Ducks by Kate Beaton
A graphic memoir about a young woman working in Alberta's oil sands
Before there was Kate Beaton, New York Times bestselling cartoonist of Hark! A Vagrant, there was Katie Beaton of the Cape Breton Beaton, specifically Mabou, a tight-knit seaside community where the lobster is as abundant as beaches, fiddles, and Gaelic folk songs. With the singular goal of paying off her student loans, Katie heads out west to take advantage of Alberta's oil rush ― part of the long tradition of East Coasters who seek gainful employment elsewhere when they can't find it in the homeland they love so much. Katie encounters the harsh reality of life in the oil sands, where trauma is an everyday occurrence yet is never discussed.
Beaton's natural cartooning prowess is on full display as she draws colossal machinery and mammoth vehicles set against a sublime Albertan backdrop of wildlife, northern lights, and boreal forest. Her first full length graphic narrative, Ducks: Two Years in the Oil Sands is an untold story of Canada: a country that prides itself on its egalitarian ethos and natural beauty while simultaneously exploiting both the riches of its land and the humanity of its people. (From Drawn and Quarterly)
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Ducks was named one of CBC Books' top Canadian comics of 2022 and was also one of two Canadian books on Barack Obama's list of favourite books of 2022.
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Kate Beaton is a cartoonist from Nova Scotia who launched her career by publishing the comic strip Hark! A Vagrant online. The sassy historical webcomic gained a following of 500,000 monthly visitors and was eventually turned into a bestselling book. Beaton's success continued with the book Step Aside, Pops! and two children's books, King Baby and The Princess and the Pony.
"That's a deeply ingrained idea in Cape Breton. We have been exporting labour for so many generations there, way back beyond my grandparents' time. I grew up listening to songs and reading stories about migrant labour before I had a complete understanding about the cycle of that kind of work.
Going out there, I knew that I wasn't going to have a good time. I knew I wasn't gonna like it, but I knew that I should be grateful for the job I was going to get.- Kate Beaton on working in Alberta's oil sands
"Growing up in Cape Breton, we had lived through so much economic collapse by that point. In this working class environment, the message is that any job is a good job. Going out there, I knew that I wasn't going to have a good time. I knew I wasn't gonna like it, but I knew that I should be grateful for the job I was going to get. The fact that somebody was going to hire me and give me money was the good thing. Back home, they were calling it things like 'money jail.'
"It doesn't evoke a sense of enjoyment, right? But I didn't know the details in any way. What I expected was to work for money that I should be grateful to have. And I never expected a corporation to treat me nicely, but I also didn't know exactly what I was stepping into."