Step Aside, Pops from Drawn + Quarterly is Kate Beaton’s latest and greatest collection in her online comic Hark! A Vagrant. The nickname “the smartest comic on the web” is thrown around typically toward more science-related affairs, but there is no comic with such a wealth of literary and historical references as Beaton’s Hark! A Vagrant. It is a work that might best be enjoyed with a master’s degree, yet Beaton’s stylish art and engaging storytelling make the highbrow into something gut-busting. Step Aside, Pops comes with annotations from Beaton accompanying many of the strips. Her comments are vernacular and fun, and they include plenty of onomatopoeia and clever one-liners the reader can just hear muttered from the side of her mouth.
No corner of culture, whether modern or ancient, is safe from Beaton’s pen. In one series, Julius Caesar faces comic twists surrounding his assassination and the violent fallout. Caesar’s rejection of his wife Calpurnia’s warning from her dream leads him only to talk about his own haunting dream, wearing a robe made entirely out of hot dogs.
In other comics, classical musicians Chopin and Liszt try to out-self-worth each other in continuous references to enormous egos that would make for a great sitcom. Best of all is the series about writer and early civil rights leader Ida B. Wells, who sarcastically deals with nonsensical prejudices of the time. If a reader is unfamiliar with any obscure reference, such as the Irish American invasion of Canada in the nineteenth century as part of a scheme to liberate Ireland, Step Aside, Pops is a great introduction to the foibles of history.
Just like history, Beaton takes hilarious jabs at literature, such as Wuthering Heights and its overly passionate, basically insane characters, like mostly-feral Heathcliff. Comic books are a particular favorite, such as an overbearing Clark Kent who won’t stop hinting to Lois Lane that he has a secret, put-out Wonder Woman, and Spider-man if he had the powers of a not-too-amazing brown recluse spider. Throughout the collection, Beaton explores making twists on snippets from literary images, such as covers of books drawn by haunting artist Edward Gorey, old Nancy Drew books, and spooky old postcards. Each of these comes with a hilarious new take, such as Hadrian’s Memoirs announcing hopefully that people will remember him for more than just a wall.
In addition to history and literature, Step Aside, Pops also tackles numerous cultural tropes. Many of these are done in-comic, such as the racism that Wells struggled against, but others stand out on their own, such as the Straw Feminists haunting children with man-hating bitterness. The Strong Female Characters action-hero team blasts against common stereotypes such as cookie-baking, and yet they swiftly are shown as bad stereotypes in and of themselves in ridiculously tiny costumes and inexplicably falling for the “incredibly weak male lead.”
Whether finding new heroes like aviatress Katherine Sui Fun Cheung or giggling at the Founding Fathers as they explore a modern shopping mall, Step Aside, Pops is a must-read for anyone looking for smart humor as it gives the best of both.[amazon template=iframe image&asin=1770462082]