Kate Beaton is a comic artist who created a long running webseries called Hark! A Vagrant but I had never heard of any of her work or her previously. Ducks was all over the internet as not only one of the best graphic novels of 2022, but just one of the best books outright. That's an easy sell for me, especially since I was specifically looking to get back into some good graphic novels having taken such a long time off from them.
Ducks follows the three year period in Beaton's life where she spent approximately two years working at oil sands companies, in an effort to pay off her student loans. The work/life structure of the sands is chaotic and harmful; so it pays a lot.
This probably won't come as a surprise to most, but the men at a work camp for oil sands aren't...aren't great. Beaton has to adjust to this quickly, and feels herself change, feels the misery of her existence in a very real way almost immediately. She is raped twice and things worsen for her. Her sisters get jobs for the same company she works at/nearby companies and they both independently can tell something has changed about Kate.
The author spends a lot of time yelling about how awful men are, throwing righteous anger at how plainly men talk about the very few women in camp/company and how the women are treated as objects of sexuality from a mixture of isolation and boredom that the men must live with from their work environment. She often reflects and wonders if any man could enter this place and not be turned into a monster by it. She has to live this life of relative misery all while interacting with the men every single day in a working environment, so she is expected to still be a functioning worker throughout.
It feels bleak and desolate, as I'm sure it was for her.
But Beaton also gives us some great moments of awe - notably with her sequence here of the northern lights.
There's lots of great headshots in single panels of Beaton with her hair whipping in the wind, or her looking furious, or depressed, or elated. I also appreciated how sometimes her style slips into something more crude/basic, often to reflect different aspects of the storytelling.
The pages never felt static, I always felt like there was a world in the pages that Beaton was bringing back from the depths of her soul and putting to the page for us.
Read this, if you haven't.