As It Happens

'Hark! a Vagrant' cartoonist Kate Beaton releases new comic book

She redrew the historical and literary landscape with her breakout web comic and book, Hark, A Vagrant! Now cartoonist Kate Beaton is set to release her latest collection, Step Aside, Pops.
(Drawn & Quarterly)

Who can forget that famous scene in Julius Caesar when the emperor is approached by a soothsayer, who warns him "Beware the Ides of March"? And Caesar responds by asking what he should wear. To which the soothsayer replies, "I would wear something comfortable. Maybe your PJs."

If that's not quite how you remember that particular exchange, it's no doubt because you haven't had the pleasure of acquainting yourself with Kate Beaton's latest work. Beaton is the artist behind the very popular webcomic strip Hark! a Vagrant. She published a book by the same name in 2011, of selections from that strip. It has since been translated into several languages. And now Beaton is releasing a new collection of her cartoons, called Step Aside, Pops.

(Kate Beaton/Drawn & Quarterly)

"When I get asked to describe my comics, the easiest thing to say is that it is historical or literary or pop culture parodies," Beaton writes in the book's introduction."Really the comics are just a reflection of whatever I find interesting or whatever I'm reading or thinking about. In the end, I just try to come up with something funny."

But Beaton is quick to point out that she's not out to skewer her subjects.

"There's a lot of snarky humour out there right now, and that's fine. It's just not what I really want to do," she tells As it Happens host Carol Off. "Most of my humour comes from a place of affection for what I'm reading or talking about".

(Kate Beaton/Drawn & Quarterly)

Beaton began developing what she calls her 'literary and historical pop-culture parodies' while studying history and anthropology at Mount Allison University in Sackville, New Brunswick. She started drawing comics for the campus newspaper, The Argosy.

"It's where I had my first audience, because you would make a comic, and then you'd come into the meal hall, and all the papers would be open to the comics page, and you realize 'Wow! Everybody reads the comics'...and it's kind of an amazing and powerful thing."
(Beaton/Drawn & Quartlerly)

But Beaton never thought she'd be drawing comics as a career. She thought her future was more likely in museums. Although that might seem like an unlikely place to nurture her comedic sensibilities, she said her experience working in four or five different museums helped to cultivate her humour.

"Visitors come in, and you want them to be excited about the material. And you know all about it, and they don't really know that much. One of the easiest ways to get people interested and involved in museum material is to have a little joke that warms them up. I find that humour is a really inviting way to learn."

She says she's found the same is true with her comics today.

"My comics are often used as icebreakers in university classes and things like that, which is really, really flattering, because as soon as students are laughing about something, they want to know more."
(Ball/CBC As it Happens)

Step Aside, Pops hits bookshelves across Canada on September 15th.


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