Friday, June 2, 2017

Brooks on Books: Hark, a Vagrant by Kate Beaton

This book is awesome, Kate Beaton is awesome, and I only wish there were more collections from her available. I see she has done a children's book and is working on a graphic novel, and I'm sure they are/will be great, but I would love to see more of this stuff.

Hark consists of an assortments of original cartoons Beaton has done, many with a historical/literary bent. I have to say that just the fact that there are comics like this is enough to amuse me, but Beaton's askew sensibility makes the source material even funnier. Also, it's great that she pulls so many random references out of her hat. Well, I say random, but she is not just leafing through books and pointing her fingers at names. She has a history degree, worked in a museum, and is an unabashed lover of what she is covering.

Also, Beaton is Canadian, so prepare yourself for some obscure Canadian references. It's a nice touch that the strips are annotated. Many feature "artist commentary" notes explaining her thinking, what strikes her as interesting about the topic, or sometimes just who the subjects are.

Here's another nice touch: There is an index! It's just a cool little bonus for a work that blends fiction and nonfiction.

A lot of the humor centers on putting modern attitudes in older situations, but it never gets old in this book. She includes a couple of Hamlet-themed comics late in the collection, and "the ghost" arrives and tells his son, "Obviously I died of poison." A shocked Hamlet says he didn't know, so the king says, "Was there no autopsy? What did everyone think I died of?" Hamlet: "Uh, this is still the middle ages or something. They just thought you died from being alive."

I am totally not doing it justice. Something about Beaton's style, the look of the drawings, and the overall attitude makes all of this hilarious, and it gets better if you just throw yourself into it. I could write out more of the strips, but just go to her site and see some samples. I see she has a similar collection, and I need to get my hands on that one because Hark is 166 pages of fun, off-kilter send-ups of  mostly "scholarly" topics.

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