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Gosh! Best Of 2022

If you search the archives of Kate Beatons now defunct webcomic site Hark! a Vagrant you would find two significant Duck themed works; the birth of the meme AwYiss and a short series of profoundly personal recollections of her time working an oil mining site in Alberta. Almost a decade after those comics and fifteen years after the experiences themselves Beaton has released this Graphic Memoir portraying the complex realities of the work camps, the impact on her, her coworkers and the communities these workers are drawn from and create. The occasional kindnesses and too frequent cruelties in these clashes of environment, class and gender are rendered in grey toned cartooning that can reach for the tools and expressiveness of Beaton’s older works while showing a whole new mastery of scale, pacing and verisimilitude.

'An exceptionally beautiful book' Carmen Maria Machado, author of In the Dream House

Before there was Kate Beaton, New York Times bestselling cartoonist of Hark A Vagrant, there was Katie Beaton of the Cape Breton Beatons, a tight-knit seaside community. After university, Katie heads out west to take advantage of Alberta's oil rush, part of the long tradition of East Coast Canadians who seek gainful employment elsewhere when they can't find it in the homeland they love so much. With the singular goal of paying off her student loans, what the journey will actually cost Katie will be far more than she anticipates.

Arriving in Fort McMurray, Katie finds work in the lucrative camps owned and operated by the world's largest oil companies. As one of the few women among thousands of men, the culture shock is palpable. It does not hit home until she moves to a spartan, isolated worksite for higher pay. Katie encounters the harsh reality of life in the oil sands where trauma is an everyday occurrence yet never discussed. For young Katie, her wounds may never heal.

Beaton's natural cartooning prowess is on full display as she draws colossal machinery and mammoth vehicles set against a sublime Albertan backdrop of wildlife, Northern Lights, and Rocky Mountains. Her first full length graphic narrative, Ducks: Two Years in the Oil Sands is an untold story of Canada: a country that prides itself on its egalitarian ethos and natural beauty while simultaneously exploiting both the riches of its land and the humanity of its people.