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Do you ever feel, like, bad about working in a place like that?
April 7, 2014 12:44 PM   Subscribe

Ducks is a five-part comic by Kate Beaton based on her time working at a mining site in Fort McMurray in 2008. It's 'about environmental destruction in an environment that includes humans,' and it's sad and disturbing and shrewd all at once.
posted by EXISTENZ IS PAUSED (83 comments total) 120 users marked this as a favorite

 
So, so good. Nuanced. I liked Tony Breed's take on it, too.
posted by jillithd at 12:50 PM on April 7 [10 favorites]


Such a strange format for a comic: direct link to a long png. But they are very good!
posted by zscore at 12:54 PM on April 7


She was sort of releasing them episodically on her twitter account, which might explain the format.
posted by dismas at 12:55 PM on April 7


Wow, that's great. Thanks for posting.
posted by larrybob at 12:56 PM on April 7


Aw yiss!
posted by benito.strauss at 12:58 PM on April 7 [14 favorites]


[This is good]
posted by drezdn at 12:59 PM on April 7 [3 favorites]


Her previous comic about spending Christmas alone in the oil fields never fails to bring tears when I read it, as a Maritimer who's moved away from home for work.
posted by Space Coyote at 12:59 PM on April 7 [12 favorites]


These are fantastic.

She was sort of releasing them episodically on her twitter account, which might explain the format.

Also: the way Tumblr handles images encourages it -- it crunches everything down horizontally but doesn't care about vertical space, so she could either have released them as a series of individual panels (and make people click through each panel) or do this. People doing more traditional three-panel comics have been switching to releasing them as a three vertical panels on tumblr, since it's more readable on the site.

And this hopefully concludes the formatting derail.
posted by cjelli at 1:00 PM on April 7 [2 favorites]


Kate Beaton can do no wrong, as far as I'm concerned. This is no exception.
posted by quaking fajita at 1:00 PM on April 7 [4 favorites]


I haven't read any Kate Beaton since she wrote on her Twitter that gaining weight would involve looking like her "worst nightmare;" I was like, whoa, lady, that's your worst nightmare? Not nuclear warfare or something happening to someone you love, but simply being a fat person? I'm here for the cute Mom stories, not the vicious self-hatred and fatphobia.

I'm glad I broke my pointless "boycott" of her work, because this was very good.
posted by Juliet Banana at 1:04 PM on April 7 [4 favorites]


New solitudes, that's some great Canadiana. Could have easily been about my time as a clerk in the army.
posted by furtive at 1:06 PM on April 7 [1 favorite]


And to continue the formatting derail slightly, it's basically perfect for reading on a phone.

This is good. I suspect you have to be very skilled to conjure such subtle but easily read expressions on characters with just a few pencil lines.
posted by figurant at 1:08 PM on April 7


Truly great.
posted by context adventure at 1:09 PM on April 7


Canada needs more writers and artists to engage with the oil sands (and other mega-industrial projects like them). The world needs more things like that, actually.

Beaton is on point here. Very thoughtful, very nuanced, no agenda beyond "these were my experiences and my feelings." Which is not to say that these are apolitical, but rather that they are, again, very nuanced and thoughtful in their politics.
posted by erlking at 1:09 PM on April 7 [16 favorites]


Also, as a Newfoundlander, I sat up straight in my chair at the casual Newfie-baiting in the lunchroom, and then slumped with a familiar and impotent depression at the resumé, a few panels later, of the man from Newfoundland, born in 1947 (before Newfoundland was even part of Canada!), with a grade 8 education, 28 years working in a fish plant, now scrabbling to make money in northern Alberta.
posted by erlking at 1:11 PM on April 7 [17 favorites]


"Somebody high up thinks ducks are pretty fucking stupid" is going to be my go-to explanation for every bit of work idiocy from now on.
posted by muddgirl at 1:15 PM on April 7 [25 favorites]


Heartbreaking. I've managed to read every installment in dusty rooms.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 1:18 PM on April 7


[This is really good.]
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 1:23 PM on April 7 [1 favorite]


This was amazing, but I have to wonder: is Canada just way better about sexual harrassment at blue-collar jobs, or did she choose not to write about it? Because my own experience and all of my friends' experience in the States would indicate that women working in traditionally masculine blue-collar areas like mining, even the women in the office, experience in on a grinding, near-daily basis, and the harder the work and the more isolated you are, the worse it is. (Like, to the extent that I was kind of holding my breath every time she was alone in a truck with one of her male coworkers.)

