Kate Beaton is one of my favorite graphic novel authors and illustrators. Her latest, Ducks: Two Years in the Oil Sands, was an eye-opening graphic memoir about her time working as part of Alberta’s oil rush.
Kate Beaton grew up as Katie Beaton in Mabou, Cape Breton, a tiny tight-knit seaside community in Canada. After she finished university, Katie was at a loss of what to do. Having moved back home, Katie’s immediate concern was her mounting student loan debt. Desperate to pay it off as soon as she could, she decided to head west and spend time working in the oil sands with the goal of paying off her debt as quickly as possible.
Once she arrived in Fort McMurray, Katie finds work in one of the camps that is owned and operated by the world’s largest oil companies. A culture shock she didn’t expect was being one of only a few women working amongst thousands of men. When Katie moves to a more isolated worksite for higher pay, her actions really hit home. Some of the men’s attitudes put her on edge. She is constantly on alert, seeking friends where she can find them. Sadly the harsh reality of life in the oil sands pushes into her day-to-day life when she experiences trauma that she discovers occurs everyday, but is seldom and/or never discussed.
I have been a long-time fan of Kate Beaton’s artistic style. It has only seemed to mature in Ducks. There are certain pages where Beaton draws the massive machinery and vehicles used at the oil sands up against the barren backdrop of the Rocky Mountains and the Northern Lights that articulated the juxtaposition of exploitation and natural beauty expertly. Highly recommend Beaton’s latest work.
Side-note: if you’re like me and you have trouble getting through nonfiction, I highly recommend you try graphic novels! The visual format makes it easier for me to focus on nonfiction. (This also works when I want to read a classic.)
Coping with grief is hard and never-ending. As a librarian, I am constantly on the lookout for books that discuss the topic of grief in a new way. Enter author and illustrator Tyler Feder. She has written Dancing at the Pity Party: A Dead Mom Graphic Memoir, what Feder describes as ‘sad but also silly and weird, just like loss’. Feder’s illustrations are soft, gentle, and simple which serve as the perfect accompaniment to her heartbreaking subject matter. This book is part cancer memoir telling the story of Feder’s mom’s death and part reflection on her motherless life. Feder gives readers a glimpse into a devastating time into her life, while also being humorous. She makes note several times throughout that this memoir is for the people who are struggling with loss who just want someone to understand and get what they are going through.
Tyler Feder loves her mom Rhonda. That has never been in doubt. As the oldest daughter, Tyler made Rhonda a mom and shared a special bond with her. No one loved more in Tyler’s life than her mom, all be it a bit blunt but full of joy. It’s hard to distill such a large personality to a single memoir, but Tyler pays devoted homage to her by weaving poignant yet piercing details throughout.
When Tyler was 19 years old, her mom died of cancer. This memoir covers everything from her first oncology appointment to the different stages of cancer to the funeral. Feder then goes a step further to show her family sitting shiva and how they adjust to the new afterward without their mother and wife in the ten years after. The art in this book is gorgeous and seeing Tyler show her love and heartbreak through her work tore at my heart as I read this book. This graphic memoir also felt like a self-help book as reading Tyler’s journey somewhat mirrored my own travels through grief. You see Feder’s grief fresh after her mother’s death as well as how she is working through it ten years later. Highly recommend this graphic memoir to anyone who is looking for a new read.
This book is also available in the following format: