The poet George Santayana famously said, "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it."
Such persons may also be condemned to miss out on the humor of cartoonist Kate Beaton, who has developed an internet following for her hyper-literate "Hark! A Vagrant" webcomics. This month's MySpace Dark Horse Presents features a new strip by Beaton starring that wacky father of evolution, Charles Darwin. CBR News caught up with Beaton to discuss the Dark Horse story and the appeal of history.
"The Origin of Man" celebrates Charles Darwin's 200th birthday by taking a humorous look at his early (and entirely fictitious) theories on our pre-human ancestors. Cartoons on Beaton's website have tackled other well-known (and lesser-known) historical figures such as Ben Franklin, Lord Nelson, Jean-Paul Marat, James Joyce, and the fun-loving literary trio of Lord Byron and Percy Bysshe and Mary Shelley.
"What appeals to me about these characters is a personal love of history (it's what I took in university), and a tendency to want to make comic strips with a sense of humor," Beaton told CBR. "What is appealing to everyone is that historical figures are almost all fair game, you can cut them down to size in any way, I mean, you can really wring the humor out of them and nobody is around to be offended about how you did it.
"An unintentional but lucky stroke for me is the fact that history is a subject many people have an invested interest in, making the topics I pick very relatable and familiar, depending on who is reading, and so whatever the joke is, it is much more satisfying to them."
Other strips include contemporary figures like Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper (alternately, Beaton's BFF/stalker in the comics), cute animals including a shetland pony, and, of course, Beaton's younger self.
Kate Beaton, like other MySpace Dark Horse Presents cartoonists including Sarah Oleksyk and Liz Greenfield, came to the publisher's attention at Portland's Stumptown Comics Festival, where she met editor Dave Land. "I was visiting with some friends, and he and the Dark Horse people were around because they had business with some of them," Beaton explained. "After the show, he checked out my work and liked it, so when this came up he asked if I would be interested."
Beaton's interest in comics started with newspaper strips. "I am from a very small town and there was no access to any other kind," she said. "After I graduated from university, I started to read some webcomics and some of the more well known comic novels and series--you know, a slow start."
From there, Beaton became Comics Editor at her university paper and contributed a few strips of her own. "Then I didn't [do comics] for a couple of years and returned to it when I launched the website in late 2007," she said. "I always drew, but I didn't always make comics."