Either way, this was amazing.
posted by WidgetAlley at 1:25 PM on April 7 [6 favorites]


I suspect you have to be very skilled to conjure such subtle but easily read expressions on characters with just a few pencil lines. Yeah, she has an amazing economy of line, and she uses it to such great effect. erlking mentions one of the places I found so gutting in this - the last panel, thinking about George Penney's sad life, and probably seeing her own life laying out in front of her. And that hopelessness and empathy and fear are communicated largely through the pencil dots that represent her eyes in the final two panels. She's so good.

Every once in a while I go on a bender and read Hark! A Vagrant! for hours.
posted by dirtdirt at 1:26 PM on April 7 [2 favorites]


WidgetAlley: she posted this comic, Night Shift, back in January. It's also about working in the oil sands and it addresses sexual harrassment. I found it quite gutting. I don't know if such problems are better or worse in the States than they are in Canada, but they exist in Canada.
posted by erlking at 1:33 PM on April 7 [22 favorites]


Thanks for the link, erlking. It's really disappointing to see it was about what I expected, but that comic really resonated with my own experiences and I'm glad she felt able to draw/write it.
posted by WidgetAlley at 1:37 PM on April 7


Moreso than any other comic, Night Shift has stayed with me for a long, long time.
posted by whittaker at 1:38 PM on April 7 [2 favorites]


is Canada just way better about sexual harrassment at blue-collar jobs

It's alluded to halfway down the second episode:
"How are you liking being in that office?"

"Better than being in the tool crib."

"Ah you have it pretty good now."

"People leave me alone."
posted by furtive at 1:44 PM on April 7 [9 favorites]


"I mean it was a stupid fucking thing to say but like take a joke right" is pretty much the story I heard when I first started in my traditionally-masculine white collar job, too.
posted by muddgirl at 1:45 PM on April 7 [2 favorites]


It was so great to read these as they came out--I get the feeling she was surprised at the warm reception that they're getting.

Thankfully, nobody demanded that all her work is Sherlock getting a second, dumber Watson (I SAY, is that A CLUE? -- still one of my favorite things).

Once again proves that Harvey Pekar was right: comics are just words and pictures; you can do anything with words and pictures.
posted by fifteen schnitzengruben is my limit at 1:45 PM on April 7 [3 favorites]


Yeah, she had been harassed. It's just not the focus of this story.
posted by Chrysostom at 1:46 PM on April 7


I hope this isn't too much of a derail, what follows is what I've found out about environmental problems in my home town of Brunswick, Georgia:

I've mentioned before here how shocked I was when I discovered that the sole remaining drive-in theater in Brunswick, Sunset Theater (hover over links for descriptions) was closed down as a Superfund site. It was a place we drove by every day for years when I was growing up, either on the way to school or town.

It turns out I had never heard about it because I was attending classes at the time. I asked someone who had been around when it happened. This is word of mouth, and I can't count the times when I've heard a word-of-mouth story around here that ultimately turned out to be theatrical nonsense, subconsciously edged along the chain of communication towards making some supposed point by one of the speakers towards their biases concerning government, environmental regulations, corporations, or human nature. Or, just confused with other stories or experiences, so containing bits from movies or dreams. I might even be remembering it wrong. Just saying, often when tracked down these descriptions turn out to be false.

But this is what I heard:

1. The theater is near industrial sites, including a trainyard and the local paper mill, a place that's had a couple of different owners over time and where my Dad worked for many years. It is now owned -- no lie -- by Koch Cellulose.

2. Someone onsite ran a vehicle into a storage tank, causing it to gush out. The substance was mercury, which is highly toxic. In the story, a guy was standing near the tank when it happened and he supposedly melted, engulfed in mercury, a gruesome touch but one that doesn't jive with what I know about mercury, which is highly toxic but doesn't destroy flesh.

3. They tracked down the guy who worked for the company, who had stored the tanks there, who had retired by that point. He refused to tell them anything about it. The gist in the story was that he was protected from liability because of that, which I find to be hogwash. Anyway, he was probably just following orders.

4. The result -- it's been determined that the mercury had leeched into the water, and poisoned the ground water in a region of Brunswick, GA (not the area that I live in, I think). I have heard that the place has been deemed safe to build on now, and is the construction site of a local prison.

