Hark, A Vagrant: A Gateway to History and the Literary Canon

Many people do not enjoy reading history or literature. The web comic Hark, A Vagrant by Kate Beaton, however,  includes hundreds of comic strips, pages, and drawings featuring historical and literary figures. The website that houses the comics allows a visitor to choose comics by category, or the visitor can choose to view comics at random. This is an interesting feature because, although the comics feature diverse characters such as Jay Gatsby, Nietzche, and Jane Austen, it illustrates the commonality between the comics: each character is relatable to the modern reader. Using pencil and pen, Kate Beaton draws these figures in funny yet contextually accurate situations, with funny faces and reactions, as well as modern speech to make them approachable to any reader, whether or not the reader enjoys history or literature.

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This comic is a great example of the accessibility of Beaton’s work; it provides two benefits for the reader. First, it engages the reader in a way that isn’t intimidating while still relaying basic historical facts. Second, the author’s use of plain English overcomes a barrier that readers sometimes face when confronted with dense or anachronistic primary texts. In this example, Tadeusz Kosciouszko is not a well known figure from the American Revolution; in fact, before I read this comic, I had never heard of him. However, after I read this comic, I looked him up, and Kosciouszko was a pretty amazing person. Likewise, Beaton’s literary comics introduce her readers to the literary canon:

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Her comics about great works of literature work as a gateway to the basic plot-line or framework of a story, which can pique a reader’s interest and make him or her want to read the full work.

Beaton’s simplistically drawn web comics are not only fun, but she also makes difficult or dense texts accessible to the modern reader. She does this in a way that demonstrates that history, whether world, American, or literary, is still relevant today.

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