Have you ever read Kate Beaton’s freakin’ hilarious comics? If not, you’re missing out on some of the best humor on the web (according to my vast and comprehensive survey).
Most of Beaton’s comics are riffs on historical events (with a liberal dose of fiction for humor’s sake) and they almost invariably hit just the right balance of visual and verbal humor mixed with wry references and allusions. Even when they’re not laugh-out-loud funny (which they often are), they’re still entertaining, because she has a clear understanding of how to use timing and character expressions.
Beaton’s style is deceptive in that it appears simple and even messy (sometimes very self-consciously so [scroll down]). But her characters always display a range of physical expression that I’ve rarely seen in other artist’s work. She doesn’t use an exquisitely controlled line or bold contrasts. Instead, Beaton relies on a skillful use of comics’ visual language of exaggeration and her own understanding of when to simplify an image to convey what’s necessary for the effect. When combined with the aforementioned writing and clear love of history, you get a rare mix of self-consciuosness and willingness to be earnest that rarely (if ever) hits the wrong note.
In addition to her historical comics and her “nonsense” comics (some of which also have historical bits), Beaton writes the occasional Conversation with a Younger Self, which are pretty much exactly what you’d expect. This kind of thing could easily become too twee, but she handles it well and uses her “potato-shaped” younger self to examine her own life as seen through the lens of her young beliefs and aspirations. Also, it’s way funny.
Originally, I’d planned to list a bunch of my favorite strips to give an overview of her highlights and general style, but realized that I’d chosen roughly 25+ comics to link. Instead, just visit her site and scroll through the collections (also, she doesn’t have strip-specific links on her site, as she’s currently looking for someone to help her build a better one). Her work is probably a more rarified taste than I think it is (because I enjoy it so much), but I believe there’s something in there for anyone who has even a passing interest in literature, humor, or history.
Now, seriously, someone fund a printed collection of this stuff. It’s pure gold and we need more of it… not more gold, more of Beaton’s comics. Gold is heavy.