Kate Beaton has a lot on her plate. Within the past eight months, she moved home to Mabou, Cape Breton from Toronto; received a prestigious Eisner award for her book Step Aside, Pops! A Hark! A Vagrant Collection; and decided to devote full-time work to a new graphic novel based on her experience working in the Albertan oil sands.
Beaton, 32, is certainly a national treasure. In just 10 years, she has gained an enormous fan base for her literary and historically based webcomic, Hark! A Vagrant, which has been collected into three published books. Her award-winning children’s book, The Princess and the Pony, also hit the stands last year. And her credentials extend well beyond this.
But these are not laurels to be rested on. For Beaton, her accomplishments mean demanding more of herself.
“Every move you make brings a success and a new set of problems,” she says. “If you get good at something, then you have to get good at something else.”
Having reached new heights in her career, Beaton sees now as the perfect opportunity to dive into her longstanding book idea, for which she received a grant from the Canada Council for the Arts: Recalling her time as a 21-year-old woman in Fort McMurray. “I wanted to be a good enough comic artist and storyteller to do a good job,” she says. “But, I also have to do it before I start forgetting everything, because it was 10 years ago.”
For Maritimers, heading west to make some hefty cash in a short amount of time is a familiar saga. That’s what Beaton did after receiving her Bachelor of Arts from Mount Allison University, feeling crippled by student debt. “We all know people who did those types of things,” says Beaton, who hopes the story will represent something bigger than just her own experience.
Throughout her career, which had her living in large cities like New York and Toronto, Beaton has made a point to not forget her past. This includes her time spent in Fort Mac, and also her Nova Scotian roots. This year, Beaton will be attending the Dartmouth Comic Arts Festival for the first time. Over the phone, Beaton emphasizes her huge appreciation for the local comic community. She remembers beaming with pride at the Eisner awards in San Diego last month, when Halifax’s Strange Adventures was one of the only comic stores thanked as a sponsor onscreen. It reminded her of the support she felt here when she was starting out in the biz.
“There’s so much positive attitude towards comics”—in Halifax—“in a way that I don’t always see everywhere else. And not to say that it’s better or anything… it’s just that Halifax has its own character.
“It’s this exuberant community of people who read and make comics—you can really feel it. I don’t know what’s in the water,” Beaton says, “but it’s a good place to be.”