One Punch Reviews #11: Kate Beaton
The New Yorker is infamous for publishing cartoons that are absolutely impenetrable. If you don’t have an Ivy League degree, you scratch your head to try to make sense of the joke, fighting the urge to track down the cartoonists so he can explain it to you like Elaine did on that one episode of Seinfeld. If you do have an Ivy League degree, you sorta chuckle a little, hoping that you’ve gained the acceptance of your high society friends while little realizing that they’re doing the exact same thing.
That’s not to say that humor has to be spelled out. I’m a big fan of old school Mystery Science Theater, where each episode where full of obscure references that still manage to make me laugh. And it’s true for the works of Kate Beaton, whose work is delightful, funny and endearing even if I have no idea what in the world this crazy Canuck is referencing.
Mlle. Beaton’s site isn’t the easiest to navigate since it hides its strips under several categories just below the title banner. Still, it’s easier to navigate than the LiveJournal. Explore either one. The LiveJournal, though, is probably more utilitarian. Not all of the comics on the LiveJournal are at katebeaton.com, plus there’s a comment section there where you can leave your invaluable feedback.
Though the comics cover several subjects, Kate Beaton can best be described as autobiographical. In some of her strips, she draws about absurdities from personal experience. Things like sneaking into your own house and landing flat on your butt, contemplating on the unfairness that Scottish genetics plays on the human form, and reminiscing about the joys of being a teenager. It’s poignant, charming, and familiar. Yet, since Kate feels such a strong cultural tie to her motherland (and to the Canadian Maritime Provinces, specifically), it feels vaguely otherworldly at the same time… at least coming from my red meat Midwestern American sensibilities. The autobiographical strips take a whimsical turn with “Conversations with a Younger Self.” Here, Kate walks and talks with little girl who happens to be … well, you read the title. You should be able to figure it out, genius. The comics are a cute examination about the naive, starry-eyed idealism of youth and the cynical realities of being a struggling twenty-something. There’s just something hopelessly adorable about Mlle. Beaton’s depiction of Li’l Kate as a round, potato-shaped child.
But hey, I promised some New Yorker style inscrutability, and so far everything has been straight forward. Fortunately, Beaton indulges in a hobby that’s sure to make her a hit at parties: history. Some of these strips were inspired by reader suggestions. Others were products of Kate’s fertile mind. They cover a wide variety of subjects and historical figures. Some are familiar, such as Queen Elizabeth or Genghis Khan. But Jean Baptiste LaMarck? Madame De Pompadour? Hell, Tadeusz Kosciuszko? This might just be a case of the readers trying to stump the cartoonist with some wild, obscure suggestions. However, Kate Beaton is also probably the largest collection of Canadian history comics anywhere on the web …. and, trust me, this is all Kate. I couldn’t catch all the historical references, and my guess is that you won’t either. However, in the end it doesn’t matter if you can’t tell your eggs benedict from your Benedict Arnold. All you need to know is that Marcel DuChamps eats an egg with a shoe and the Queen totally has the hots for Benjamin D’Israeli. It’s the sort of complex, multi-level humor that makes both the rubes and the eggheads happy!
In all honesty, I have to say that Kate Beaton belongs in a fine publication like New Yorker, simply because they make me laugh more than any other comic currently featured in those pages. (The best the New Yorker can manage is a wry appreciation for the cleverness of the visual pun, followed by a “Hmmm… quite.”) However, I suspect that her work is too strongly Canadian to appear in a publication with a metropolitan East Coast flavor. Perhaps there’s a comparable magazine out there in the Maritimes? The Halifaxer, maybe?
Rating: 5 (out of 5 stars)
(Editor’s Note: Hey kids! Thanks for reading. Did you know that there’s an even newer review of Kate Beaton’s work on this site? It’s true! I was going to originally update all of these obsolete links, but I decided to just do a whole new review instead. You can continue the awesome Kate Beaton experience at The Webcomic Overlook #108: Hark! A Vagrant. — 2/18/2010)