I spent most of the past weekend trying to figure out how to explain the amazingness that is Kate Beaton’s Hark! A Vagrant, but the best I could come up with is that I think this book is really, really awesome. It is a hilarious and smart look at classic literature and history through a series of simple comic strips. I do not want “simple” to sound like a put-down because the strips appear simple, but at times are more complex than they look on the surface. The one thing that makes Hark! A Vagrant so great and funny is the use of facial expressions to compliment the story.
Any fan of literature or history will find something they will enjoy in Beaton’s work. Her takes on Sherlock Holmes (and various Watsons) to the Bronte sisters and Canadian culture are spot on and at times ridiculously hysterical. I am not sure you can put those two words together, but I just did and I am leaving it. This is my review, so suck it.
Beaton reminds me at times of Sarah Vowell in the way she can take historical events, and make them not only interesting, but funny. There is humor in history to go along with the tragedy. Hark! A Vagrant is filled with comedic takes on the French Revolution, Andrew Jackson and hipsters through the ages. I never really thought about the idea of hipsters always being around, but it just makes sense.
As a former bookstore worker I found a bit of delight in the section of Edward Gorey covers. I did not realize that Gorey had illustrated so many book covers over the years probably because I did not know that he illustrated book covers at all. Also, Gorey’s covers left a bit to the imagination especially for overactive imagination like Beaton’s. I think this one is my favorite:
If your knowledge of Canadian history is at the level of most Americans (we know that Canadians play hockey while riding moose, drinking beer and watching SCTV, right?) you might have to go to Wikipedia for a couple of these strips. There’s nothing wrong with learning more about our northern neighbors (I now know more about Lester Pearson than I did last week) especially if certain members of the Republican party win in November.
I could spend a lot of your time telling you how great this book is, but you should just head to a store and buy yourself a copy. Or if you are financially challenged like myself you should visit a place called the library like I did. Also, Beaton has been posting strips for years at harkavagrant.com where you will find many, many more strips not contained in the book.
Hark! A Vagrant is the most fun I have had reading in years. It is funny, sometimes odd and really smart. You honestly will not be disappointed. Great book. I leave you with the comedy of gangsters.