Clearly Matt is not the Chester Brown clone I formerly wrote him off as. Not that Brown’s work is so easily definable. Although he built his reputation as one of Canada’s premiere cartoonists on a solid foundation of queasily Freudian surrealism and unflinching, cathartic introspection, his territory has subsequently expanded to take in theological and historical subject matter.
His latest collection, Louis Riel: A Comic Strip Biography (Drawn & Quarterly), is a fascinating look at the westward expansion of colonial Canada. The oddly detached style of the dialogue gives this volume an almost textbook-like feel, which is compounded by Brown’s bold, unfussy art. Fans will quickly detect that this is his trademark style at work—Brown’s clinical, distanced approach creates breathing space for highly personal investigations of emotionally charged topics. It’s a great piece of work that deserves all of the praise it has received.
However, the brilliance of Louis Riel is a function of Brown’s masterly, idiosyncratic execution, not the simple fact that he tackles subject matter most critics would regard as unusual for a strip cartoon. On other continents it’s long been common to find such matters dealt with in the pages of comic books.