Two Years in the Oil Sands

Graphic novel, 448 pages

Published Sept. 23, 2022 by Drawn & Quarterly.


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5 stars (3 reviews)

Before there was Kate Beaton, New York Times bestselling cartoonist of Hark! A Vagrant, there was Katie Beaton of the Cape Breton Beatons, specifically Mabou, a tight-knit seaside community where the lobster is as abundant as beaches, fiddles, and Gaelic folk songs. With the singular goal of paying off her student loans, Katie heads out west to take advantage of Alberta’s oil rush—part of the long tradition of East Coasters who seek gainful employment elsewhere when they can’t find it in the homeland they love so much. Katie encounters the harsh reality of life in the oil sands, where trauma is an everyday occurrence yet is never discussed.

Beaton’s natural cartooning prowess is on full display as she draws colossal machinery and mammoth vehicles set against a sublime Albertan backdrop of wildlife, northern lights, and boreal forest. Her first full length graphic narrative, Ducks: Two Years in the Oil Sands …

3 editions

a world of violations

5 stars

“Enjoy” isn’t quite the right word for a read that’s about something as nuanced and anguished as this is, but it’s also apt. I lingered over it and zoomed through it. It’s generous and devastating, sympathetic to the awful positions poor people find themselves in to get by and to the ways it warps who they are, and devastating in how it depicts the violence directed at everyone—women and the land, especially, but also the men who are used up without regard to turn profits for the company.

A deeply human look at a thoroughly dehumanising place

5 stars

This is a powerful memoir which has a lot to say about how we (particularly Canada as a resource extraction colony, but also a broader "we") treat the people whose physical labour runs parts of the economy we'd rather not think about. The experience turned out predictably badly for Beaton, but in looking back she maintained empathy for the people involved, keeping a clear on focus on what the context of oil sands work camps does to people.