I Wanna Be Literated #266

I Wanna Be Literated #266

Monday, 26 June 2023

Ducks: Two Years in the Oil Sands
by Kate Beaton

Like many, I was completely smitten by Kate Beaton after being exposed to Hark! A Vagrant. Like many, I was also very intrigued by whatever project she had been working on since moving back to Nova Scotia and starting a family (what’s she building up there?). The answer is putting the finishing touches on Ducks: an autobiographical graphic novel about Beaton’s two years working in the oil sands of Canada.

The title of the theme is deceptive, not just because it’s not about Ducks (a title chosen to represent an incident which put the Alberta oil sands on the radar), but because this book is about much more. I know that sounds like a cliché, but it’s important to mention that even when we try to focus on specific events in our lives, they often play concurrently with other things. Ducks is about Beaton’s time working the administration for several oil extraction contractors (did I get that right?) and all that comes with it: the isolation, the boredom, the redundancy, the silver linings, and the dangers, both physical and mental. Beaton endures a lot through these two years and it’s all motivated by her desire to pay off her student debt. Through it all, we meet some of the more impactful and colorful people in her life (sometimes we meet too many to keep straight) and as one would imagine, some very familiar and absurd office dynamics surface through it all. The whole experience is so foreign yet oddly familiar (and beautifully illustrated) that the reader can’t help but be completely absorbed in the events of this book. We even get to see the beginnings of Hark! A Vagrant.

Yet, Ducks wasn’t a home run for me because it just seems so unfocused at times. It’s about student debt and the lengths we’re willing to go to get out of it. It’s about feeling lost and the dangers of isolation. It’s about questioning who we really are. It’s about trauma. But it’s also about environmentalism (sort of) and about native land (sort of again, as it pops up out of nowhere at the very end of this book then quickly goes away). I’m fine with all these themes, but they either don’t get explored enough or don’t really seem to fit with the story she’s trying to tell.

Ducks is a good book. Of course it is because it’s a Kate Beaton book and her comics are better than 90% of the stuff that’s out there. It’s very relatable and teaches us about real life experiences. It just doesn’t seem to have a beginning or an end. Just a snapshot of a bigger picture we want to see.

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