It takes a steady hand to string together an intricately woven, deeply nuanced plot. The number of authors who can take a handful of seemingly contrived elements and produce an elegantly composed narrative admixture are few and rare. Plot-heavy literature, when it succeeds, is a wonder to behold; but in its failure, we find little to surprise us. So when I describe Kate Beaton's Hark A Vagrant!
as paean to complex plot structures and hail it as deviously devised, I hope you'll pay attention. The book is a marvel.
Of course some might blanch at seeing Beaton's book described as plot-driven, but those are simply people who have not yet grasped the book's primary aim, the goal to which it aspires and ably reaches. If Hark A Vagrant!
's single-minded storyline is to be described in succinct terms, here is probably the simplest explanation: Hark A Vagrant!
's plot is the story of how Kate Beaton made me laugh more than any author. Seriously.
I have been been known, when reading a funny book, to let out a single "Heh" at particular points when humour and mood collide to produce tangible joy in the microcosm of my soul. I'm no opponent of mirth by any means. It's just that my expression of comic release is rather reserved when it comes to reading. While I'll laugh heartily at some amusing circumstance or other while watching the ninety-third funny thing to grace YouTube this month, for some reason — that probably has to do with the auditory lack connected to the written word — my response to comedy in books is muted by comparison.[Poor Verne. He could write all the Poe fanfic he wanted,
but Poe would never ever understand.]
Kate Beaton, for whatever reason (I suspect witchcraft), has reversed the current on this count. She is a funny, funny author and the volume and duration of my audible response to Hark A Vagrant!
bears able witness to this truth. In fact, I am almost certain my wife was annoyed by the series of sustained chuckles, low guffaws, and outright laughs that from across the room continually interrupted her own reading of The Anti-Federalist Papers
. Or it could have just been that she was reading The Anti-Federalist Papers
. Regardless, the history I was reading was much more entertaining that the history my wife was reading.Hark A Vagrant!
presents a collection of historically- and literary-minded humour strips that run the range from dry witticism to baudy toiletries. Being a fan of both history and literature probably helps a reader appreciate the particular kind of crack that Beaton's cooking up, but there's a lot of low-hanging fruit as well. Some of my favourite bits were a series of strips in which Beaton takes covers of Nancy Drew
mysteries and extrapolates a scene or plotline based on those singular images. As well: there's a bunch of Canadian stuff I didn't get. Sorry Canada for knowing next to nothing about your history or culture (though I did recognize Louis Riel!). Beaton also does this wonderful thing where she'll add commentary to select strips, somehow further ennobling the experience (and sometimes actually educating or at least piquing curiosities).Hark A Vagrant!
is a rare work in that it shows what the newspaper comics page ideally could have become if it hadn't been overrun with uninspired and unfunny legacy comics for years and years and years. If Beaton makes you laugh only half as much as she made me laugh, Hark A Vagrant!
is still very much worth your time, money, and whatever effort you'll have to expend to click BUY
(or whatever online provider of bound paper wonders you prefer).
[Review courtesy of Good Ok Bad