cover image Hark! A Vagrant

Hark! A Vagrant

Kate Beaton. Drawn & Quarterly, $19.95 (168p) ISBN 978-1-77046-060-7

Recent comics sensation Beaton probably, definitely, knows more about history and literature than the average reader, and this collection of her webcomic—mostly collections of three-panel gag—shows it. But while her comics are pungent with the aroma of authentic knowledge, they wear it lightly, with a jittery humor that’s surprisingly effective given the lashings of irony that Beaton layers on top. While she’s perfectly content to base her cartoon strips around lesser-known figures (criminal “masterminds” Burke and Hare, anyone?), most of her cartoons put people like the Brontë sisters or Jules Verne out there and wryly undercut them with mock pulp headlines and dishy asides. While the focus in Beaton’s rip-quick and squiggly drawings is getting a good joke out of, say, the death of French general Montcalm or playing to the world’s ignorance of even the most basic facets of Canadian history and culture, she also drops in some sharp literary criticism. If she had pushed her faux naïf outrageousness any further, Beaton might have ventured too far into Sarah Vowellesque flipness. But this is that rarest combination of literate irony and devastatingly funny humor—when was the last time you read a comic strip collection that not only has but needs an index? (Nov.)