Saturday, 12 March 2011

great stories of canada

I found this 1958 book by Edward McCourt while wading through Wayfarer Books in Kingston, Ontario. Illustrated by Jack Ferguson, Revolt in the West is the 17th issue of a 23 book series titled Great Stories of Canada and published by Macmillan. Intended for young readers, Revolt in the West provides a history of the Riel Rebellion that is both sympathetic to Riel and the Métis people, and interested in furthering a popular image of the Métis.

Image from McMaster's Digital Collection

McCourt's image of the Métis emphasizes their "mixed-blood" identity, which allows them to reconcile themselves with settled life if given the opportunity to express their savage nature from time to time. For McCourt, the buffalo hunt is key to the expression of the Métis' primitive character: "The buffalo hunt was much more than a source of essential supplies, it was also a most thrilling adventure which satisfied the craving of the restless hot-blooded Métis for action and excitement." But to McCourt's credit, his story also focuses on Riel as a political hero dying for "the nationhood of his people."

Riel reconciling with Father André

Final illustration of the book, depicting Riel's hanging

In 2003, Chester Brown published his reimagined version of Riel's life in Louis Riel: A Comic-Strip Biography. The graphic novel uses a six-panel grid to provide a sympathetic chronicle of Riel's life that also resists providing a tidy representation of his historical subject. In true postmodern fashion, Brown's narrative is filled with gaps and holes that seem to drawn attention to the influential role of the biographer and to the limitations of historical study.

Cover art from Drawn & Quarterly

Like the version by McCourt and Ferguson, the hanging of Riel is a key scene in Brown's version that closes his narrative and leaves us wondering about that final empty frame.

Image from Graphixia

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