Friday, January 29, 2016

Graphic Novel: Hark! A Vagrant by Kate Beaton

I am always on the lookout for graphic novels to review. But just like it is hard to find a new young adult fantasy novel to review that isn't part of an ongoing series, I run into the same issue with graphic novels, which accounts for why I have so few of them on this blog. So I was pleased to find out about Kate Beaton and her two collections, Hark! A Vagrant, and Step Aside, Pops, which will be covered next week.

Genre, Themes, History: While I have placed this book under graphic novel, it really isn't a novel as it is a collection of Beaton's comics, most of which place a humorous spin on either historical events and figures, or classic literature and their authors. The Canadian-born Beaton earned a bachelor's degree in both history and anthropology, and eventually left her job at a museum to pursue drawing comics full-time. Her work has appeared in the New Yorker and The Best American Comics anthology, and always seems to attempt to educate while bringing a smile to the reader's face. And when Beaton isn't poking fun at some historical figure or event, she is poking fun at a great work of literature and the author. Some historical figures that managed to make it into the book include Andrew Jackson, Benjamin Franklin, and John Adams. And much to my delight, Beaton chose to draw comics lightly mocking the Bronte sisters, Jane Austen, Edgar Allan Poe, Jules Verne, H.G. Wells, Bram Stokes, Victor Hugo, and even William Shakespeare. And I suppose it would not be a proper collection of comics without a few depicting Batman, Aquaman, Wonder Woman, and a few Marvel characters such as Wolverine and Storm. In other words, it seems no one is safe from Beaton, whether they be from history or popular culture. Even the modern day hipster doesn't escape Beaton's pen. And of course, as a Canadian, Beaton pokes plenty of fun at her home country, which anyone from the U.S. will certainly appreciate.

My Verdict: Anything that makes you laugh out loud is worth a look, and I certainly laughed out loud plenty of times throughout this collection. It is often said that all jokes have a little bit of truth to them, and that is definitely true of many of Beaton's comics. She touches on the baffling obsessions of Poe and the difficulty we have today of being able to call Andrew Jackson a hero. She points out what we have all thought about Aquaman and his ability to save anyone in any real trouble. And she attempts her own explanation of why Brahms would fall asleep during a performance by Liszt. Even if you aren't familiar with the reference, you may at the very least learn something, and often you'll end up laughing anyway. And while the entire book is only 160+ pages long, it goes by even faster due to the graphic novel format. It could easily be read in less than an afternoon or on a short plane ride. 

Favorite Comics: There were quite a few that I will always remember, but my personal favorites were the ones where Beaton attempts to interpret great works of literature simply based on their covers. 

Recommended Reading: Naturally I recommend Beaton's follow-up collection, Step Aside, Pops

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