Two Years in the Oil Sands
by Kate Beaton
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Pub Date 13 Sep 2022 | Archive Date 13 Sep 2022
Drawn & Quarterly, Drawn and Quarterly
“An exceptionally beautiful book about loneliness, labor, and survival.“—Carmen Maria Machado
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 rush—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 people.
“An exceptionally beautiful book about loneliness, labor, and survival. Beaton is a thoughtful guide through a complex landscape of class and gender, and these pages ache with grief and grace.”—Carmen Maria Machado, author of In the Dream House
“A masterpiece, a heartbreak, a nightlight shining in the dark.”—Patricia Lockwood, author of No One Is Talking About This
“Ducks is both a coming-of-age narrative and a skillful, subtle commentary on class, misogyny, and the human costs of environmental extraction. From the oil fields to the hallways of worker housing, Kate Beaton’s comics are rich with quiet revelations, intimate details, and a deadpan, devastating sense of humor. A generous and illuminating book; I suspect it will stay on my mind for a very long time.”—Anna Wiener, author of Uncanny Valley
“In Ducks, Kate Beaton doesn’t tell us how capitalism extracts, exploits, commodifies, and alienates. Nor does she show us. She recreates life in an oil sands mining operation in granular detail and allows us to make the connections ourselves—as she had to when she showed up to work there at age twenty-one. The effect is devastating. Despite the brutal toll Beaton suffered personally, she has woven from her experience a vast and complex tapestry that captures the humanity of people doing a kind of “dirty work” in which we are all complicit, and it shimmers with grace.”—Alison Bechdel, author of Fun Home
“Ducks is an unforgettable, riveting work. Kate Beaton opens the mind’s eye, allowing us to inhabit landscapes and experiences crucial to our time, yet largely unseen. Artful, considered and courageous, Ducks is a landmark work."—Madeleine Thien, author of the Giller and Governor General’s Literary Award-winning Do Not Say We Have Nothing
“Ducks delivers an immersive, harrowing journey through an industry where the lure of fast money belies darker realities of casual brutality, profound loneliness and soul-cracking isolation. The uneasy echoes of Beaton’s story ring well past the the final page. Shattering.”—Jessica Bruder, author of Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century
“Katie Beaton’s graphic memoir about working in the oil sands of Alberta shares an experience that feels both alien and universal, desperate and yet somehow hopeful. Frame by frame, it weaves together a complex tale about capitalism, environmental degradation, misogyny, sexual assault, indigenous rights, and the lengths that some people have to go to for a fighting chance at a good life. Honest, compassionate, and clear-eyed, Ducks is a stunning achievement in storytelling that I will be thinking about for a long time.”—Jung Yun, author of O Beautiful
“Fans of Kate Beaton's online comic series Hark! A Vagrant already know she has a brilliant, odd-angled wit and a deft touch with telling detail. In Ducks, she reveals that she also has a novelist's skill with pacing, character and tone. Beaton's graphic memoir of her time working in the oil patch is a vital and revelatory Canadian story, vividly told. The staggering scope of the industry and its notoriously harsh impact on the landscape of northern Alberta provide a loud, lurid backdrop. But this is fundamentally a deeply personal story, and Beaton unveils her experiences in this tough and relentlessly misogynistic work environment with a fair but unflinching eye, telling hard truths about the very mixed blessings of living and working in a boomtown.”—Chris Turner, author of The Patch: The People, Pipelines, and Politics of the Oil Sands
Available on NetGalley
Average rating from 40 members
This is a stark, epic graphic memoir, and while it was hard to read at times and took me longer to get through than a graphic novel typically would, it was certainly more than worth it. It deals with so much, from the obvious issues of poverty and trauma to environmental degradation and the casual (and concerted) ways that societies perpetuate harms of all kinds. It's not all bleak, though it's certainly much less humorous than Beaton's earlier works.
Wow. I wasn't expecting a light read based simply on the fact that it's set in the Oil Sands, but it still was a gut punch. Living in Wyoming, with its boom and bust economy based heavily on energy resources, I felt a connection to the story even though I've never worked in the field. There's one scene in particular when an Alberta resident gets mad at the transplants who were trash talking the area that really resonated. This book addresses many serious issues, but there are moments of humor.
This is a must purchase for public libraries.
An eye opening look into the lives of the people who work in the oil sands of Canada who work to ensure we all have access to the resource. This memoir shines a light on an area of work we do not know much about.
This graphic novel is a memoir about the years the author spent in the oil sands in Canada. She bounces from place to place, trying to make enough money to pay off her student loans. What she finds is friendship, loneliness, and much more than she bargained for.
I won’t say too much more, with respect to the author's note at the end of the book. However, I thought the art was excellent, and the emotions that the character was experiencing were portrayed very well. Some of this was more intense than I was expecting, but I thought it was excellent.
I was given an advanced reader's copy via NetGalley. All thoughts and opinions are my own
Thank you to NetGalley for providing me with an ARC of this book.
To preface this, I don't think I've read a book that so deeply resonated with me in a very long time. I had to put the book down at certain points and just cry because I've experienced many of the things Beaton discussed in Ducks, which I’ll touch on below. This is a harrowing but important read for everyone, as the book discusses many experiences working class families go through in North America.
Ducks is a memoir that only covers roughly 3 years of Kate Beaton's life. The first year is her starting out in the oil sands, the second year (or more like half a year) is a break she had in British Columbia working at a museum, and the third year is her remaining time in the oil sands. I became a fan of Kate Beaton in high school when my then-boyfriend and I shared her history-related webcomics with each other, and I later went back and read her entire bibliography in grad school. These books are much different from this one, so I was surprised by the different tone of Ducks. For example, Beaton tends to be more private about her personal life, so I had no idea she came from the same background as me, namely a working class Catholic family in a stupid-cold region where jobs are disappearing. I always assumed from her writing she was from an upper middle class family located somewhere like Toronto or Vancouver. I don't feel like this difference in tone was a bad thing, though. I enjoyed seeing Beaton's range as an author, and was impressed she could go from humorous 4 panel comics to a full-length graphic memoir. Additionally, I appreciated her candor about her life, as it put her previous work in a new light and made me appreciate it more.
There were many other parallels I had with Beaton's life, such as going into college and getting a 'useless' degree then having to figure out a way to make it lucrative (in my case 'classics' then getting a master's in library science). However, the parallel I kept going back to is how the men who work at those camps come from everyday backgrounds, and the camp creates a harmful environment that messes with them and their families. I honestly believe this is an issue that applies to many working class jobs. My father is an automotive worker and he worked afternoons for a few years in my childhood. This meant I only saw him on Saturdays and Sundays. The experience of being separated from his family for such long stretches of time took such a toll on his mental health he eventually took a pay cut to get back on days. Additionally, his relationship with my brother and I was permanently damaged, as he missed many important childhood milestones. I thought about this a lot in regards to the men in the oil sands, who often went even longer without seeing their families.
The main thing I took away from this book is that a lot more people than you think are ducks. I think everyone should read this book, especially if you wonder why people work jobs that are deemed harmful to society, the environment, etc. and the desperation that led them to it.
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Edited by Hillary Chute
Erika T. Wurth