Kate Beaton is hilarious. It’s the most important thing to know about her work, and it’s also something that’s useless to try to tell you; you have to find out for yourself. Accordingly, I’m including a few strips from her new collection, “Step Aside Pops”, the second book of “Hark! A Vagrant” strips to be published by Drawn & Quarterly.
You can read these strips online, but you’ll want the book anyway. She’s just that good.
Kate Beaton is a cartoonist (writer and artist) from all over Canada who’s been publishing her comic strips and sketches online under the title “Hark! A Vagrant” since 2007. Her subjects range from history and literature to pop culture and social commentary. You will always walk away from a Kate Beaton comic with a few new heroes and a few new favorite ridiculous people of history, like bickering duo John Macarthur and William Bligh. Her retelling of Wuthering Heights was particularly delightful, and the strips inspired by the Japanese novel “Kokoro” were a very welcome expansion of subject area.
While she does wonderfully on literary subjects in “Step Aside, Pops”, Beaton’s home turf is European history–she studied history and anthropology and originally planned for a museum career. Because of this, we get great riffs in the volume on subjects like the French Revolution and the tradition of knights receiving a lady’s favor (hint for knights: a lock of hair means a small piece, not the whole topknot).
Another variety of comic in Beaton’s arsenal is the reinterpretation of historical images, whether it’s a series of Nancy Drew book covers or editorial cartoons like the satirical depictions of women riding early bicycles which inspired the cover image of this collection. In truth, this is the same work Beaton always does; she takes a found image, a received story, or an accepted mythology, and she reflects it back at us in its funniest, sharpest form. It’s as effective on Lois Lane and Wonder Woman as on Julius Caesar and Achilles, and our modern myths aren’t spared; this volume also contains her brilliant takedowns of lazy cultural ideas like the ironically named “Strong Female Characters” as well as the “Straw Feminists,” whose straw-man-fallacy version of feminism keeps little children frightened in their beds at night.
There are also old friends who return in this collection, like the adorable medieval peasant couple and the nearly-as-adorable pirate captain and his nemesis, who demonstrate the kind of devotion only a true arch-foe can deserve.
The expressiveness and flexibility of Beaton’s art is extraordinary, and like many great artists, she manages to make it look simple. It takes an artist at the absolute top of her craft to do work so apparently effortless. This book is a gift, and would make an excellent one (early holiday shoppers, take note)! Run out and grab it today. You’ll learn a lot and you’ll laugh even more.