Biography & Autobiography. Nonfiction. Before there was Kate Beaton, New York Times bestselling cartoonist of Hark! A Vagrant, there was Katie Beaton of the Cape Breton Beaton, specifically Mabou, a tight-knit seaside community where the lobster is as abundant as beaches, fiddles, and Gaelic folk songs. With the singular goal of paying off her student loans, Katie heads out west to take advantage of Alberta's oil rushâ??part of the long tradition of East Coasters who seek gainful employment elsewhere when they can't find it in the homeland they love so much. Katie encounters the harsh reality of life in the oil sands, where trauma is an everyday occurrence yet is never discussed. Beaton's natural cartooning prowess is on full display as she draws colossal machinery and mammoth vehicles set against a sublime Albertan backdrop of wildlife, northern lights, and boreal forest. Her first full length graphic narrative, Ducks: Two Years in the Oil Sands is an untold story of Canada: a country that prides itself on its egalitarian ethos and natural beauty while simultaneously exploiting both the riches of its land and the humanity of its peop
As a long time fan of Beaton's comics, I have been eagerly awaiting this memoir since it was announced. While the subject matter is often difficult and complex, Beaton's art is gorgeous with several two page spreads that brilliantly reflect the landscapes of Fort MacMurray camps. A brilliant piece of work that I highly recommend.
CW: sexual harassment, sexual assault
This graphic memoir details her two years spent there. It was not easy for Beaton or for the many thousands of other workers stationed there and being one of the few women, made it even more difficult. She was subjected to sexual harassment, in its many guises, along with the long, grinding hours. The book also looks at the environmental issues placed on the land, the wildlife and itâ€™s indigenous people by these monster oil companies. The writing and artwork are excellent and I highly recommend it. Warning- issues of sexual assault.
Beatonâ€™s graphic memoir is powerful, and so interesting. She depicts everything from the harsh reality of life in the oil sands where trauma is an everyday occurrence yet never discussed. For months, she lived in a small community where colossal machineries and machines were the only scenery. Her testimony as a woman worker in the Oil Sands is strong, deep and touching.
Kate Beaton was 22 years old when she took the decision to leave her family and cross Canada to find work. It is through the eyes of a young woman that the reader discovers that often unknown Canadian very isolated place, and the harsh work that are the Oil Sands. That Graphic Memoir is truly extraordinary and I really couldnâ€™t put it down.
a complex portrait of a place that seems to bring out the worst in people, but Katie's friends point out that women get raped in college all the time, too. So, yeah. It's a fast read, and will definitely leave you with some feelings to sift through.
Her work environment was overwhelmingly male (a ratio of 50 to 1), and she was subject to sexual harassment and violence. She was also subject to loneliness and isolation. She portrays her day-to-day work life and the way she felt. It's a gloomy book, really capturing both the atmosphere of the job and of her inner life. Despite the gloominess, her belief in herself and her determination shine through. I'm so glad she succeeded.
Beaton's graphic memoir of the two years in her early twenties when she worked in the oil sands in Alberta to pay down her student loans. I learned so much about Canada from this book, most of it sort of eye-opening. (I think a lot of USians have this notion that
This memoir, dealing with serious and sensitive issues is quite a departure from the author of the popular [Hark! A Vagrant] webcomics. But Beaton is a skilled storyteller and her account of those two years in Alberta is well-told and it will break your heart.
I read this soon after reading Ulli Lust's _This is the Last Day of the Rest of Your Life_, and her experience in especially Sicily echoed Beaton's, and is another example of the damage that the culture of sexual assault does to all genders. I also read an article in the January 2023 issue of Harper's about the rush to put solar farms on desert lands, and again, there were resonances between that and the background of the oil extraction in Beaton's book.
"This was also a time when discussion surrounding the mental health of workersâ€”especially itinerant male workers in a hypermasculine environment like the oil sands work campsâ€”barely existed. Camp life fosters a certain unique set of mental health challenges in an environment that is probably the least suited to contend with them. The boredom, isolation, loneliness, and depression add up for manyâ€”and for some, are too much to bear. Few resources existed on site, and in reality, they were nothing more than lip service. Instead, the industry prized itself on having millions of hours without lost time incidents while hiding away the human wreckage. Anecdotally, in researching this book, I rarely found this topic researched or reported on, and for an industry as large and far reaching as the oil sands, I found that very alarming."
"I am wary of the sensationalism of my narrative because it contains sexual violence. The sad fact is, however, that sexual assault of every kind is far too common everywhere to be sensational. This doesnâ€™t mean I am not deeply and negatively affected by it. I will always be affected by it. But I guarantee you that neither of the men who raped me consider what they did to be rape, if they consider it at all."
