Ducks: Two Years In The Oil Sands

By Kate Beaton

Publisher: Jonathan Cape

ISBN: 9781787330139

Well, I wasn’t expecting this. I’ve written about Kate Beaton’s work before, and she is a witty, incisive and talented cartoonist. 

If they’re not already, her cartoon collections should be on your bookshelves. This new book, however, is something completely different to what’s come before.

Ducks is the story of what Kate did after university. Loaded down with student debt (a different system to the UK) she realises she can only have the future she wants if she pays off the loan quickly. There’s nothing in coastal Cape Breton, Canada, so it means moving across country to the vast oil sands of Alberta. The pay is excellent, but that, it turns out, is the only good thing about it.

For all workers, it’s a strange existence. There’s little to do in your free time (with your large pay packets) and the winter months are bitterly cold. Men massively outnumber women on site, and so the women that are there are subject to never-ending attention. 

For Kate, this comes as a shock, but it hides a much deeper problem.

Kate already has a proven track record for finding humour in her subject matter, which is still on display here, but she can also find the pathos, too. Skillfully contrasting the two, this is a strikingly honest work that envelops the reader in the loneliness and despair of this unforgiving work environment. 

Kate’s ability to address some quite shocking scenarios had me talking out loud to the page, like a football fan shouting at the TV. I don’t ever recall being so moved by a book as to do that, such is the power of her narrative.

For me, personally, this goes straight into my top ten favourite graphic novels of all time. It’s a hauntingly sincere depiction of a harsh and dangerous place, told with a brutal honesty as it examines the casual willingness to exploit. 

Ducks is both heart-warming and heart-breaking, and you should read it.

And if you liked that: Get a copy of Kate Beaton’s wonderful Hark A Vagrant! and Step Aside Pops, if you’ve not already done so.

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  1. Je Ne Sais Quoi - The Cartoonists' Club of Great Britain - November 19, 2022

    […] And if you liked that: For a very different tale of a young woman’s change of circumstances, read the amazing book, Ducks. […]

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