Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Webcomics shoutout: Hey, have you guys heard about Kate Beaton?

Yes, yes, I know, everybody is always talking about Kate Beaton, and how great she is, and I completely agree. If any web-cartoonist deserves the acclaim, it's her. But what I want to talk about isn't her most visible stuff, the history/literature/whatever comics she "officially" posts on her website, but the more off-the-cuff, diary-style stuff she posts on Twitter. (EDIT: of course, when I go to her site, I see that the strip I'm talking about has been posted there too. Whoops.) That's one of the great advantages of our current information age, at least for art-process junkies like me: artists being able to share their napkin doodles, life drawings, sketchbook pages, and random nonsense with the world. Beaton's output at this sort of thing is unceasing, and now that she has scaled back the posting schedule of her regular work, it's one of the few places to see her new stuff on a regular basis. I love the way she captures interesting moments or scenes from her life, sometimes just transcribing scenes on paper before they disappear in the mists of time and memory, like this scene of an old woman crying at a bus stop:

And other times exaggerating events and turning them into running jokes, like this super-cute polite kid who she imagines going around doing good deeds:

But I especially love the strips in which she interacts with her family. The way she depicts her parents as slightly clueless and eccentric, but good at heart and full of love toward their children, it ends up being a beautiful reciprocation of that familial affection, a depiction of the willingness to accept those closest to you despite (or because of) their occasional weirdness and aggravating tendencies. This recent strip in which she remembers building a birdhouse with her dad is wonderful for all sorts of reasons (the body language, especially of present-day Kate climbing a tree; the dialogue that manages to relate a certain accent and cadence even if you haven't heard it spoken; the wide-eyed, open-mouthed cuteness of lil' Kate), but what really gets me is how the depiction of her dad in the flashback is so obviously the same character that I've come to know and love (which is weird to say, since he's a real person that I've never met, but I do love when he shows up in her comics), but at an earlier time in his life. In the present day, he's usually depicted with a sort of gruffness communicated through slouched shoulders, a bushy moustache, and opaque glasses that somehow also function as a furrowed brow:

But in the past, he's recognizably the same guy, just younger:

Without glasses, his face seems more open, his dotted eyes lifelike and active. His moustache is still there, but smaller and neater-trimmed. His hair seems darker and fuller. Even his body seems bulkier, a subtle way of showing how parents can seem so large when you're a child, but so small once you're grown. The whole thing is a marvel of subtle storytelling, a figure pulled probably unconsciously from Beaton's memory, but one that even complete strangers like me find familiar.

That's what I love about Beaton's work: it seems like she just has to get certain moments, stories, thoughts, and memories down on paper, even if they're not fully fleshed out, but she's good enough that she can capture so many details and nuances of her life and what happens around her without making a big deal about it or making it seem like it takes a lot of effort. She's a marvel, an ever-increasing talent and a cornerstone of the modern comics scene, and her apparent need to keep making art and sharing it with the world benefits us all.

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