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Kate Beaton

Author of Hark! A Vagrant

13+ Works 4,280 Members 248 Reviews 22 Favorited

About the Author

Includes the names: Kate Beaton, Katie Beaton

Image credit: Calgary Comic & Entertainment Expo 2011, photo by 5of7


Works by Kate Beaton

Associated Works

To Be or Not To Be (2013) — Illustrator — 762 copies
Romeo and/or Juliet: A Chooseable-Path Adventure (2016) — Illustrator — 637 copies
The Best American Comics 2011 (2011) — Contributor — 173 copies
The Best American Comics 2013 (2013) — Cover artist; Contributor — 103 copies
The Best American Comics 2016 (2016) — Contributor — 78 copies
Strange Tales II (2011) — Contributor — 69 copies
MySpace Dark Horse Presents Volume 4 (2009) — Contributor — 29 copies
Thought Bubble Anthology Collection: 10 Years of Comics (2016) — Contributor — 15 copies


2015 (28) 21st century (28) Alberta (23) Canada (101) Canadian (69) Canadian author (34) cartoons (55) children's (44) comedy (19) comic (76) comic strips (36) comics (436) Comics & Graphic Novels (19) feminism (19) fiction (144) funny (27) goodreads (21) graphic (30) graphic novel (234) graphic novels (66) hardcover (26) historical (19) historical fiction (33) history (314) horses (18) humor (343) Kate Beaton (19) literature (78) memoir (88) non-fiction (104) own (18) picture book (121) princess (51) read (80) read in 2015 (19) satire (20) signed (20) to-read (314) webcomic (32) webcomics (53)

Common Knowledge



This volume starts when Kate Beaton is 21. She's just graduated from university and has student loans to pay off. She's from Cape Breton, an area of Canada without a lot in the way of jobs. Faced with student loans and a family that isn't well off enough to give her a safety net, Beaton opts to do what so many around her have done and get a job in the oil sands. She figures she'll work there for a few years, pay off her student loans, and then get a (less well paying) job she genuinely loves using her degree.

One of the first places she ends up at is Syncrude. She works as a tool crib attendant, learning how to do her job, watching the first of many safety videos, and getting to know the people. As is the case at every location she ends up at, she's one of a very small number of women working there, and painfully aware that all the men are looking at her. It's an odd, uncomfortable, and artificial environment. She knows that the loneliness and isolation of the oil sands contributes to it - any one of the people she grew up around could become just like one of the guys at these sites. It's not a great situation, and she knows it, but there isn't much she can do about it. If she complains, she's either ignored or viewed as troublemaker who can't work with the team.

As the volume progresses, she meets lots of different people - some decent, some not so much - and gets to know the complexities of the oil sands. Mental health issues and drugs are a huge issue among the workers but never talked about, unless a workplace injury makes it impossible to ignore, and even then the root of the problem is never addressed. The same goes for gendered violence. While the workers are doing what they can to get by, the oil companies they work for are damaging the environment, which in turn affects the indigenous people who live in the area.

Although she doesn't say so directly, in her afterword Beaton mentions her sister's cancer diagnosis and eventual death, and I couldn't help but wonder if her time at the oil sands is what eventually led to her cancer. There are multiple mentions, throughout the volume, of things like the cough and weird rash that a lot of the workers get, even those who primarily work in offices.

This took a while to grow on me, but by the end it was tough reading. The rapes were chilling, despite nothing much being shown on-page, just Beaton mentally "going away" for a bit. I wanted her to keep her museum job for longer (she looked so happy). I had a little blip of happiness when I recognized that period of time she started her webcomic, but mixed in with everything else, it just became sadness.


A 3-page afterword by the author.

(Original review posted on A Library Girl's Familiar Diversions.)
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Familiar_Diversions | 48 other reviews | Feb 11, 2024 |
I remember reading Kate Beaton's 'Ducks' back in 2014 when it was just a series of sketch comics on her "Hark a Vagrant" website. A lot of those stories made it into this book verbatim, which is good because I loved those comics.

This is not your typical Kate Beaton book. It's still smart and occasionally funny, but it's also very grounded in the mundane. None of her usual whimsy is to be found here. Even so, Beaton has proven herself to be an excellent storyteller with heavy subject matters.

Beaton does an amazing job humanizing her colleagues from the oil sands of northern Alberta, even the ones she doesn't seem to recall that fondly. She's empathetic enough to understand that even the surliest laborer is a distinct individual with their own inner life. It's this same empathy that makes this book a heavy read. Beaton has no shortage of sad or traumatic stories about her time spent working the oil sands. Stories about the long-term effects living an isolated life with little to do has on a person. The oil industry doesn't just remove value from the Earth for profit, it does the same for the humans who work for it.

There's a lot going on in this book, but the one overarching theme that unites everything is the incredible ability humans have to compartmentalize literally anything and keep moving forward. Environmental destruction, exploitative labor practices, harassment, drug addiction, sexual assault, & workplace fatalities are all things that occur within the pages of this book, and the people affected by these events are able to be file them away to be dealt with at some other time. Or not at all. "That's just how things are here!" is a common response for tragedies both large and small. Humanity's superhuman ability to persevere through tragedy can be easily commodified to tolerate abuse.

I don't think this is a book for everyone, it is challenging & sobering, but it is very good. Kate Beaton is a longtime favorite of mine, and I'm glad to finally see those sketch comic PNGs become a full fledged book.
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Mootastic | 48 other reviews | Jan 25, 2024 |
A little bit irreverent, but when a princess that wants to be a fierce warrior is given a rather small and a bit gassy pony, hilarity ensues.
sloth852 | 67 other reviews | Jan 12, 2024 |
Kate Beaton is from Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, which has been suffering from an economic depression since the collapse of the fishing and coal industries a generation ago. Upon graduating from college with large student loans, Kate followed in the footsteps of many of her neighbors and joined the oil industry in Alberta, which promised more cash in a short amount of time than she could ever hope to make at home. For two years she moved around between different mining sites, working in a tool shed here and an office there. The isolation, belittlement, and sexual harassment were near constant, and if she tried to do something about it she was chastised for causing problems. Most of all, she bore witness to what this life does to men like her family and neighbors - poor men who leave their family behind for months or years and become hard and mean and get hit by trucks or maimed by machinery, all while destroying the environment.

This book is the definition of a magnum opus. Over 400 pages of hand-drawn grayscale comics detailing how she ended up in the oil sands and the complicated people she met there. The drawings of people are simple, in Beaton’s style, but interspersed are stunning illustrations of oil pumping equipment, landscapes, and wildlife. It’s a story that could never be told in any other format.
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norabelle414 | 48 other reviews | Jan 3, 2024 |


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