Ducks: a Memoir Graphic Novel

By Sarah Smith, Adult Services

It’s been more than a year since I read Kate Beaton’s 2022 memoir “Ducks”, and I’m still thinking about it. It’s a powerful and thoughtful book that even readers who don’t usually read comics should consider.

I’ve been a fan of Beaton’s comics for most of my adult life. I first saw her adorable and irreverent comics about historical figures while I was stumbling from one temp job to the next and fumbling my way through romantic relationships in my 20s. Beaton’s lively and emotive line drawings brought a smile to my face during the stress of graduate school. This was back in the heyday of blogging, so occasionally she would share small essays or autobiographical comics, and I enjoyed seeing her view of her experience as a 20-something.

When I heard that she would be publishing an entire book about her post-college time working in the Canadian oil sands during the years when she was first publishing her webcomics, I was excited for a chance to, in a way, revisit my own youth. What I found in “Ducks” was something much more than nostalgia. This is an honest and heartfelt examination of the bargains we make both as individuals and as a larger society with our values and priorities, and how those choices come to define who we are. Her book made me cry.

Pages from the memoir graphic novel "Ducks: Two Years in the Oil Sands" by Kate Beaton.

The intensity of the ideas and experiences Beaton explores in this book is contrasted by her comparatively quiet storytelling. She allows the reader to experience her story along with her past self. This is a sensitive and thoughtful memoir about a difficult time period in anyone’s life: when you are learning how to be yourself in the world as an adult. That this growth is happening in such an extreme environment heightens everything.

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