Thursday, February 03, 2005

The Métis Rebel & The Jew

Hey everyone...

I've got a couple of words to say about a couple of recent TPBs that I've read, so here goes...

LOUIS RIEL by Chester Brown (Drawn & Quarterly, 2003)

I must say that the prospect of reading this book on this particular figure of history didn't exactly rev me up, but I had read so many good reviews of Brown's exploration of Riel's life and times that I figured it would be worth a shot. I actually live in Saskatchewan where the Riel Rebellion essentially came to a close, and it would not be a stretch to say that up until reading this book, I was sick to death of hearing about this part of our local history. All through grade school we learned about Riel and Dumont, and we went to Batoche, I think, once a year - or at least it seemed that way - to watch the Mounties do their thing on the horses and to get heat stroke from being out in the hot open prairie for too long before wearing hats to protect you from the sun and drinking water to rehydrate you were fashionable.

Now, considering the East/West cultural divide in my country, it's not surprising that there would be such interest here in a regular Joe, a Métis, who could be such a pain in the collective arse for the East and the Federal government, but the story just never had much resonance for me. Chester Brown has managed to change that, however, over the course of his 240 page book. The story moves quickly and does not get bogged down in too many explanations of events, or trying to capture precisely for the reader what it must have been like in Manitoba or Saskatchewan in the 19th century. Brown is here to tell us about the life of Riel, and he accomplishes that efficiently and in an entertaining way.

The Little Orphan Annie influence to his style for this project also adds something that I haven't been able to put my finger on just yet, but the simplicity and clarity of his linework truly helps to augment the storytelling.

Time Magazine called this book one of the Top 10 of 2000 which is great (although in my opinion a little bit of an exaggeration) but it is definitely worth hunting down and checking out if you're looking for something different to read.

FAGIN THE JEW by Will Eisner (Randomhouse/Doubleday, 2003)

I am a HUGE fan of Will Eisner, but I have to say that after reading this book I don't feel as though I can rightly give it my endorsement (as if that's worth anything). Considering recent developments regarding the late, great sequential artist, I know it will be like unto heresy to say that, but I truly just couldn't find the hook that would carry me through the books 174 odd pages.

The book tells the story of Fagin the Jew, a character in Charles Dickens' Oliver Twist, and the purpose of it is to go between the lines of the Dickens classic and shed some light on this unscrupulous character. Eisner hoped that by doing this he could enlighten people to the popular stereotypes of Jews in literature and help them to look beyond that stereotype and see the human being instead of the label - a strong theme in much of Eisner's work, a man of Jewish faith himself.

I found that, at times, Eisner's fairy-tale-like style of storytelling kind of got in the way a bit, here. While the artwork is stunningly beautiful and his use of crisp figures and washes in the backgrounds did a marvelous job of creating a rich environment for his characters to exist in, the jumping back and forth between Dickens' tale and the one that Eisner was trying to tell just didn't blend very well in my eyes. I think I would have been more interested if Oliver Twist was less of a central character in the latter half of the book, but knowing Eisner and his love of stories, there may have been an ulterior motive in mind, possibly to get you to go out and read some Dickens as well!

I think if the story focused on Fagin and had him dip in and out of Oliver Twist's world rather than try to integrate them, it would have been a far more effective book. As it stands, it looks great and has some great stuff in it, but as a whole I just can't say it takes my breath away or that I will seek it out again someday.

Hmmm...that's it for this time. I'd be interested to hear comments from anyone who may have opinions on these books, so feel free to do so.

I'll probably be back later with another post, so maybe see you then!


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