This is the true story of how I first learned about Kate Beaton.
Many years ago at the Toronto Comic Arts Festival (the nation’s best comics show) I was standing in the Metro Reference Library during the set-up period. Chris Butcher, the grand pooh-bah of the show and one of the smartest people in comics, was explaining to me how they arrange guests in the ballroom to minimize traffic flow problems. You can’t put two “big names” side-by-side, for example, or their lines for book signings become too long and choke the flow of people in and out of the room. So you need to space them out, and Chris was showing me where those people were going to be. Smart man, as I say.
As he ran down the list of celebrities he said the name “Kate Beaton” and I said “Wait, wait, she’s not a big name”. This was before she had signed with Drawn and Quarterly, and when she was known almost exclusively as a web comics artist. Chris looked at me with pity, because he had just realized that I know nothing about comics at all. “Do you know anything about web comics?,” he asked me.
Suffice to say, the next day I was standing in the same spot, surveying the madness that is the TCAF crowd on a Saturday and Kate Beaton had a line of fans that stretched forever. Chris wandered up behind me and just casually said “Not a big name, eh?”. I started reading Beaton's Hark! A Vagrant online the very next day.
Step Aside, Pops is the second Hark! A Vagrant collection from Drawn and Quarterly. Though it was published in 2015 I hadn’t read it yet, and just came across my copy of it while cleaning up. On the other hand, I had read it already insofar as I had seen all of the strips as they were serialized on her website. Indeed, you can still find most (all?) of them online for free, which sort of begs the question: why did I buy this book?
This probably gets right to the heart of the “book” issue in reading 150 Canadian books this year. There is something about that hardbound object that makes it more interesting than reading 150 Canadian twitter feeds. The truth of the matter is that, personally, I don't much enjoy reading comics on the web (although I do enjoy reading comic books on my iPad, I contain multitudes), so I a much, much more likely to re-read Beaton's work after pulling it from my bookshelf than by going to her mostly dormant at the moment website.
That said, you should definitely read Beaton’s Twitter feed, especially around Christmas. Some of her funniest material are the autobiographical comics that she produces about trips to visit her family and none of that material is in these books. I would say that I hope someday they’re collected, but, of course, you can already find them on her Tumblr page. Old habits, and so on.
In the interests of disclosure, I’ll say that I’ve met Kate Beaton a couple of times but she probably doesn’t remember me. The last time I spoke to her was at a TCAF event where she and Lynn Johnston (of For Better or For Worse fame) were the opening evening speakers. It was a great event, with the two wryly contrasting the generational differences of a daily newspaper strip and a webcomic. When I had the chance to meet Beaton that evening I told her that I thought Ducks, her long-form comic about living in Fort McMurray, was the best thing that she’d done. She’s currently working on a graphic novel based on that material. It’s going to be great.
One thing about Canada I learned from this book is: That the Fenian raids of the 1860s and 1870s was a plan that had a lot of holes in it