For the past few months, I’ve been using this column to reflect on older books I love. We like to call them “classics” because, for many reasons, they have transcended their own historical moment to remain valuable decades, if not centuries, after their original publication. I want to break from that this week—sort of.
I first encountered Kate Beaton several years ago when I was in college. She ran a website called Hark! A Vagrant and frequently posted comic strips [lovingly] lampooning various historical and literary figures. My earliest experience was stumbling on a comic about how she discovered James Joyce’s love letters to Nora Barnacle, which, let me just tell you now: don’t. After that, I clicked around her site and found all kinds of great strips about The Great Gatsby, Shakespeare, and Napoleon Bonaparte.
Her sense of humor is delightful and got me to reconsider a lot of what I was studying as a literature and philosophy student. She allowed me to find the light parts of history by emphasizing little bits of absurdity and taking them to their [il]logical conclusion.
Kate Beaton has also integrated herself into my own holiday traditions with the comics she posts on Twitter about her family whenever she returns home to Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia. Her family is so weird and sweet and perfect; I have regular fantasies of buying a one-way ticket to Canada and holding a boombox over my head in Mr. and Mrs. Beaton’s front yard so that they can become my family for real.
I didn’t know until years after its release, but many of these first comics I fell in love with were collected in a book called, predictably, Hark! A Vagrant in 2011. You can find it on my Staff Picks shelf or on the Graphic Novels shelf in the store. Sometimes I think there’s no better way to revisit the classics than to read them through Kate Beaton’s eyes.