Finding the Humor in History

The irreverent take on the giants of literature, science and politics could only have come from the brain of cartoonist Kate Beaton

In 2007, cartoonist Kate Beaton, pictured on the right in a self-portrait, launched her webcomic "Hark! A Vagrant," which features spoofs on historical and literary characters. (Courtesy of Kate Beaton,

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What is on the cover is like, “Here is what’s inside.” Be excited about this. There is no abstract stuff, because kids would be like who cares. There are people doing things and that is why you pick it up. You are like, I like the look of this one. Nancy looks like she is in a real pickle.

Have you ever felt that you went too far in your reinterpretation of history or literature?

Not really. I think I toe a safe line. I don’t really get hate mail. I respect the things that I poke fun at and hopefully that shows. Earlier on, I suppose I went for the more crude humor because you are just trying to figure out your own sense of humor and what your strengths are. It takes a long time to figure out comedy, to figure out what it is that you are capable of in it and what your particular voice is in humor and comedy.

Who do you find funny?

Oh, a lot of people. The same Tina Fey, Amy Poehler crowd that everybody seems to like nowadays. But I also really enjoy the old-style humor. Stephen Leacock is one of my favorites. He was a Canadian humorist around the turn of the century. And Dorothy Parker’s poems are so good and funny. It is hard to be funny. I like to take influences from all over the board. Visually, I have a lot of collections from Punch magazine and that type of stuff, where the visual gags are so good. I respect that level of cartooning.

When you do public readings of your comics, obviously, you are in control of how they are read, where the dramatic pauses are and everything. Do you ever worry about leaving that up to the readers?

You try to engineer it in a certain way. People are going to read it the way they do. My sister reads the end of the book as soon as she starts one. It drives me crazy. Why would you read the last chapter? She can’t stand waiting for the joke or waiting for the end. I try to construct my comics in a way that no one can do that. A joke hits them in the face before they can get to the end.


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