By students of John Myers at OISE. 

By Daniel Couture

The book I have chosen to study for the purpose of this assignment is Chester Brown’s Louis Riel: A Comic-Strip Biography. Through his distinct art style and poignant storytelling, Brown paints a  picture of Louis Riel as a reluctant revolutionary. By looking at the Red River settlement, support and backlash from different Canadians, etc. Brown makes a parody of these historical figures by exaggerating some of their qualities and flaws. For example, John A. Macdonald is often shown making important political decisions while drunk. The ways in which the Métis people speak is written in such a way that makes is seems as though they are speaking with a French-Canadian accent which adds an element of comedy to the storytelling. Despite this comical aspect in the book, the history is well researched and presented in a very thorough way. Because of its historical content, the graphic novel would fit most appropriately within the grade 8 history curriculum but could be used as an exemplar for a graphic novel assignment at any level.

I believe this book would be an interesting way to introduce the narrative aspect of history and to start a discussion about bias with my students. Brown clearly makes some decisions about how he presents some of the historical facts in the book (i.e. how he depicts certain people and events, the choice in illustration for certain scenes). After analyzing some of the decisions made by the author, and what that reveals about his beliefs, the class could do the same with excerpts from the textbook to show that there are always choices made in the stories we tell. Another option would be to use the book as an exemplar for an assignment, as I have done in a grade 10 history class I have taught. The assignment would be to create a short graphic novel or children’s book to depict an historical event of choice within a period of history. Teachers could circulate Brown’s book as an example to show how this can be done effectively.

By Karyl Vaughan

Chester Brown’s “Louis Riel: A Comic-Strip Biography” first written in 2003 is an excellent resource for a history classroom ; it also taps into the life of one of Canada’s most infamous characters, Louis Riel. The comic-strip prefaces itself by stating that it does not cover all of Louis Riel’s life, but that it is concentrated on his “antagonistic relationship” with the Canadian government and skips over long periods of time to make sure that the book remains under 250 pages. In an interactive, slightly humorous way, Brown depicts the life of the French-Metis living in what was to be called “Manitoba” and their struggle to retain their independence from the imposing Canadian government. Louis Riel, knowing both English and French and having been an academic scholar, was deemed suited to fulfill the role of leader in their rebellion against the Canadian government. His rise to power and to his eventual downfall and trial which led to his death are all conveyed within this 241-page comic-strip.

This book connects well with the Grade 12 curriculum (CHY4U) when considering powerful key figures in the world during the 19th century. When looking at the world between 1789-1900, I would use this book as a resource when considering the identities, citizenship, and heritages of these powerful figures, more importantly within Canada. This book breaks away from the standards of historical readings by relaying historical facts and biographies into a comic-book setting, which for most students (including myself), would be astounding. History in a comic-strip setting is unusual, but I find it conveys exactly what you need it to and with student-friendly language, most suitable for a grade 12 class. I would have the students, for a culminating task, read this book and then I would have the students devise their own comic-strip in a group. I could have the students reflect on the biography of Louis Riel by having them simulate his trial on whether he was guilty of betraying the Canadian government.

Contributing Writer