5. The more I think about the event, the madder I get. Even if this story is ultimately made up, something happened there that caused a horrible environmental accident, but the attitude of locals seems to have been to roll over and accept it, to the degree that all this was the first time I had even heard about the event. It turns out that Brunswick has four Superfund sites. It causes me to wonder, what similar situations have happened in other small industrial towns? Is there some underlying story in Brunswick in particular? The whole thing doesn't do a lot to give me confidence in the will of corporations to address their own environmental problems.
posted by JHarris at 1:50 PM on April 7 [3 favorites]


Kate, I love you, but you've already got a website for your comic, which updates like every three months and has no topic in particular. Then you wanted me to follow your tumblr. So now you post these to twitter? It's a comic. Could you maybe put it on the comic site? I promise we won't get upset because it's not obscure Canadian history.
posted by darksasami at 1:57 PM on April 7 [3 favorites]


This is great reading for me anytime I get to judging the people who work in that industry.

The Tar Sands are fucking evil. But not everyone stuck in them is.
posted by sarastro at 1:58 PM on April 7 [5 favorites]


Brunswick? Whole town is a Superfund site, as far as I'm concerned.
posted by thelonius at 1:58 PM on April 7 [1 favorite]


She is so, so good, and it continues to be so gratifying to see her experimenting and developing.
posted by LobsterMitten at 1:59 PM on April 7 [2 favorites]


In the story, a guy was standing near the tank when it happened and he supposedly melted, engulfed in mercury, a gruesome touch but one that doesn't jive with what I know about mercury, which is highly toxic but doesn't destroy flesh.

Yeah, melted didn't happen, and more than likely it's an embellishment and there was no guy next to the tank, but OTOH mercury is very heavy - perhaps someone suffered some kind smash/crush injury? To observers maybe that might seem like the mercury did something to their limb?
posted by anonymisc at 2:02 PM on April 7 [1 favorite]


I love me some Hark A Vagrant -- it makes me laugh until I cry -- and it pleases me so much that Kate Beaton can also create these incredibly haunting stories. They just ... stay with you.

When reading these, I also think about one of my favorite photographers, Edward Burtynsky, who has taken disturbing, beautiful photos of the oil sands in Fort McMurray (click forward -- the oil sands photos start at the fourth photo into the slideshow). Here's another photo set, perhaps a bit easier to navigate.
posted by ourobouros at 2:16 PM on April 7 [6 favorites]


I feel a lot of things

Spot on.

I work in oil & gas, but thankfully not the tar sands. It's tough to reconcile that the industry in which you work in, the product of which everyone consumes in some shape or form (to varying amounts) is reviled almost universally. There's a lot of good people in the business, but there's also the ones that don't give a thought to the impact on the environment and people's lives of what we do. I feel a lot of things.

scrabbling to make money in northern Alberta.

I read a CV last week that was disturbingly similar to the one in the comic. So many people forced to come West to seek work as there was nothing at home. Migration has been the the story of my life, and it's been overwhelmingly positive, but then my case wasn't driven by desperation. Heartbreaking.

This strip is going to stay with me a long while.
posted by arcticseal at 2:30 PM on April 7 [4 favorites]


This made me cry. Like ugly cry. I don't ever do that. we're so fucked.
posted by stray at 2:31 PM on April 7 [1 favorite]


"You like...salads."
posted by a fiendish thingy at 3:13 PM on April 7 [4 favorites]


This was really well done but it was not a good thing to read when I'm like "oh, I'm sad, I'll go read that new Kate Beaton comic and it will cheer me up".

Luckily my joke-memory is like a sieve so I could go read the Hark A Vagrant archives afterwards as a chaser.

She's really good at telling stories-- her own and other people's.
posted by NoraReed at 3:53 PM on April 7


I read a CV last week that was disturbingly similar to the one in the comic. So many people forced to come West to seek work as there was nothing at home. Migration has been the the story of my life, and it's been overwhelmingly positive, but then my case wasn't driven by desperation. Heartbreaking.


People say "the second largest city in Newfoundland is Fort McMurray!" like it's a joke and I just do not get what's funny about it. Like, at all. Dangerous, unpleasant, ethically dubious work, an 8 hour flight or a 6500 km drive (including a costly 7 hour ferry) from family, friends, and a homeland your people are famously attached to ("You'll know the Newfoundlanders in Heaven. They'll be the ones who want to go home")? How is that funny?
posted by erlking at 3:58 PM on April 7 [5 favorites]


> People say "the second largest city in Newfoundland is Fort McMurray!" like it's a joke and I just do not get what's funny about it

There's a similar saying about PEI, that our #1 export isn't potatoes, it's brains. Self-deprecating humour is a fine coping mechanism, I think.
posted by Space Coyote at 4:02 PM on April 7


she posted this comic, Night Shift, back in January. It's also about working in the oil sands and it addresses sexual harrassment.

