So, I mean, Kate Beaton. Pretty amazing, right? It seems I’m a (very) latecomer to her Hark, a Vagrant web comic. But I’ve yet to see a web comic that’s at once this funny and erudite. Drawn and Quarterly just released a book, also titled Hark! A Vagrant. She’s been doing the press rounds and appeared with Michael Kupperman and others at the Brooklyn Book Festival in September.
In this strip (pictured), I love that she just takes the strange looking book covers for these mystery classics and breaks them down into immediately gratifying punchlines. I’m inclined to believe she’s read all these books but refuses to bore us with jokes about their actual content. She instead offers a meditation on first impressions, illuminating the vague emotions these slightly silly cover illustrations project, and couching them in an an anachronistic, and absurd, contemporary context.
Hark! A Vagrant has jokes about the French Revolution, Napoleon, Difference Engines, and Batman. Most of Beaton’s strips take as their subject matter an anecdote from world history, like Georges Danton’s rivalry with Robespierre during the French Revolution, and pulls something endearing or goofy out of it to tease out a punchline. Sometimes she even takes the opportunity to clear up some misperceptions, as when Napoleon appears to clarify that by English measure, he’s actually an average 5′ 7″, having been rendered comically short by cartoonists (like Beaton) for years. Beaton’s talent is in getting me to laugh at things I would never have stopped to think were funny. As it turns out, that’s a pretty uncanny talent.
Roshan Abraham is a writer whose interests include art and design, comic books, and the intersection of technology and culture. His writing has previously appeared in Denver Westword and Pixelsurgeon. You can follow him on Tumblr and Twitter.