A fascinating, harrowing, unforgettable book about a place few outsiders can comprehend.

An ambitiously complex graphic narrative of a Nova Scotian woman’s experience working in the oil sands of Fort McMurray, Alberta.

Known primarily as the creator of the web-based comic series “Hark! A Vagrant,” Beaton moves to memoir with this examination of the two years she spent working in the oil sands to pay off her student loans. The author begins with an introduction to her home in Cape Breton, where the people have “a deep love for home, and the knowledge of how frequently they will have to leave it to find work somewhere else. This push and pull defines us. It’s all over our music, our literature, our art, and our understanding of our place in the world.” On the surface, the book is a chronicle of the three years following the author’s college graduation (she also spent a year working at the Maritime Museum of British Columbia), but Beaton captures much more than her personal story. She delves deep into the milieu of Fort McMurray, highlighting the complex relationships among the work camps, the oil companies, and the people living and working there. As the author recounts her time through several jobs, companies, and locations, she alternates the narration between the daily grind of the workers and the vistas of startling beauty surrounding them. She introduces each section by location and includes a list of the characters by job and home province, and she is careful to incorporate issues related to the local Indigenous peoples. After all, she writes, “the oil sands operate on stolen land.” Beaton captures numerous poignant, sometimes heartbreaking moments throughout the book, but the cumulative effect of her many stories is even more impressive. She creates an indelible portrait of environmental degradation, fraught interpersonal relationships among a workforce largely disconnected from home, and greedy corporations that seem only vaguely aware of the difficult work’s effect on their employees.

A fascinating, harrowing, unforgettable book about a place few outsiders can comprehend.

Pub Date: Sept. 13, 2022

ISBN: 978-1-77046-289-2

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Drawn & Quarterly

Review Posted Online: May 24, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2022


An accessible, informative journey through complex issues during turbulent times.

Immersion journalism in the form of a graphic narrative following a Syrian family on their immigration to America.

Originally published as a 22-part series in the New York Times that garnered a Pulitzer for editorial cartooning, the story of the Aldabaan family—first in exile in Jordan and then in New Haven, Connecticut—holds together well as a full-length book. Halpern and Sloan, who spent more than three years with the Aldabaans, movingly explore the family’s significant obstacles, paying special attention to teenage son Naji, whose desire for the ideal of the American dream was the strongest. While not minimizing the harshness of the repression that led them to journey to the U.S.—or the challenges they encountered after they arrived—the focus on the day-by-day adjustment of a typical teenager makes the narrative refreshingly tangible and free of political polemic. Still, the family arrived at New York’s JFK airport during extraordinarily political times: Nov. 8, 2016, the day that Donald Trump was elected. The plan had been for the entire extended family to move, but some had traveled while others awaited approval, a process that was hampered by Trump’s travel ban. The Aldabaans encountered the daunting odds that many immigrants face: find shelter and employment, become self-sustaining quickly, learn English, and adjust to a new culture and climate (Naji learned to shovel snow, which he had never seen). They also received anonymous death threats, and Naji wanted to buy a gun for protection. He asked himself, “Was this the great future you were talking about back in Jordan?” Yet with the assistance of selfless volunteers and a community of fellow immigrants, the Aldabaans persevered. The epilogue provides explanatory context and where-are-they-now accounts, and Sloan’s streamlined, uncluttered illustrations nicely complement the text, consistently emphasizing the humanity of each person.

An accessible, informative journey through complex issues during turbulent times.

Pub Date: Sept. 8, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-250-30559-6

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Metropolitan/Henry Holt

Review Posted Online: Aug. 17, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2020


An erudite and artful, though frustratingly restrained, look at Old Testament stories.

The Book of Genesis as imagined by a veteran voice of underground comics.

R. Crumb’s pass at the opening chapters of the Bible isn’t nearly the act of heresy the comic artist’s reputation might suggest. In fact, the creator of Fritz the Cat and Mr. Natural is fastidiously respectful. Crumb took pains to preserve every word of Genesis—drawing from numerous source texts, but mainly Robert Alter’s translation, The Five Books of Moses (2004)—and he clearly did his homework on the clothing, shelter and landscapes that surrounded Noah, Abraham and Isaac. This dedication to faithful representation makes the book, as Crumb writes in his introduction, a “straight illustration job, with no intention to ridicule or make visual jokes.” But his efforts are in their own way irreverent, and Crumb feels no particular need to deify even the most divine characters. God Himself is not much taller than Adam and Eve, and instead of omnisciently imparting orders and judgment He stands beside them in Eden, speaking to them directly. Jacob wrestles not with an angel, as is so often depicted in paintings, but with a man who looks not much different from himself. The women are uniformly Crumbian, voluptuous Earth goddesses who are both sexualized and strong-willed. (The endnotes offer a close study of the kinds of power women wielded in Genesis.) The downside of fitting all the text in is that many pages are packed tight with small panels, and too rarely—as with the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah—does Crumb expand his lens and treat signature events dramatically. Even the Flood is fairly restrained, though the exodus of the animals from the Ark is beautifully detailed. The author’s respect for Genesis is admirable, but it may leave readers wishing he had taken a few more chances with his interpretation, as when he draws the serpent in the Garden of Eden as a provocative half-man/half-lizard. On the whole, though, the book is largely a tribute to Crumb’s immense talents as a draftsman and stubborn adherence to the script.

An erudite and artful, though frustratingly restrained, look at Old Testament stories.

Pub Date: Oct. 19, 2009

ISBN: 978-0-393-06102-4

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2009

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