Holy shit. That was devastating.
posted by The Bellman at 4:04 PM on April 7 [1 favorite]


National treasure. Kate Beaton is, more every day, a national fucking treasure.
posted by Homeboy Trouble at 4:05 PM on April 7 [11 favorites]


I got to the end and realized I was crying. Jesus.
posted by Tevin at 4:06 PM on April 7


Ooof. Kate Beaton is good at this.

Re: the GA superfund derail more details about the site that includes that drive-in can be found here.
posted by Wretch729 at 4:14 PM on April 7 [2 favorites]


There's a similar saying about PEI, that our #1 export isn't potatoes, it's brains. Self-deprecating humour is a fine coping mechanism, I think.

Sure, but it's not usually from Newfoundlanders (or East Coasters for that matter) that I hear it from.
posted by erlking at 4:17 PM on April 7 [1 favorite]


JHarris, I don't think your post was too much of a derail. At first I thought you were talking about a place in New Brunswick, which reminded me of the Sydney tar ponds, the toxic legacy of years of steel production in Nova Scotia that still hasn't been resolved after decades of promises. These toxic legacies last a long time.
posted by Calzephyr at 4:24 PM on April 7 [1 favorite]


could you maybe put it on the comic site? I promise we won't get upset because it's not obscure Canadian history.

darksasami Beaton addresses this in some tweets today: 1 2 3 4
posted by persephone's rant at 4:26 PM on April 7 [2 favorites]


the second largest city in Newfoundland is Fort McMurray!

I'm glad the Newfoundlanders and other East coasters are here, they are great people to work with. Calgary has become a bit of a mixing pot as a result of the industry, which makes it a great place to work. Not quite the UN feel of other O&G industry towns, but not quite the small Cowtown that it used to be 20 years ago.
posted by arcticseal at 4:28 PM on April 7 [2 favorites]


Kate Beaton is fantastic.

I love Hark a Vagrant! more than is probably proper. Smart, funny historical humor (this is rare), some of my favorite webcomic-y art, and of course Fat Pony. Who doesn't love Fat Pony?
posted by Sphinx at 4:38 PM on April 7 [1 favorite]


Stan Rogers:

Canol Road

Northwest Passage

Free In The Harbour


Hauling away! Hauling away!
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 5:15 PM on April 7 [5 favorites]


Having worked in similar places with plenty of Newfies and Maritimers and having been to Fort Mac that was absolutely bang-on.
posted by islander at 5:15 PM on April 7 [1 favorite]


Ha, I s just coming to pass along this Stan Rogers song Beaton just posted to Twitter, The Idiot
posted by maryr at 5:23 PM on April 7 [3 favorites]


Northwest Passage

This song (and this version particularly) always gets me a little teary. I'm not even Canadian!
posted by curious nu at 5:50 PM on April 7


JHarris: My fathers company cleaned up Superfund and other hazardous waste sites (including, probably, at least one in Brunswick). Brunswick isn't unique. There are lots of small towns with a big industry, a corner cutting owner and a populace willing to look the other way so as to not loose the big factory jobs who are dealing with a toxic nightmare. The ones who make the Superfund list are the lucky ones; someone outside of the community is now paying attention. For every one of those, there's a thousand old battery recyclers who left tons of lead leaching into the groundwater, or a drycleaner whose tanks have been leaking carcinogens into the ground for decades that may never be adequately cleaned up.
posted by kjs3 at 6:20 PM on April 7 [2 favorites]


Yeah, melted didn't happen

Not elemental mercury, but I understand mercury dissolved in nitric acid is used to make felt. And isn't mercuric chloride pretty corrosive? It's used making PVC and other industrial processes.
posted by kjs3 at 6:31 PM on April 7


Even if this story is ultimately made up, something happened there that caused a horrible environmental accident, but the attitude of locals seems to have been to roll over and accept it, to the degree that all this was the first time I had even heard about the event. It turns out that Brunswick has four Superfund sites. It causes me to wonder, what similar situations have happened in other small industrial towns? Is there some underlying story in Brunswick in particular? The whole thing doesn't do a lot to give me confidence in the will of corporations to address their own environmental problems.

