Happy Valentine’s Day! Today is all about love, or as some of you may call it, “lurve.” Ah, you can feel l’amour in the air, mes amis. Such as the love Paul Hornschemeier, they guy in charge of designing the cover for Marvel’s Strange Tales II anthology, has for a certain webcartoonist’s work.
On his blog:
I just completed the cover designs for Marvel’s Strange Tales II collection, due out in April. It was a pleasure to work on the project, with the only difficulty being what to choose out of all the great art in the series. But there was one person whose work I knew I wanted on the cover before I even began sorting through the files: Kate Beaton, who is, in my humble opinion, one of the best, most pitch-perfect cartoonists working today.
(h/t to the always lovely Robot 6.)
…are just two great things that go wonderfully together.
These panels and more from your favorite indie comic/webcomic creators can be found in Marvel’s Strange Tales II, available at your nearest fine comic book retailer or where comic books are sold.
You tend to remember some of the strangest things your teachers tell you. Back when I was a younger El Santo and attending a Catholic school in Detroit, my teacher, who was a bit of a hippie, mentioned in history class that “American people have no cultural identity.” And, so as not to leave out our neighbors across the river, he added, “Canada has even less of an identity.”
It was a baffling statement to hear in the 8th grade. Now that I’m older, I can sort of see what he was talking about, especially in relation to history. The two neighboring North American countries don’t have the 10,000 year history of China or the 5,000 year history of Korea. Europeans, namely excitable message board trolls who have this need to snark on all things American, wonder what in the world is being taught in our history classes. I mean, what is there to learn over the span of 200-300 years of history?
However, the more I travel this country, the more I think that 8th grade teacher of mine was wrong. It’s a mistake, I think, to relate national character to longevity and to isolate a national experience from the continual progress of all humanity. You’ll notice that in most history books, the focus is on wars, one of the most cataclysmic events to occur to a nation. The US and Canada don’t have quite as impressive an inventory as other nations (though the US arguably wins this category).
But maybe the true measure of a national character, not reflected in any traditional history books, should not be measured on how many wars you wage but on how honorable your people behave. A Canadian history buff once said, “Our history is the march of thousands of people across a continent trying to make a life for themselves. How can it be boring?” That person is, of course, webcomic artist Kate Beaton.
So now, with Canada currently making global news thanks to the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, the time is ripe to revisit one of the most unapologetically Canadian webcomics of all time, Kate Beaton’s Hark! A Vagrant.
You want to know what’s really subjective? Top ten lists. No two people will ever agree on what the best ten of anything is as long as people have the ability to think for themselves. Isn’t merely the act of putting together such a list an example of arrogance? Probably.
Still, we love lists like the one I’m compiling below for one big reason: its fun to argue why something made the list, and why things were left off.
So, as we head into the Holiday Season and close out the aughts, here’s my list of what I think are the Ten Best Webcomics of the Decade (2000-2009): The Second Decade of Webcomics.
These aren’t the most influential — otherwise Penny Arcade would be a shoe-in. And since we’re talking about The Decade, longetivity counts — so, sorry Gastrophobia. This is a list of webcomics I enjoyed because they told great stories, opened readers to different sorts of humor, and basically stuck with me for some reason or other.
Each of these are a great credit to the new genre/medium known as “webcomics” and show that, in some cases, the outlaw world of webcomics can produce comics that are heads and shoulders superior to their boring, predictable print counterparts.
It’s no secret that I’m a huge fan of this webcomic. Gunnerkrigg Court‘s artwork is beautiful and unique. Tom Siddell tells a mysterious story set in a sprawling Gormenghast-style city that mashes up fantasy with science fiction. While this is the sort of place where fairies and robots coexist, Gunnerkrigg Court feels natural and not at all contrived. The highly likable cast includes Antimony, a wide-eyed girl with destiny written all over her, and Reynardine, a stuffed animal who is more than meets the eye. I loved this comic so much, I reviewed it twice. I’ve said it once, and I’ll say it again: if there is only one webcomic you will read in your entire life, read Gunnerkrigg Court.
Kate Beaton’s comic has achieved the impossible: she’s managed to make Canadian history interesting. Man, I doubt Canadians even find Canadian history interesting. She pokes fun at other events in history as well by showing us that, really, were those bygone figures really different from us? Is it so implausible that the Bronte sisters would be dishing on distasteful men or that, as above, suffragettes would spend just as much time hitting on the dudes as they would protesting? Hark! A Vagrant makes jokes based on a weird, universal truth: human nature is pretty much the same, no matter what era.
Can old school cartooning can be adapted to and be made new for audiences online? Now, Gunshow and its predecessor, Horribleville aren’t for everyone. They’re vulgar and crass; the fart jokes of webcomics. Still, anyone can make a poop joke. What make’s KC Green’s webcomics so special is his unique brand of rubbery and hyperkinetic artwork. KC’s drawings — in some ways reminiscent of Looney Tunes and Spumco — is goddamned hilarious. It’s great to know that in a webcomic world where everything seems to rely on sterile Flash drawings, there’s someone out there who can make you laugh the old-fashioned way: by drawing someone with a smile that’s goofy as hell.
