Now I’m sure there were a lot of history buffs who read my XKCD review and said “Physics and math and linguistics are all well and good but what about history?” Good news! There’s this super lady in Canada. She draws a history comic called Hark! A Vagrant.
Of course being a comic, it’s not your dry 1789 this and Magna Carta that. There’s a lot of liberty taken with the characters that make up the history of the world. Like XKCD there are many instances I find my self curled up reading Kate Beaton’s comics with a copy of Wikipedia close at hand. A dying fire keeping me company and revealing the mysteries of the text.
It’s quite impressive the sheer amount of history with which Ms. Beaton is familiar. Everything from post Renaissance Europe to 20th century Canada and America. And she focuses heavily on Canada. She does do her best to make Canadian history interesting though, you have to give her credit. For example, many of my American compatriots may not know that our country apparently invaded Canada and burnt their capital during the war of 1812. Apparently the Mounties were having tea at the time. I kid! I kid! The Mounties were actually more like an efficient and law-abiding Wyatt Earp during Canada’s decidedly mild west of the 1870′s. Beaton says it was mild due to the Mounties. I say it was the cold. Who wants to have a duel at high noon in a foot of snow?
Of course all history aside, Beaton does have a tendency to get off on side tangents. Some of them are amusing, like when her childhood self mysteriously comes to visit her current self and they have all sorts of discussions about naivety and the dullness of adult hood. Oh yeah, there’s a significant amount of appearances by Beaton, but they usually come off quite well and really do not detract at all. Especially since there’s no over-arching plot, unless the continuous advancement of world history counts. But even then she jumps from Richard II to James Garfield to JFK in a matter of weeks so there’s no order to be concerned about.
The only tangents I have a problem with are the batches of comics. Beaton will throw up about six three to four panel comics every once in a while, none of which have anything to do with the other. This wouldn’t be such an issue except that I don’t have a doctorate in history, or anything for that matter. So for most of these shorties I need my copy of Wikipedia handy. Looking up the entire biography of Isambard Kingdom Brunel just for a two second joke about steampunk. It wouldn’t be so bad except there are six of them. I almost think it would be better if there were only one small comic on the page so I could indulge in one bit of history a week.
Other tangents are much more entertaining like Beaton’s obsession with Wonderwoman and Pope John Paul II.
I really love Beaton’s drawing style. Her dramatic slanted heads portray a significant amount of emotion. The clean pen and ink lines with a little chiaroscuro thrown in for effect creates a very eye pleasing comic. Beaton may bash her style but she has generated a significant following and recently published comics in the New Yorker, so she clearly knows what she’s doing.
She tries to update once a week, and I honestly can’t tell you which day and it may not be consistent. She doesn’t have a rss feed either, which is slightly annoying. But, if you want to learn a little history and laugh while doing so check out Hark! A vagrant. It’s good stuff.