by Laura Fornasari
Kate Beaton (born in 1983, Nova Scotia) is a Canadian cartoonist author of the online collections series of comic strips under the name “Hark! A Va- grant”. After graduating in history and anthropology, and having worked in the marine museum of British Columbia, she decided to test herself com- bining the two things that she has always passionate about: drawing and story. She started drawing comics for University newspaper, and then in 2007 she began to publish on the web her stripes, earning a resounding success.
Her subjects are historical figures, like Napoleon, James Joyce or Ada Lovelace, or liter- ary characters. Kate Beaton has a drawing style only apparently simple, cartoonish, and characterized by a focus on the expressions, which speak for themselves. Strips have an irreverent and desecrating humor. This is not however easy irony since often requires the reader a good knowledge of history, literature and politics. They range from parody to jokes, with a strong taste for nonsense, to satire: laughs are guaranteed in any case.
To enjoy them properly, however, it is essential to know very well English and Ameri- can slang. Comic books are not translated and, frankly, a translation would fail to do justice to a Lord Byron who in front of a Percy Shelley in distress with an inconsolable Mary, sighs: “Bitches, man!”
American Chronicle? Victorian Literature? Super heroes? Jesters and kings? No one is saved by Kate Beaton’s pen.
The satirical and anachronistic dialogues let us to rediscover famous people, as much as ordinary people, and each one struggling with daily absurdities. We can laugh reading about Rochester attempting to bring down the doubts of a skeptical Jane Eyre: “I was just trying to put under lock and key all the uncomfortable secrets that by now I was tired of managing!” or witnessing the destruction of every romantic cliché while a young medieval farmer look at his sweetheart and whispers … “I never brushed my teeth in my entire life.” Jane Austen is instead haunted by admirers asking spicy im- plications about Mr Darcy, Edgar Allan Poe should handle the letters by a Jules Verne too fond of his work, Macbeth and Wuthering Heights undergo a drastic tragicomic reinterpretation, in a gag war in the name of “historically (in) correct.”
The great success led to the publication of five printed volumes. Along with three dedicated to strips on historical and literature figures – Never Learn Anything From History (2009), Hark! A Vagrant (2011), Step Aside, Pops (2015) – were published two other books that instead go to explore children’s illustration style, always with the usual dose of humor. The Princess and The Pony (2015) tells the untold story of the character of Fat Pony, former star of nonsense cartoons, which here takes the place of “noble steed” required by an enter- prising princess as a birthday gift, while King Baby (2016) is a tender and funny chronicle to celebrate what brings the arrival of a new little “monarch” in the family.
Cover: Kate Beaton, Hark! A Vagrant, 2011