"â€¦ work camps are a uniquely capsuled-off society, a liminal space, and analogue for so many other male-dominated spaces. Gendered violence does happen when men outnumber women by as much as fifty to one, as they can in camps or worksites. Of course it does. Of course this happens when men are in isolation for long stretches of time, away from their families and relationships and communities, and completely resocialized in a camp and work environment like that of the oil sands. It does not matter how many decent people are there. I knew plenty of those.
This is all particularly and profoundly true for Indigenous women and girls in Canada, who are far more likely to the victims of sexual violence around places like remote work camps."
The other environmental hazards of the work camps she chronicles are the high use of alcohol and drugs by workers, motor vehicle accidents on icy roads, and the occasional suicide. For the natural environment itâ€™s the ducks of the title dying trapped in the toxic sludge in the wastewater ponds left over after hydraulic fracking.
Beatonâ€™s cartoon portraits of herself and her coworkers are stylized, but her one and two page spreads of landscapes and skyscapes of natural beauty like the northern lights and a rainbow over a work camp and the gritty detail of a working oil field are meticulously drawn in fine detail.
What she found was a ratio of 50:1 men to women and not much to keep the isolated workforce entertained but drugs and alcohol. Everyone was transient â€“ living in dorms or company provided housing while leaving their families back where they had originally lived.
She also found a testosterone-fueled culture in which male workers continually sexually harassed the few women â€“ and in the worst cases even assaulted them. Throughout it all, though, she continued to wonder if the men she knew in Nova Scotia or the university would act any differently, given the harsh conditions they worked under.
Gradually, she saw other costs of working there. The title comes from a flock of ducks that died on landing on a toxic pond. The landscape was stripped, and left more barren than it had begun, leaving it unlivable for the native Cree and other First Nations inhabitants.
Eventually she left the oil sands for a job in the beautiful city of Victoria, British Columbia. There she started her cartooning and graphic novel writing career which led to this beautifully drawn graphic memoir, rendered completely in shades of gray.
Although her memoir is the Canada Reads selection for 2023, it speaks to many issues in my own home area in the US. From the toxic Berkeley Pit in Butte, MT where extreme measures must be taken to keep wildfowl from landing there, to the male dominated fracking extraction industry of eastern Montana and the Dakotas, to the concerns of a new discovery of rare minerals on National Forest Land in the Bitterroot Valley where I live, her questions echo â€“ what are we willing to have destroyed in terms of both environment and people in order to enrich corporations and maintain our own lifestyles.
Ducks is personal, intimate, and also a necessary work on Canadian culture and history. Like many in rural Canada, Beaton had no choice but to leave because her Cape Breton to find a job after graduating college. Big cities were not her destination, though, but the oil fields of northern Alberta. She encounters an environment of colorful characters, and persistent harassment. Women are outnumbered 50 to 1, and what Beaton endures is horrific. Do be aware that rape happens, and it is handled without any graphic depictions. This isn't a book about those incidents and her recovery, though--it's a much bigger book than that. Her artwork is simple but eloquent, her depictions of people often whimsical. She shows the stark cold of Alberta and the oceanic and spiritual push-pull of her eastern home with deep emotion.
Simply put, this book is extraordinary.
Beaton barely touches on many matters that deserved
I lived in North Dakota at the very end of the oil rush there (The protests at Standing Rock were raging when I arrived) and talked to many people who had done their time in the Bakken, men and women, and there is a story to be told. Beaton has that story but focuses in hundreds and hundreds of frames on harmless or gross flirting of the 13 year old boy variety. Much of it appeared to be good natured teasing from men with 8th grade educations and families elsewhere and zero social skills. It is wrong and demeaning to women, but it is not a very important or compelling story. The story is that the company turned a blind eye, and that no one introduced training to help people do better. She gives about 3 pages to the impact of the oil fields on First Nations people, affords 3 or 4 frames to her rapes and perhaps another 1o throughout the book to the lasting impact of those assaults. It did not tell me the story I showed up to see. That might be my issue, but alas it is also my review.
Kate eventually started publishing comics as a coping mechanism, leading to the production of an autobiographical graphic novel. The goal of Ducks is to increase awareness, something Kate does flawlessly. The reader is continuously engaged with vivid imagery and topics often prompt further questions. Monochromatic illustrations convey the severity of the comprehensive trauma caused by the oil sands.
She encounters many maritimers working in towns and camps because the jobs back home have disappeared. She endures a lot of harassment, sexual assault, loneliness and witnesses the impact of substance abuse. She is able to withstand the negative workplace, make a few friends and withstand the 2 years it takes to achieve her goals. She points out in the Notes that this was in 2004-2005 before the prevalence of cells phones and the Internet which might have helped relieve her loneliness.