December 3, 2011

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Hark! A Vagrant

Written by Kate Beaton
Illustrated by Kate Beaton
Drawn and Quarterly

Long-time web cartoonist Kate Beaton gets the fancy hardcover treatment from Drawn and Quarterly in this collection of some of her funniest strips from the internet.  Everyone from Napoleon to Nancy Drew to Batman and Wolverine get the Beaton treatment, as her love for comics, history, and literature combine to entertain--and sometimes educate the reader.

I probably don't need to say anything to my readers about who Kate Beaton is, but just in case, she is an incredibly popular creator who is receiving a huge amount of attention both from comics bloggers and the mainstream press.  Starting off from a webcomic and a self-published mini-comic (which I am happy to say that we own), Beaton's rise in the comics world has been nothing short of meteoric.  From the mini, Beaton moved on to a self-published book (Never Learn Anything from History) and now this hardcover from the well-known Canadian independent publisher.

In fact, Beaton's popularity is such that she wins every award she's nominated for, creates the longest lines at conventions, and is just absolutely huge.  But do her comics match her fame?  I'd argue yes, and this collection shows off the best of Beaton's work.  If you are coming to her comics for the first time, this is going to be laugh out loud funny, over and over again.  Discovering sexy Batman or her takes on Shakespeare or Canada's seeming inability to be able to be impressed by its heroes is a sight to behold.  When Beaton points out the unfairness of history to women (to say nothing of the literary world), the comics are both witty and important.  Just because Beaton is writing comedy doesn't mean she can't also have a point.

My only problem with this collection is that as a long-time Beaton fan, I've quite literally seen this all before.  It's my main issue with collections of comics that were originally on the web:  I'm happy the creator is getting paid and finding a new audience, but if you've read the RSS every day, there's nothing new here.  I'm not much of a re-reader, so collections of webcomics I've already read recently don't do a lot for me.  If you are of a similar nature, then this book might not be something you want to read right now.

To give you an example:  I read Wondermark weekly.  But the strip has been going for so long now, that the early books have strips I don't remember or did not read the first time.  So when I buy and read those books, I'm entertained.  The strips Beaton uses in Hark! are too fresh in my mind for me to enjoy all over again.  I'm smiling at my memory of liking the strips more than the original gag.  I know her later work is her best, but I did not love this book as much as I might, say, in a few more years, with time to let the memories fade.

I'm really happy for Beaton, because she's a talented female creator who makes a lot out of her creativity to make up for a lack of technical skill.  We aren't going to be wowed by her period artistry when she discusses an obscure point of the French Revolution.  We are laughing at her ability to make a joke from something only a handful of people might know.  Even better, we are marveling at the fact that Beaton can make that joke in the first place.

Hark! A Vagrant is a great gift for a history fan who has a sense of humor and might be completely new to Beaton's comics.  It's also a pretty darn good gift for anyone else.  Whether you like Jane Eyre or Henry VIII, there's a joke for the history nerd in all of us.  I hope there are many more collections to come for us to enjoy--once I put a little more time between me and the original postings.  If you aren't a regular follower of Beaton (and why aren't you?), get this book now and enjoy!