McLeans spotlights cartoonist Kate Beaton

Courtesy of McLeans:

Making fun of Canadian history
A 25-year-old’s comics feature characters like John Diefenbaker and Margaret Trudeau

by Alexandra Shimo

Was Lester B. Pearson too nice to be prime minister? Was John Diefenbaker a mad, bug-eyed egotist? And was Pierre and Margaret Trudeau’s marital relationship a little like that of father and daughter? These are the sorts of questions 25-year-old Kate Beaton gently probes in her series of comics on Canadian history, which are unusual enough to have sparked the sort of praise most writers spend a lifetime cultivating.

Originally from Cape Breton, Beaton is a Toronto-based cartoonist who has fans ranging from award-winning graphic novelists to geeky comic nerds. In the little over a year she’s been doing the comics, her work has been talked about on the website Wonkette and in Bitch magazine; a reviewer for Wired magazine called Beaton’s the “funniest comic that I’ve read in awhile.” Recently Daily Show writer Sam Means approached her to illustrate a children’s book he is writing. About 10 other agents and publishers have asked her to write a book, but so far she’s refused. Still finding her feet, Beaton wants to find out more about the industry so she doesn’t get shortchanged. Also, since she hasn’t yet drawn enough to fill a book, she doesn’t want to become “overwhelmed.”

If you’ve seen a Beaton comic, it might have been on the comics pages of the National Post, or perhaps through a link to her website, www.katebeaton.com. Although she has thousands of Canadian fans, the readers of her website are mainly American. Their reactions to (for them) unknown, obscure figures such as Wilfrid Laurier range from bemusement to gratitude for an introduction to a culture and history outside their own. The otherness makes her “vaguely otherworldly,” says Seattle-based Larry Cruz, who writes reviews on the website, The Webcomic Overlook. Beaton’s work is “delightful, funny and endearing even if I have no idea what in the world this crazy Canuck is referencing.”

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