Webcomics Wednesday: Kate Beaton’s Hark! A Vagrant

Likely StoriesI’ve been tossing this particular webcomic around the old brain box whenever a fortnightly Wednesday rolls around because I’ve been a fan of Beaton and Hark! A Vagrant since long before I had even heard the word Booklist, but I’ve been worried that all I’ll be able to muster up about it is embarrassing, blithering fanaticism.  So far, I’ve set it aside in favor of excellent but relatively unfamiliar webcomics about which I can still maintain a little journalistic integrity (though barely: see this one). But TODAY we received a galley of Beaton’s long-awaited (if you’re asking me, anyway) picture book featuring her iconic fat pony. I believe, since we’re on the internet and all, this calls for a squee.

Princess and the Pony

That clinched it; today’s the day for Beaton! With a relatively simple style—almost exclusively black-and-white, short-form comics—Beaton packs an impressive punch. With only a few ink strokes, she captures meaningful facial expressions and stunning comedic timing. And if you think history is boring, guess again: Beaton is clearly delighted by the oddities of history, and she inflects each comic with irreverent humor. In her latest comic, she calls attention to Onondaga marathon runner and WWI hero Tom Longboat and lampoons how little he’s been recognized by history. Don’t know who he is? You’ll probably want to after reading this:

History isn’t the only thing Beaton skewers. Classic literature is on the cutting board, too. While advising Jane Austen to make her romantic leads more monstrous, Emily Brontë browses Brooding Hunx magazine in “Emily has some advice.” In “The Secret Garden,” Beaton reveals the relaxing truth behind Mary and Colin’s refuge in Frances Hodgson Burnett’s classic. One of my personal favorites, however, is her series of comics based on vintage Nancy Drew covers, depicting a positively unhinged teen girl detective.

What keeps me coming back to Hark! A Vagrant after more than four years of fandom is that Beaton’s comics always make me feel a little bit smarter. Sometimes I instantly know what she’s referencing (like this one about Rosalind Franklin), but even if I don’t (“The Invasion of Canada“), I know I’ll take away something pleasantly educational. But mostly I’ll giggle a lot, and then look up the subject on Wikipedia. Beaton updates less frequently than when she started the comic, but it’s because she’s because she’s busy writing picture books and compiling another collection of Hark! A Vagrant comics (coming this summer). In the meantime, there’s a treasure trove of posts to browse!

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About the Author:

When Sarah Hunter is not reading for her job as senior editor at Booklist, she's baking something tasty or planning trips to the Pacific Northwest. Follow her on Twitter at @SarahBearHunter.

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