Hark! A Vagrant by Kate Beaton

Hark! A Vagrant by Kate Beaton

Kate Beaton's Hark! A Vagrant is like the funny pages for literature and history majors. Each strip is an exploration of a famous writer, characters from his works, or a notable person from history. Rather than treating these figures with reverence, Beaton usually takes them down a peg or two.

Her interpretation of Nancy Drew book covers is a good example of this. Beaton takes the quaint, hand-drawn covers of the girl detective's cases and turns Miss Drew into a real weirdo.

My favorite cover riff is one where Nancy and her friends are burying some money. "Put all the money in the ground—I don't trust the banks." Nancy squints her eyes in a grand display of paranoia. "I don't trust ANYONE." From there it gets...intense.

Another grand group of strips feature Inspector Javert from Les Miserables. The obsessed pursuer of Jean Valjean is inserted into a number of situations where his ruthlessness becomes ridiculous. The best of these "Javert is in the Wrong Musical" transplants him into Rent, attempting to collect money from mid-90's bohemians, but to no avail. Standing outside of the Life Cafe, he coldly demands, "Burn it down." 

I must say I was more taken with the literary strips than the historical ones. Beaton is from Nova Scotia, so a huge amount of her historical work deals in Canadian history. Still, there are silly takes on Marie Antoinette, Napoleon Bonaparte, and medieval courtly love.

The strips do contain some vulgarities and language, which is certainly an easy way to throw some mud on these lofty figures. I do prefer the ones that go for sheer silliness, though. One of Beaton's best strips is simply about how delightfully dumpy shetland ponies look. Read the book today, then check out Beaton's website for even more comics.