Holiday Gift Bag: Hark! A Vagrant

More gift recommendations? Heck yes, more gift recommendations! How ’bout Kate Beaton’s Hark! A Vagrant?


I do hope y’all have heard of Kate Beaton, because if not, y’all ain’t been paying attention. This is Kate Beaton, and she is awesome. She’s a Canadian webcomic artist — she’s got majors in history and anthropology, and a lot of her comics are about historical figures — with enough of an absurdist twist to make them hilarious. Plus she does cartoons about literature, other artists, pop culture, semi-autobiographical stuff, and much more. She’s just plain outstanding.

So there’s this book, named after one of her websites and based on one of her early cartoons. It includes Queen Elizabeth I, Macbeth, Tesla, Isambard Kingdom Brunel, the Bronte sisters, Jules Verne, Laura Secord, The Great Gatsby, hipsters, mystery-solving teens, alternate Watsons, sexy Batman, and even cartoons based solely on Nancy Drew and Edward Gorey book covers. And of course, the much loved Fat Pony.

Verdict: Thumbs up. There’s a reason Kate Beaton is so popular — she’s a great cartoonist, and she’s very, very funny.

Beaton’s art is deceptively simple. It’s often very quickly sketched out, almost messy. But even then, she does a great job of creating stuff that’ll make you laugh. And when she goes for really detailed artwork, she’s just awesome. Her greatest strength, art-wise, is probably her facial expressions — to pick one of my favorites, there’s the cartoon about arctic explorers Robert Peary and Matthew Henson. Dig the detail on Henson’s disgusted but not-at-all-surprised expression in the fourth panel. Now how ’bout the last panel — much simpler and less detailed in the expressions, but Peary’s fury and Henson’s absolute glee are crystal-clear.

Why buy a book when the cartoons are free online? Well, because a book looks better on your bookshelf than sticking a bunch of printed-off-the-computer cartoons stuck into a looseleaf notebook. Because it’s easier to show off to friends instead of dragging them over to your computer to call up her website. And frankly, cartoonists don’t make much money, so buying a book helps Kate Beaton make more cartoons instead of having to get a job at a convenience store.

If you have someone on your list who loves Kate Beaton’s cartoons, or loves history and literature — and loves laughing at those things, too — then they’ll probably love this book. This’ll run you about 20 bucks retail, maybe a skritch less from online booksellers.

Hark! A Vagrant by Kate Beaton. Go pick it up.

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