No one has ever said that writing about webcomics is like dancing about architecture, but the simile applies when trying to describe Kate Beaton’s Hark! A Vagrant. You just have to read it to get it.
Beaton’s first collection of comics was released in 2011 and the latest—Step Aside, Pops: A Hark! A Vagrant Collection—will be published on September 22 (she also released a children’s book called The Princess and the Pony earlier this year).
In the intro of Step Aside, Beaton describes her work in pretty simple terms: “When I get asked to describe my comics, the easiest thing to say is that it is historical or literary or pop-culture parodies.”
That’s apt, but it fails (sorry, Kate) to capture the silly, strange, smart and joyful elements that emanate from Hark!. The latest compilation has occasional bits of narration below the strips, which sometimes serve as introduction or context, and sometimes function only as a delightful aside. Most often, they do both.
On a page with the header, “The Rum Rebellion,” we get this caption: “Here is our old friend, William Bligh. I say old friend because you probably know him from Mutiny on the Bounty already, not because we are personal acquaintances (he is dead). It is easy to find Bligh in the history books—you just follow a breadcrumb trail of temper tantrums.”
On one titled, “The Last Days of George Danton,” it’s: “Quick! Who’s your favorite revolutionary! Is it Danton? Mine too! How many people described as “lionesque” actually fit the bill in looks and character? Did you say Robespierre is your favorite? You’re out of the fan club.”
You get the idea. Whether it’s the Founding Fathers, Wuthering Heights, the concept of “Strong Female Characters,” Ida B. Wells, or just an image from the archives, Beaton puts her clever and mirthful spin on an assortment of things you never imagined would send you into laughing fits. It’s sort of like a weird, fun, not entirely accurate lesson in history, literature and pop culture all at once.
Visit Hark! A Vagrant to see for yourself.