Over the past two decades, comics have become so much a part of mainstream culture as to be neither geeky nor cool, nerdy nor hip. However, it would seem that no one told Kate Beaton of this. These comic strips collected from her popular web comic Hark! A Vagrant embrace the perennially unhip topics of science, history, and classic literature, and make them not only accessible, but also screamingly hilarious.
Beaton’s enthusiasm for her esoteric subject matter is matched by her skewed wit and breadth of knowledge. Whether she is imagining sibling rivalry between the Bronte sisters or the Employee of the Month at the Bastille, a World War II battalion of hipsters (“H Company has only liberated the cafes”) or Marie Curie cutting loose in the lab, Beaton demonstrates her skill at knitting together high culture and broad humor.
A Canadian, Beaton does dip from time to time into the well of Canadian history and pop culture, but fear not! These forays are well-annotated and as funny as the rest. In the annotation for a strip involving “Anne-with-an-E” Shirley of Anne of Green Gables and her obsession with puffed sleeves, Beaton writes, “If there was no scene where she gets the puff-sleeved dress she pines for, I think there would have been a chapter where she slaughters the whole town.”
Other inspired strips involve Macbeth, The Great Gatsby, the book covers of Edward Gorey, and Edgar Allan Poe. Hark! A Vagrant is a must-read for all humanities majors, library nerds, and eggheads. You might learn something new, and besides, when was the last time you read a comic book that came with its own index?