The film A Civil Action (or the non-fiction book it's based on) could give you some insight here. Locals tend to view the companies positively for the jobs and livelihoods they have supported, and are reluctant to take action until they themselves are personally injured and uncompensated. In the case of Woburn, MA, many people suspected that the water might be contaminated, but it took years for anyone to do anything about it -- and the legal case was mired in federal court for a decade.

Anyway, yes, as kjs3 notes, this is not just common, but really the default situation. My own city may begin quietly testing some brownfield sites in our own downtown including a drycleaners that closed roughly 20 years ago, leaving a vacant building no one is willing to take a risk on, just two blocks from city hall. On top of that we have a former GM plant and many locals are ready to declare that it will never be redeveloped because of all the toxic chemicals that were spilled or leaked over the decades. So there's also a level of resignation that nothing will or can be done.

Anyway, continuing with the LCP case, I can't find any stories about a death in the record, but here's one story that may relate to your anecdote that made it into the legal case wherein the operators of the plant were convicted of federal crimes such as violating the Clean Water Act:
Dr. Teitelbaum testified that a fall and submersion into caustic soda with a pH of 14 would cause a third-degree burn over the entire body with a likelihood of death. ... LCP former employee Duane Carver testified that, some time between 1987 and 1993, he stepped into the cellroom sump hole and went in up to his waist. ... He knew that the pH was "pretty high" because he quickly felt it. ... He showered and was able to get most of it off so that he "didn't get burned all the way" and did not seek medical attention.

One former employee, Duane Lorenzo Carver, testified that he received second and third degree burns on his thighs from caustic that had soaked through his clothes. ... In reference to a question regarding the conditions of the cellrooms [nothing to do with jails, just "cells" to sequester toxic liquid] in 1993, he said that, while digging out the sump, he misstepped and fell into the sump hole, which was filled with wastewater, "about chest deep." ... Carver said that he showered immediately and suffered minor burns on his stomach and legs. ... Carver was unable to recall the exact date, and admitted the accident could have occurred any time between 1987 and 1993. ... Carver testified that, although the employees were told to report all accidents to management, he did not report the accident, and thus did not receive any medical attention.


Nothing about barrels or truck accidents, but there were a lot of enclosures for the toxic chemicals, "tanks" as the court record indicates, that were of various size, design, and presumed adherence to best practices.

like it's a joke and I just do not get what's funny about it.

Humor, as they say, is a defense mechanism.
posted by dhartung at 6:52 PM on April 7 [1 favorite]


Thanks for the information everyone, I'm glad my comment didn't derail the thread much, if I had more time to think about making the comment I probably wouldn't have -- as it was, I had to run out the door. I think it's probable that the story I related was an invented narration on the part of he who told it to me, probably not consciously so, just something he said because it fit together that way in his mind and it's easier to remember a story than random facts. I could even have misremembered it myself.

I imagine the real story of what happens when there's a chemical spill is not usually one that makes for good telling, and may not actually even be immediately memorable, or witnessed by others. Which, to bring it around, is why Kate Beaton is so awesome, for finding a way of making her own experience with environmental disaster interesting while retaining accuracy.
posted by JHarris at 7:00 PM on April 7


Okay, I'm clearly missing something here because I read the comic and liked it but did not find it sad at all. Melancholy at most. What is the Canadian-specific backstory that I'm missing?
posted by viggorlijah at 7:26 PM on April 7


I'm sure a Maritimer or Newfie could explain it better than me, but the gist of it is that the collapse of the Atlantic fisheries, and the cod fishery in particular, has left the Atlantic provinces an economic wreck. The small fishing towns in particular are mostly dependent on income from far flung resource jobs in places like Fort McMurray. Lots of these towns are slowly dying as their young people move away for work and eventually decide to settle somewhere with a commute under 5000km.

Add to this the history of many people from those places as descendants of refugees from the Highland Clearances and the Irish Potato Famine. Cape Breton, where Kate Beaton is from, actually has its own dialect of Scottish Gaelic, and there are still a few thousand people there for whom it was their first language.

