Kate Beaton’s cartoons have humor for the ages

Dec. 05, 2010 | 9:36 a.m.

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.

beaton4 Kate Beatons cartoons have humor for the ages

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.

beaton Kate Beatons cartoons have humor for the ages

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.

beaton1 Kate Beatons cartoons have humor for the ages

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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5 Responses to Kate Beaton’s cartoons have humor for the ages

  1. Estara says:

    Kate Beaton, FTW! I'm not surprised her common sense but resigned comment, made by a good looking woman, made male comic fans go mental.
    Also, I don't think the main intention is to show historical figures living in modern times, but to illustrate and raise interest in how various historic people might have been in their own time (just slightly off). And you can always dig deeper, if you don't know one of her historical people (for instance, a lot of the Canadian ones).

  2. AmbroseKalifornia says:


  3. Jack says:

    Kate is so awesome, I want to marry her.

  4. Colleen says:

    I adore Kate's work – I am frequently reduced to weeping spasms of laughter by the contemporary-style dialog she gives to "revered" figures, both historical and literary. It's probably very immature of me, but seeing venerated Greek scientists squabble like teenagers (and occasionally curse like them too) is hilarious. Go Kate, your fans LOVE what you do.

  5. Nafalco says:

    I'm not sure I get it. I know that Tesla was a whiz bang, underrated scientist of sorts (eclipsed, some say unhappily, by Edison), but the celibacy thing is new. And unfunny.

    Clearly the woman has avid fans; this is OK stuff.

    But I'll stick with the syndicated "Pearls."

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