A new collection by the web sensation and New Yorker cartoonist
Hark! A Vagrant is an uproarious romp through history and literature seen through the sharp, contemporary lens of New Yorker cartoonist and comics sensation Kate Beaton. No era or tome emerges unscasthed as Beaton rightly skewers the Western world's revolutionaries, leaders, sycophants, and suffragists while equally honing her wit on the hapless heroes, heroines, and villains of the best-loved fiction.
She deftly points out what really happened when Brahms fell asleep listening to Liszt, that the world's first hipsters were obviously the Incroyables and the Merveilleuses from eighteenth-century France, that Susan B. Anthony is, of course, a "Samantha," and that the polite banality of Canadian culture never gets old. Hark! A Vagrant features sexy Batman, the true stories behind classic Nancy Drew covers, and Queen Elizabeth doing the albatross. As the 500,000 unique monthly visitors to harkavagrant.com already know, no one turns the ironic absurdities of history and literature into comedic fodder as hilariously as Beaton.
Recent comics sensation Beaton probably, definitely, knows more about history and literature than the average reader, and this collection of her webcomic mostly collections of three-panel gag shows it. But while her comics are pungent with the aroma of authentic knowledge, they wear it lightly, with a jittery humor that's surprisingly effective given the lashings of irony that Beaton layers on top. While she's perfectly content to base her cartoon strips around lesser-known figures (criminal "masterminds" Burke and Hare, anyone?), most of her cartoons put people like the Bront sisters or Jules Verne out there and wryly undercut them with mock pulp headlines and dishy asides. While the focus in Beaton's rip-quick and squiggly drawings is getting a good joke out of, say, the death of French general Montcalm or playing to the world's ignorance of even the most basic facets of Canadian history and culture, she also drops in some sharp literary criticism. If she had pushed her faux na f outrageousness any further, Beaton might have ventured too far into Sarah Vowellesque flipness. But this is that rarest combination of literate irony and devastatingly funny humor when was the last time you read a comic strip collection that not only has but needs an index?