Staff Review – Ducks: Two Years in the Oil Sands by Kate Beaton

Several years ago, I was gifted the laugh-out-loud hilarious Hark! comic collection by my brother, written by Kate Beaton. These comics, mostly written about historical events or classic literature, are so entertaining. Beaton’s first full-length graphic narrative, “Ducks”, takes on a much different tone. While there are still moments of laughter, there are many more of hardship, violence and struggle. “Ducks” tells the story of Beaton’s early 20s, when she moved from Cape Breton, Nova Scotia to Fort McMurray, Alberta to take a job in the oil sands in order to pay off her student loans. While there, Beaton receives endless harrassment from her male co-workers, who make up around 90% of the working population at the oil sands.

A warning to readers that this memoir contains sexual violence. Beaton’s time at the oil sands sadly comes with more than just verbal harrassment, which she experienced on a regular basis. Beaton was in her early 20s in a work environment filled with men who rarely saw anyone other than their coworkers – no wives, friends, or anyone. Oftentimes, this lead to these men speaking inappropriately and sometimes, acting even worse. Beaton is told by her boss to essentially expect this type of behaviour from the men she works with. Along with sexual violence, there is also discussions of depression, fear, anxiety and more. Working in a secluded environment for months on end (some men having worked there for years) takes a toll on one’s mental health – something that was not as heavily discussed during this time, especially among men.

While this graphic novel has a much different tone than Beaton’s previous works, there was still moments of hilarity and happiness mixed in. Beaton’s signature illustration style is ever present as well, as she uses her illustrations to add to the moments of lightness in her story.

As a Canadian who grew up here in Thunder Bay, I did not know anything about the oil sands of Fort McMurray, though I have heard of people all over Canada moving there for various working opportunities. The oil sands were a complete unknown to me so I’m glad that I was able to learn a piece of Canadiana while reading this memoir. Beaton’s memoir was heartbreaking, educational and beautifully written and illustrated. “Ducks” has been nominated for many awards, and won the Will Eisner Comic Industry Awards for Best Graphic Memoir (2023). Be sure to place your hold on Ducks by Kate Beaton today!