Awhile back I posted an entry about a list of Kate Beaton’s readers’ favorite webcomics that she had solicited for her webcomic/blog called Hark! A Vagrant, some of which I’ve written about so far this week. At the time I read the story myself I had not previously heard of Beaton, but now I’ve had time to learn a little bit about her, and I think her story is worth sharing.
After earning her degrees in history and anthropology, Beaton worked a series of jobs as she paid off her student loans. In this interview with the ComicsAlliance, she talks about a number of topics including how a suggestion from a friend started her on this career:
I was working, paying off my student loans in Alberta. I worked at a mine site there for two years. And in between I worked for a year at Fort McMurray, and then I worked for a year at a museum in Victoria, and then back to Fort McMurray. While I was in Victoria I met Emily Horne [of A Softer World]. She worked in the same museum I did…Emily had probably worked in the museum longer than I had. She saw me drawing, and asked if I made comics. And I said, “Yeah, comics for my friends.” She said that she had a website that turned out to be comics, and she encouraged me to put things online, so I did. Then I went back to Fort McMurray, and I finished paying off my loans, and making comics, while this thing sort of got bigger. And when I was done paying the loan I saved up some money, so I had something to fall back on, and I thought I’d try to make some comics for a living, see how that goes. Because I had done all this awful work in Northern Alberta to paying things off. But now it was my turn to try something I liked. And it just worked out, that’s all. I’m lucky.
She started emerging as a talent online and an audience soon began to follow. An interview with The Coast, a Halifax Newspaper, gives a good account of Beaton’s unique style:
Kate Beaton’s comic, Hark! A Vagrant, covers such topics as Sanford Fleming’s magnificent beard, Nikola Tesla’s celibacy and Napoleon Bonaparte’s tendency to eat all the cookies. You know. History.
“My comic could be called Prime Ministers, Generals and Some Other People,” Beaton says.
Beaton starts to hook you after awhile. She not only knows how to tell a story in this digital medium of still pictures and word balloons, she’s leveraged the “web” part of webcomics to allow her to draw strips she might not have otherwise. Also from that that ComicsAlliance interview
The nice thing is letting more people in on the joke, not excluding more people. I used to feel more comfortable doing things that were more obscure, because my audience was so small, but now it’s kind of big. If people have to wait a week or so for an update, I want them to be able to get it. My comic wouldn’t exist without Wikipedia. If you don’t get the joke, if you don’t know what it’s about, if you haven’t read the book, you can just open a new tab and go to Wikipedia, read that and then maybe appreciate it better.
In my opinion, Beaton is showing why webcomics work on a couple of levels. First, she’s not just another example of a creator who perhaps wouldn’t have been able to break through without using the web to reach her audience without the benefit of a syndicate group or publishing house (although that’s now changing; Beaton’s been offered some opportunities in more traditional media
) but she’s also using that new medium to both her benefit and her readers’.
I remember before the web was around I would occasionally read a story or joke where I didn’t get the reference. I’d ask friends or teachers and maybe be able to find out that single pertinent fact that had kept me from getting the joke. Maybe not though, and really didn’t put that much work into it. For Beaton’s work, the web not only has the potential for a more interactive and personal experience, it has the potential to be a deeper one as well. The readers who are viewing Beaton’s work are already online anyway. If they care enough to go read her work then it’s a simple matter for them to follow through on their own and make it a more interesting experience.
Enough deep thoughts. See you on Friday.