Step Aside, Pops proclaims the cover and its grrl, a 19th-century biker chick with her arms crossed, staring hard back at us. Yet Kate Beaton’s second collection of comic strips having fun with literature and history isn’t all that bold or brassy. Undergraduate humour (Beaton’s history and anthropology BA is usually noted in bios) shouldn’t mean undercooked or underwhelming. But there’s too much simplistic, Internet-era (Beaton’s strips come from her website) winking-ness and shrugging-ness here.
“Straw Feminists in the Closet” is, yep, two women popping out of a closet to hissssss daft anti-male generalizations at kids; it’s so broad it’s not even satire. Many strips generally riff off basic facts about a famous figure or book, like cartoon CliffsNotes, or toss in a crack about poop or dick-pics, or cheaply modernize a character (16-year-old Edward the Black Prince talks like a surfer dude). The black-humour reduction of native runner Tom Longboat, in one strip, to a boy racing “away from the residential school again” is cringing. Yet Beaton’s art is often strong—her faces can look so cocksure or crafty from one frame to the next.
It’s the chatty writing that fails, from its meh!ness and flip simplifications to the constant efforts (mash-ups, 21st-century slang) to be coolly relevant. Even Beaton’s occasional explanations—in small print at the bottom of a page—can be vague, cavalier and uninformative: “Kokoro is one of those books that maybe you have to read in a class … but somehow it gets under your skin and you can’t stop thinking about it … I guess they call them classics because they stick around like that.” Or: “satirical cartoons [once] came out depicting [female cyclists] as shocking and inappropriate, not knowing that in our time, we would look at those cartoons and think those women look AWESOME.” Uh-huh.
The jokes that do land are in-depth and thoughtful: a parody of the early Superman comics’ sexist formula sees the Man of Steel constantly stymieing Lois Lane’s efforts to be a career-woman reporter; the Napoleon complex gets its own meta-cartoon; “Peasant Comics” is a more visual, sharply paced strip. But these successes are few and far between; Step Aside, Pops just doesn’t stand out.
Step Aside, Pops
By Kate Beaton
Drawn & Quarterly, 168 pp,