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Best Webcomic Collection of 2009: Never Learn Anything From History

The Best of 2009 continues, with our favorite webcomic print collection of the year: Never Learn Anything from History,” by Kate Beaton.

Until you have found yourself standing among a mass of people jamming up a pedestrian artery eight feet wide, with women clutching sketchbooks and talking excitedly about whether they’re going to pay good money for a drawing of Oliver Cromwell or Nebuchadnezzar, you may not fully appreciate the power of Kate Beaton. I know I didn’t, and I’ve counted myself as a huge fan of her work since I first read it online over two years ago. But it took the mosh pit that grew up around her table at SPX this past year for me to realize just how much people love Beaton’s comics. THEY LOVE THEM SO MUCH. And I mean, come on, it’s pretty easy to see why.

The majority of Beaton’s comics are two-tiered single strips recasting an historical person or event into Beaton’s own absurdist humorous interpretation. French King George IV worries about the sexiness of the American President in the early 19th century; Genghis Khan explains misconceptions about his reign while posing with a 20th century tourist; Thucydides busts in on Herodotus to call him the Father of Lies to his face; and, of course, Napoleon gorges himself on cookies. Beaton combines a wealth of historical knowledge with a casual disregard for most of that knowledge in favor of great jokes, and the result is generally tear-inducing laughter.

Beaton is a phenomenon. Her webcomics were making best-of-year lists last year before she had anything in print, or even a regular web publishing schedule or strategy. Her deceptively simple linework that nevertheless shows strong understanding of body language and facial expressions, her particular and delightful dialogue rhythms, and her inescapably sharp comic timing all combine to form an online comic with a unique voice that rivals only “Achewood” in how excited I get when I see a new, unread entry in my RSS feeds.

Judging from the fervent desire evident in the faces of every member of the SPX throng — and I was among them, as determined as any — Beaton’s first book collection was not just a heavily anticipated item, but a physical manifestation of joy that was so sorely needed it HAD to be made to exist. Those with a love for Kate Beaton’s work had to be able to hold it in their hands, so as to reassure themselves that it wasn’t going anywhere. This wasn’t just the best webcomic collection of the year, it was the most necessary element for life as we know it to continue. Period. Look it up, it’s an historical fact.

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