Page 45 Review by Stephen
Inspired, iconoclastic and infused with a lot of lateral thinking, I rate Kate Beaton right up there with Tom Gauld (YOU'RE ALL JUST JEALOUS OF MY JETPACK) for culturally informed comedy.
Her first collection, HARK! A VAGRANT, had the funniest Jane Austen jokes ever whereas here it's Bronte time with Cathy and Heathcliffe brooding up the rooms at Blithering Heights so badly that they desperately need to open the windows. There's a panel where they're pawing each other's faces obsessively and another strip in which they're discovered at night and caught in lamplight, wide-eyed Heathcliffe looking both livid and feral:
"It's a lovely young lady.... And a large, angry squirrel."
Beaton manages to distil the much-loved novel to her own ridiculous core, reducing it to a comedic soup of unrestrained melodrama rendered in wilder, more ragged lines than usual.
The titles are often as funny as the strips themselves, as are the annotations. She takes highly regarded, even venerated figures from history and High Culture then pops any associated pomposity with a pin by making them behave not necessarily out of character (for there's often a key element of truth) but certainly... badly. You don't even need to know anything about the individuals beforehand. Kate sets up her own rules or references and takes it from there.
The opening rivalry between Chopin and Liszt is a perfect example, Beaton quickly establishing the difference in their music then translates it into their characters while uniting them in unbridled egomania.
Liszt's intensity and hair has him coming off like a cross between Michaels Heseltine and Foot. In 'The Later Years' Liszt mourns Chopin's passing and decides to pay tribute to his dearly beloved friend with a biography whose title 'Life of Chopin' is dwarfed by his own credit on the cover. And in 'For King And Country' after they initially concede each other's musical territory / sovereignty, Liszt simply can't help himself from adding a final jibe of sexual one-upmanship, bending down behind Chopin's piano and cupping his hand to one side of his mouth to mutter with naughty, knowing eyes, "I have also slept with a lot of Polish women though, just throwing that in there".
That's another element which characterises Beaton's comedy: the incongruous, the anachronistic, putting modern idioms like "Unrelated" and "Asking for a friend" in the mouths of historical figures like Julius Caesar or an English, sixteen-year-old soldier fighting the Hundred Years War:
"Those French guys were like, WHOAAAA. And my army was like EAT IT. Ka chow!!"
Zeus will appear later on putting his legendary, master-of-disguise, mad dating skillz into practice, there's an extended Janet Jackson 'Nasty' video joke, Spider-Man doesn't just exhibit the proportional powers of a spider but also its innate proclivities ("Ooh - a crevice!") while Louis Lane's traditional, fawning and far from feminist role is turned on its oh so wrong head. Instead of being portrayed as obsessed with a Superman she's too dim-witted to identify behind the spectacles of the reporter she works with every week day, she's infuriated by the egomaniacal lunatic's stalking which threatens to ruin her career.
I should have found you one of those strips, but instead here's a femme fatale who refuses to be pigeon-holed. See right if you're reading this in the product page, below if in our weekly reviews blog.