Last Sunday, Hero Complex contributor Deborah Vankin wrote about Joyce Farmer and her 208-page illustrated family memoir “Special Exits.” Today we continue our look at female cartoonists, with Vankin’s snapshot portrait of Kate Beaton.
Canadian cartoonist Kate Beaton began uploading her Web comics — which are witty reinventions of literary and historical figures navigating modern times — to the Internet in 2007. “I just put them up so my friends could see them,” she says. “I wasn’t looking for a career in comics.” Today her website, “Hark! A Vagrant,” has an especially large, devoted fan base that includes more than 21,000 Twitter followers, and now she’s drawing cartoons for the New Yorker.
Beaton’s whimsical black-and-white drawings cover whatever’s on her mind that week — be it annoying hipsters, the steam-punk aesthetic or the pop-cultural infiltration of “Sex and the City.” Mostly, she employs iconic figures like Moses, Macbeth, Jane Austen or a young, flippant Charles Darwin to tell her stories through single-shot strips or a series of them, though she also dabbles in superhero reinventions, such as her domesticated Wolverine or her acerbic, jaded chain-smoking Wonder Woman. The result is a high-minded version of “The Far Side” that is at once of-the-moment and timeless.
Last month, Beaton, who now lives in New York, sparked a storm on Twitter and comic blogs after she tweeted about how female cartoonists are sometimes treated. “Dear Internet,” she wrote, “… when you tell a female creator you like her work so much you want to marry her and have her babies, you’re not doing anyone any favors.” Now, weeks later, Beaton refuses to comment on the situation, hoping the attention on her will shift back to her comics — which is true to her original point, that the focus of female cartoonists’ work should be on the work.
Despite the unpredictability of Web comics — “It’s such a new media [and] nobody knows where it’s gonna go next” — she’s making a living from it, she says. “It’s getting better, and I’m just rolling with it.”
– Deborah Vankin
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