Read the rest of this entry
How do you know webcomics are gaining ground on their direct market brethren? When the print versions of popular webcomics are starting to pop up with reliable frequency in the AV Club’s comic round-up. In the June 12 version, they have a review of Kate Beaton’s “Never Learn Anything From History,” as well as a bit of commentary on webcomics as a whole:
Webcomics have been a seriously mixed bag since their inception, and for every Achewood, there are two dozen shabbily drawn, incoherently written strips about videogames or anime. That’s why it’s all the more impressive when a talent like Kate Beaton emerges. The young Canadian artist has turned a history degree into a non-stop laffs-generating machine, as her book Never Learn Anything From History (TopatoCo) illustrates; the great leaders, military figures, artists, and philosophers of the past are her usual subjects, but they’re usually portrayed as consumed by petty ego and expressing themselves in the freewheeling, dismissive argot of snotty adolescents. Add to that a keen sense of the absurd (in her footnotes, Beaton herself cannot explain why a weeping Napoleon stuffing his face with cookies while Josephine carries on a wild affair is so damn funny, but it is) and you’ve got a book full of comics that are generally hilarious even for those who don’t fully recall the history behind the stories. Beaton’s art is likewise impressive; her neat linework and terrific grasp of simple caricature and facial expression sells a lot of the best strips, including Sasaki Kojiro meeting an undignified end, Jane Austen and Nikola Tesla being pestered by their fans, and Lord Byron muttering “Bitches, man” to a grieving Percy Bysshe Shelley. Her occasional non-historical comics (featuring mermaids, Tintin, and an evil Shetland pony) are likewise winners, and if American audiences don’t quite get the jokes behind her strips about Stompin’ Tom Connors, Newfoundland, and John G. Diefenbaker, at least they might learn something about Canada from reading them… A-
Kate Beaton: “Our history is the march of thousands of people across a continent trying to make a life for themselves… How can it be boring?”
Cartoonist Kate Beaton gets interviewed in Maclean’s, one of Canada’s top news magazines. (Incidentally, stay out of Saskatoon. It is the most dangerous city in Canada.) The article, “Making Fun of Canadian History“, does a great job of observing Ms. Beaton’s toons from the perspective of a native Canadian. The article takes a look at Ms. Beaton’s beginnings as an office worker trying to pay off her student role at Fort McMurray to her comic’s recent rise in prominence.
Color me absolutely impressed by the attention she’s attracting:
Originally from Cape Breton, Beaton is a Toronto-based cartoonist who has fans ranging from award-winning graphic novelists to geeky comic nerds. In the little over a year she’s been doing the comics, her work has been talked about on the website Wonkette and in Bitch magazine; a reviewer for Wired magazine called Beaton’s the “funniest comic that I’ve read in awhile.” Recently Daily Show writer Sam Means approached her to illustrate a children’s book he is writing. About 10 other agents and publishers have asked her to write a book, but so far she’s refused. Still finding her feet, Beaton wants to find out more about the industry so she doesn’t get shortchanged. Also, since she hasn’t yet drawn enough to fill a book, she doesn’t want to become “overwhelmed.”
Also, The Webcomic Overlook gets a mention. Referring to this review:
The otherness makes her “vaguely otherworldly,” says Seattle-based Larry Cruz, who writes reviews on the website, The Webcomic Overlook. Beaton’s work is “delightful, funny and endearing even if I have no idea what in the world this crazy Canuck is referencing.”
Thank you, Maclean’s!
Also… never stop being a crazy Canuck, Kate. (And I hope you never consider me to be one of those creepy jerks you’re talking about.)
You know, when you devote your time reviewing webcomics, you tend to view reading as a job. A, uh, really low paying job. So, just to switch it up, I to have some fun and catch up on some favorites. Some of these are old, so you may have read them already.
- Fanboys takes on Seinfeld. You know, I wasn’t too thrilled when Scott DeWitt changed his style a couple months back. I actually liked his Kricfalusi-esque style from the earlier iteration. The current, more unique style — where the eyes and mouth get exaggerated yet the rest of the face seems more solid — really shines here, though. DeWitt really captures the facial expressions and mannerisms of the Seinfeld cast. In fact, this scene may have, at some point, taken place on the TV show if it were ever established that Jerry and the gang were huge D&D fanatics.
- Kate Beaton and Rene Engstrom (Anders Loves Maria) team up to take on Jane Austen. Because Mr. Darcy is a sex machine. Some content not safe for the kids. (As if I needed to tell you. It’s Mr. Darcy, people!)
- Websnark does a profile on highly influential web cartoonist Ryan North. I knew North was the goods based on Dinosaur Comics alone. But did you know he’s largely responsible for both Ohnorobot and Project Wonderful? A very engaging read, as Eric Burns’ articles usually are. I just wish he’d stop using the phrase “Hoi Polloi” so much. Seriously, it’s one of the few phrases that gets under my skin.
- The Pod Race sequence ends in Darths & Droids. Drama Girl reveals that she’s aces at playing the game. She ends up switching characters from Anakin to Shmi, but as us moviegoers know, that status quo can obviously not hold. Countdown to when Drama Girl takes on the role of Anakin permanently (hopefully up until the end of Return of the Jedi.) Me? I’m just psyched that the first huge boss battle (Darth Maul) is coming up pretty soon.
- Finally, Cyanide & Happiness responds to Ctrl+Alt+Delete’s atrocious miscarriage storyline.