“Hark! A Vagrant, such as it is, is an archive website”
by BK Munn
Kate Beaton has officially drawn to a close her long-running webcomic Hark! A Vagrant, essentially writing the last sentence to a remarkable chapter in both her career and an era of comics-publishing, and bringing to conclusion one of the great comic strips of all time.
Beaton posted a note on the strip’s site, writing, “Hark! A Vagrant, such as it is, is an archive website now. I didn’t think it would be when I stepped away to work on other projects, but (not to kill the light mood around here) 2016-2018 were very difficult years in a personal sense, and emerging on the other side, I feel like this is a project that has run its course. I am so very grateful for all that this comic and my readers have given me, they have given me a career, joy, and more than I ever dreamed. “
Beaton adds that she is working on new projects, including a graphic novel and a children’s picture book, and plans another website and further humour strips, but that the format and name of the strip are essentially retired.
Beaton started the strip in 2007, after uploading some of her humourous doodles to various online forums to immediate positive response. She established the current website, harkavagrant.com, in 2008. It became a sensation almost right away, one of the bright lights of the webcomics revolution of the first decade of the 21st Century, and established Beaton as one of the emerging stars of a new generation of cartoonists whose reputation and careers were developed and supported almost entirely in the online world and by online audiences.
The strip is remarkable for its almost complete lack of recurring characters, being based on past events and characters from history and famous literary works. Each daily or semi-daily post posited one of Beaton’s characteristic quirky takes on Napoleon and Josephine or Sherlock Holmes, with humour derived from her anachronistic insertion of modern dialogue and colloquialisms. Despite their antique focus, the strips captured a very modern sensibility, recasting historical figures as, variously, feminist icons, angsty millennials, clueless but adorable dorks, or hunky pinups. The strips, drawn in a deceivingly simple, sketchy style, were exceedingly shareable, and Beaton’s gift for hilarious dialogue and condensation made the work a meme-generating machine.
Beaton parlayed the strip’s popularity into merchandise sales and a career in the print world, starting with one self-published pamphlet (Never Learn Anything From History, 2009) and followed by two bestselling hardcover collections published by Drawn and Quarterly, Hark! A Vagrant (2011) and Step Aside, Pops (2015). Other projects like two well-received children’s books, meant Beaton had less and less time for her webcomic, which over the years had been updated more and more infrequently. Beaton also shares newer, more personal work through Tumblr and on her Twitter account. These comic strips, notably a series dealing with her experiences working in a remote mining worksite (“Ducks” 2014) and her recent emotionally wrenching reactions to her sister’s battle with cancer, have tended to overshadow the historical humour strips she first became known for.