Hark! A Review – A Look at Hark! A Vagrant by Kate Beaton
By Cody Ormsbee
Many of you may be more familiar with the comic work of Artist Kate Beaton than you know. Her web comic, Hark! A Vagrant has spread across the web and the world. I first encountered her online in the form of the above comic of a rather quizzical looking Edgar Allen Poe. Inspired by this parody of one of my favorite classical authors, I scoured the web until I found her website and the nearly four hundred comics she had published there. I spent the better part of a week reading through her entire archive and I hope this review may inspire you to do the same.
Kate Beaton is a history major that has worked in museums across all of Canada, during which she wrote most of her comics. Each Hark! A Vagrant comic is about a comical interpretation of literature or history. This may sound boring, but where else might you find flirtatious queens, outrageous authors, fat ponies, the most tragic napoleon, and real looks into the lives of history’s everymen and their ongoing quest to get-it-on before their inevitable and historically accurate death?
I should warn you that my opinion may be slanted as I am a huge history/literature nerd, so I understood about 95% of what the comics were about. For those of you who aren’t sad, lonely, incredibly attractive English majors like myself, don’t worry. Most all of her comics follow relatively well known books or figures and there is plenty of stuff that doesn’t require any exceptional foreknowledge. Beaton’s mastery of puns, the highest form of lowbrow comedy, is worth a look for anyone regardless of their historical background. I personally took the opportunity to research any of the history that was outside my knowledge, and I felt that the comics were funnier and more rewarding for it.
The art in the comics is both simple and charming. Beaton uses pencil and pen for the lines in her comic, and greyscale markers and watercolors for shading. She has herself described this process as simplistic but you would be astounded at the level of detail she can pack into a single panel. The simple feel of the art is a nice contrast to some of the complexity of the subject matter and it makes the comic endearing, like a doodle you might draw in history class except a thousand times funnier.
Kate Beaton has moved on from curating to be a full time illustrator and has released several books, including both collections of Hark! and several children’s books. I recommend that everyone go to Beaton’s website at http://www.harkavagrant.com and check out her archive. For those of you who really enjoy her work, you can purchase her collections and children’s books as well. She also has merchandise if that’s your cup of tea.
In the end I do not really know if you would like Hark! A Vagrant or not. So much of its humor and appeal is based on the reader’s appreciation for the subject material. All I can really say is that you should absolutely give it a shot. After scrolling through some of her archive you may find that it’s not for you, which is fine. However, there is a great chance that you will find something that will give you a chuckle and brighten your day. For those who are really passionate, it can introduce you to some fascinating figures in history that you might not have otherwise looked to. No matter who you are you will find something that strikes your fancy. That’s just how wonderfully fun and expansive Kate Beaton’s work is in Hark! A Vagrant.