Every week on “Sunday Page” an author or a critic has to choose a single page from a comic book. It could be for sentimental reasons o for a particular technical achievement. The conversation could lose itself in the open water of the comic book world but it will always start with the questione: «If you had to choose a page from a comic book you love, what would you choose and why?».
This Sunday I’m out with Fumio Obata. As his official site says, «Fumio Obata is a comic book author whose work and inspiration come from cultural differences and social issues in his surroundings. He is also a visual artist in his own right. In 2008 he undertook an artist residency at La Cité Internationale de la Bande Dessinée et de l’image in Angoulême, France. Since then he has had a close relation with the French comic book scene and chose graphic novel and comic book as his main creative outlet».
You’ve chosen Louis Riel, by Chester Brown. Why?
The protagonist, Louis Riel is a historical character that really lived and worked in a complex time of different races and religious beliefs throwing sparks to each other in this land called Red River settlement in 19th century Canada. It sounds long time ago yet familiar to us with that kind of volatile situation still hanging over in some of conflict zones we see today.
You were talking about the ‘familiarities in conflicts’ and I’m really curious about this Tokyo-Canada connection.
I’ve been always interested in people who take actions under influence of strong religious beliefs and race or class identity. Japan also has history of such group revolts in 16th and 17th century under the guidance of radical Buddhist sects and Japanese Christian sects which fought till end against Samurai rulers. In my teen years I already read Manga of Sanpei Shirato (The legend of Kamui, Ninja bugei-chô, band of Ninja) and novels by Shusaku Endo (Silence) about these time and people. These are about depth in humanity but also contradiction in terms of group identity vs one person’s survival. Through ‘Louis Riel’ I was taught once again about this complex universal theme but surprised to find it coming from somewhere like in Canada. On top of that, the story was told through a form of comic strip not a conventional history book. That gave me a huge impression.
So, what’s about this page?
That particular page from Louis Riel is the biggest turning point in the story. It focuses on John A. MacDonald who is the nemesis of Riel and obviously he plays a huge part in the tale. He’s a complex man and visually represents the state of politics in Canada at that time. In the other words he moves and thinks for rewards, reputation and worldly returns(that of we’re so accustomed to in today’s world and that we regard ‘rational’), completely opposite of the value that Riel respects and follows.
This page is the point all the worldly ambitions that MacDonald seeks for, suddenly meet almost by a revelation from God and the decisions he makes afterwards contributes the ultimate downfalls of the half breed settlements in the last third of the story. Chester Brown depicts such a dramatic turn around in mere 6 panels with quite manner which I think is the benchmark of this book. Chester Brown doesn’t exaggerate, shout loud, and draw events look dramatic. He always keeps the same austere and stoicism for the pace and this page is typical despite the importance of its meaning for the entire 240 pages or so.
Paneling and lines – The other thing impressed me is the general artistic direction of this book. That is the 6 panels par page structure all through from the beginning to the end.This isn’t really new and has been adapted by other modern authors in France but with Chester Brown’s meticulous and fine lines, the feeling of rigorousness increases which is something the story is strongly associated with. And even in the most dramatic moment of the book, like this page, Chester Brown keeps the same paneling structure for that rigid aesthetic. In Manga that would never be the case and Manga artists would try all sorts of paneling designs to increase the dramatic effect (it was mostly experimented and developed by artists like Syoutaro Ishinomori and Osamu Tezuka). For me this Manga paneling has become such a norm and no longer surprising or fresh. In my opinion Louis Riel is one of the antithesis against Manga methods that I’ve come across, and this page represents exactly why. The book may look old-fashioned compared to Manga but it has a feeling of ‘ the shock of old’.