Saturday, April 2, 2016

Review: Hark! A Vagrant and Step Aside, Pops!

Reading comics are not exactly considered a highbrow art form. In part, its because they're so accessible: everyone can find something to laugh at in the middle section of the Sunday paper, everyone understands the punchline of a Calvin and Hobbes or a Luann strip.

However, Kate Beaton has found the funny in the seemingly unfunny with Hark! a Vagrant, her long-running comics series, taking key events and players from historical and cultural knowledge, and turning them into sketches  that irreverently displace the academia with audacious humor. From historical Canadian-American tensions, to the relationship between Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, to the ridiculousness of some of those vintage Nancy Drew covers, Beaton draws from a wide range of subject matter, and manages to make them all downright hilarious.

One of my favorite things about these comics is that they're definitely a product of the Internet age: not only are the comics originally published online, on the author's website, but the kinds of jokes they reflect are arguably a byproduct of web humor. With deliberate irony and inclusion of anachronistic modern slang and perspectives, these comics have sometimes been turned into memes of their own, and can be found circulating on Pinterest and Tumblr.

Another wonderful element of Beaton's comics - and another indication of their inclusion of modern perspective - are their intermixing of the funny with the socially responsible: from her popular and overt "Straw Feminists" strip, to her skewering of female action heroine tropes with "Strong Female Characters," her Hark! a Vagrant series includes commentary and support of real portrayals of women, from the goofy to the glorious. In fact, a lot of the historical figures she portrays in her comics are female... and a lot of them, you've probably never heard of before, either.

I even included one of her comics in a report I did in an English class, my sophomore year of college, on "The Yellow Wallpaper," written by Charlotte Perkins Gilman. The iconic short story - reflecting themes of a woman's desire to escape the prison-like room her husband has confined her to while she's been ill, and her subsequent madness - is summarized in three panels, titled, "Either the Wallpaper Goes or I Do."

I credit the 4.0 my presentation partner and I earned to this strip, found on Beaton's website here.

To be honest, I've had a long relationship with comics. My grandmother used to take each funnies page out of the newspaper and put them aside for me over the course of the week, and I'd sit at her kitchen table during weekend morning visits and read my favorite strips sequentially, so that I could follow the complete story line. That love has never gone away, and with Hark! a Vagrant and Step Aside, Pops! I'd find myself curled up on the couch, with a mug of tea in the sunshine of a Sunday mornings, taking part in that very same pasttime.

Final word is, if you like comics, Internet humor, history, literature, feminism, or any combination of the above, these collections would be just the way to start your weekend!

Have you heard of Kate Beaton's comics before? What subject would you like to see her tackle? Let me know, in the comments below! 

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