Cartooning is a tradition that gets sidelined quite often. We forget how much joy there can be in a Calvin and Hobbes, Peanuts, or Garfield strip and when we look at the canon of great comics, graphic novels tend to get pushed up to the fore instead of these short, swift pieces. That’s a shame, because there’s so much joy to be had in these strips. The tradition of comic strips has fallen by the wayside in mainstream publishing to a degree, and so, like all things, the internet has taken over. Webcomics, for over a decade now, have been the new newspaper strip, with numerous creators and characters seeing publishing success off the back of a popular website – from Scary-Go-Round to Axe Cop.
Kate Beaton has always been one of the best. Her blog, Hark! A Vagrant! is consistently hilarious, combining literary and historical sensibilities with irreverent humour. Her first collection (named after the blog itself) proved that this kind of work could still find a mainstream audience, and this latest collection, wonderfully titled Step Aside, Pops, proves that she’s at the top of her game.
Step Aside, Pops collects several comics from Beaton’s blog, as well as a few pieces published elsewhere (including the brilliant Spider-Man comic she wrote for Marvel’s Strange Tales series). Covering everything from Wonder Woman, The Secret Garden, Alexander Pushkin, and even an extended riff on Wuthering Heights (“Children, would you like the present I brought back from the city? It’s not what you asked for at all! It’s an angry boy I picked up in a gutter.”) Beaton blends smartly observed humour with a reverence for source materials. There really isn’t a single strip in this book that won’t get a laugh.
At times, the book can feel a little scattershot. This is, after all, a compilation of several comics from her website, and although they are vaguely linked by history and the literary canon, there is no underlying theme. This is essentially the best of Kate Beaton, which is no criticism. Talking about the book, Beaton says, “In the end, I just try to come up with something funny. Hopefully we are on the same page.” We definitely are.
Any cop? Oh yeah, call Step Aside, Pops a genius wit railing against the tropes of literature, a brilliantly skewed look at history, or even a sharply funny feminist comic strip; no matter how you come to this, you’ll fall a little bit in love with it.