of Little Orphan Annie. "Gray was a big visual influence on the book, including blank eyeballs, de-emphasized emotional reactions the overall size of the figures," said Brown. "I initially started out drawing Riel with a big head and a smaller body then by the end of the book I was drawing him with a big body and a small head with massive hands."
• Other artists have also been inspired by Riel. In 2001 the Winnipeg Art Gallery mounted an exhibition called Rielisms.   The show revisited the controversy around Riel sculptures in Winnipeg and Regina and displayed other work by ten artists, including paintings, pastels and photo-montage.
• Riel's story has also been the subject of a 1967 opera, a stage drama by playwright John Coulter, and a TV movie produced by CBC.


Rethinking Riel more