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.)