Ducks: Two Years in the Oil Sands
September 15, 2022 7:26 AM - Subscribe

This is the weighty (literally, it's 400-plus pages) memoir of the two years that Kate Beaton (Hark! A Vagrant) worked on the Alberta oil sands to pay off her college loans.

"What a difficult, gorgeous and abidingly humane book. It really does deserve to win all the prizes." -- The Guardian

"Bleak, lonely, and with a boldly graphic line, Ducks is a very different reading experience than the comics that Beaton first built her name on." -- Vox

"Oft mythologized like a modern Gold Rush — or more aptly, “money jail,” as some refer to the northern Alberta work sites — Beaton’s formidable new graphic memoir... is a rare clear-eyed entry from a young woman’s perspective into this closed-off world where men outnumber women 50 to one." -- Toronto Star
posted by Etrigan (10 comments total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
While I really liked this, most of the reviewers don’t seem to understand that she worked in a tool crib (tool supply dept.) not out on the oil sands. There’s a difference.
posted by Ideefixe at 8:50 AM on September 15, 2022

Such a lovely payoff to a long wait! I am gratified by the existence of this book.

While Beaton and I are not the same age or from the same place (I'm from Winnipeg) the specificity of the experience she's describing - looking for work in Canada as a young woman after college - is so satisfying to have in hand. These resource extraction jobs, whether tree-planting or oil sands (my friends were tree-planters,) were not the standard choice, so there's a "cool girl" element that I think affects women who take them, with sometimes devastating results for peoples' personhood and mental health. You want to be tough enough to do the job, and if you can't hack it it feels like your fault.

The tree-planters I know were warned that the defoliant applied by the company before the season started could make people sick and was definitely to be avoided if you wanted to be pregnant anytime soon; there was a waiver you had to sign. The work is back-breaking, solitary, and extractive but sold as somehow having to do with "saving the environment"; the nearest towns and their bars and low-end strip clubs are the only available outlet for your pent-up paycheck and energy. The best job (I heard) was camp cook, where you stay in camp all day and get paid a real wage rather than by the sapling. I wonder if tool crib worker is analogous to this position.

I have missed her drawings and her voice and am glad to have them back.
posted by Lawn Beaver at 9:16 AM on September 15, 2022 [1 favorite]

not out on the oil sands. There’s a difference

Not much of a difference - you still live the lifestyle - possibly in camp, possibly in-town with extremely early transport, long-days (starting in darkness, ending in darkness), working 10/7 / 7/7 or 7/3 (increasingly common).

Both my partner and her father worked in Ft.Mac - he was actually a tool-crib manager as well. The tools are used onsite, by people who definately go out on the oil sands. Personally, I can't wait to read this - will be very interesting.
posted by rozcakj at 1:08 PM on September 15, 2022 [2 favorites]

not out on the oil sands. There’s a difference

In the Canadian context it is often used to mean the industry in general. So you may not actually work physically on the sands but it is a short hand way of saying you work in the industry and the ancillary professions. At least that's my experience with relatives who've been out there.
posted by Ashwagandha at 2:40 PM on September 15, 2022 [2 favorites]

Kate Beaton is a marvel. Like many, I’ve followed her since her Hark! A Vagrant days and have been looking forward to this book for what seems like an age. In her comic strips there was never a panel wasted, every gesture and expression was pitch perfect seemingly right from the start. She makes comics look easy.

The proto Ducks strips on Tumblr are beautiful and held the promise of this long form work. I’m 100 pages in and enthralled and about to go to sleep. I’m both gutted I can’t stay up and read the rest and glad because I get to eke it out longer.

The Christmas holiday Twitter strips she used to do every year were always a highlight of my holiday season. They almost seemed to be updated in real time.

The comics she has continued to put out on Paterson these last few years are beautiful too. Her family has been through a lot and she’s raising a wee family and her comics have made me laugh and cry more than anything I can think of.

She just keeps getting better doesn’t she?
posted by gnuhavenpier at 2:41 PM on September 15, 2022 [3 favorites]

What a wonderful, sad and horrible book this is. Ooft.
posted by gnuhavenpier at 2:33 PM on September 17, 2022 [2 favorites]

I haven't read this yet, but in reading about it found a couple of links to add to this discussion. Interview in the Guardian. Email interview in Wired.
posted by paduasoy at 12:43 PM on September 19, 2022 [2 favorites]

A masterpiece. Like Alison Bechdel's Fun Home, Beaton's turn to autobiography takes her work to a new level.

Ducks is a story that is searingly personal, at times harrowingly so, but also deeply revealing of the larger social and economic web that everyone associated with the oil sands was caught up in.
posted by kyrademon at 6:17 PM on December 23, 2022 [1 favorite]

Damn. That is a good price for King Cole Tea. That’s the only tea we drink.
posted by fimbulvetr at 9:28 PM on December 24, 2022

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