A Cape Bretoner like Ms. Beaton has another tragic connection with Fort McMurray. For decades, the dominant industry there was coal mining, and the environmental devastation that caused was then followed by the economic devastation as that industry collapsed over the latter half of the 20th century. The comic references the human cost in sickness and accidents for those mining the tar sands. This would be a cruel echo to a Cape Bretoner, who would likely have many family stories of lives cut short by mine accidents and black lung. The isolation of life in the Syncrude barracks would have must weigh heavily on someone who grew up in what began as a coal mine's company town.
posted by [expletive deleted] at 8:34 PM on April 7 [16 favorites]


The Tar Sands are fucking evil.

ethically dubious work

That's a bit melodramatic. It's basically a large scale mining operation with first world labour and environmental standards. Synthetic crude from Alberta is on average 9% more carbon intensive than conventional US crude.

9% is bad, but so is coal. So is the fact that everybody still needs to burn fossil fuels.

(Yes, I live in Calgary, so consider the source if you like, but I do not work in O & G or a related business)
posted by Pruitt-Igoe at 8:38 PM on April 7 [1 favorite]


I was moreso thinking about what the tar sands are doing to vast swaths of northern Alberta that had formerly been pristine wilderness. You know, things like the hundreds of dead ducks in the comic.
posted by erlking at 9:19 PM on April 7 [4 favorites]


[also not to derail but the word 'Newfie' really bugs some of us from Newfoundland, as it is often a slur and has an ugly history, and could people perhaps consider not using it?]
posted by erlking at 9:20 PM on April 7 [5 favorites]


You are absolutely right, erlking. I should have avoided using the term.
posted by [expletive deleted] at 9:36 PM on April 7 [1 favorite]


Man, my dad was an ironworker, and her comics really capture for me what it was like when I’d be hanging around on job sites with him, both the conversations and the people. She also really captures what it’s like when you’re stuck in a shitty job and wonder if you’re ever going to get out of it.

But yeah, the guys on the job site feel so real to me. I know so many white-collar guys convinced they want to give up their cushy office job and go into construction or welding because maybe they enjoyed building their porch. And it’s the Common People thing to me. Just because you enjoyed a bit of manual labor on the weekend as an aside doesn’t mean those people won’t eat you alive when you get there and they’re not the “noble working class savage with a purer way of life” that the bourgeoisie that entertain this little fantasy tend to think they are.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 9:57 PM on April 7 [3 favorites]


It's basically a large scale mining operation with first world labour and environmental standards.

You can see it for yourself on google maps at (57.016066,-111.577377) It looks like around 450 square miles strip mined. The oil companies are contractually obligated to restore the strip mined area, as if it were possible to do such a thing. That eco system got the way it was day by day over millions of years. Restoring it after strip mining it is a logical impossibility. It might be perfectly good real estate, mind you. It isn't ever going to be restored.
posted by bukvich at 11:33 PM on April 7 [3 favorites]


[also not to derail but the word 'Newfie' really bugs some of us from Newfoundland, as it is often a slur and has an ugly history, and could people perhaps consider not using it?]
I'm not from Newfoundland but have known and worked with many Newfoundlanders . While the term 'Newfie' may have had some derogatory connotations in the past that no longer seems to be the case. I've always regarded 'Newfie' as a term of affection and respect.
If I've been wrong in my interpretation, I apologize.
posted by islander at 11:36 PM on April 7 [1 favorite]


The economy of the storytelling, without sacrificing detail, is pretty fucking terrific.

"Hughie"
"Oh hey Mabou"


(Also, growing up in Quebec 'Newfie' was used only in a derogatory fashion - I cringe a little when I hear it today. If you are from the fine province and want to refer to a fellow Newfoundlander thusly, knock yourself out. If not, )
posted by From Bklyn at 11:58 PM on April 7 [1 favorite]


This is good. Thanks, EXISTENZ IS PAUSED.
posted by homunculus at 12:02 AM on April 8


I love memoir comics, and although I don't like Kate Beaton's work as much as I used to, I had high hopes for this. It seemed like it was tackling darker, more thoughtful subject matter than her usual stuff, and I figured that could be really interesting. I read all the comments and I was imagining this might be as powerful as the Somali comics that was turned into an FPP last year.

So, I read the entire thing. And it really left me cold. I didn't find it to be well-written or well-drawn for that matter. The subject matter has potential but the execution, I think, was lacking.

I'm still glad I read it. I wish I could be moved and amazed by it, and cry... I really wanted to... But, unfortunately, that did not happen. I'm sorry, guys. :(
posted by suburbanbeatnik at 12:23 AM on April 8 [1 favorite]


Okay, I'm clearly missing something here because I read the comic and liked it but did not find it sad at all. Melancholy at most. What is the Canadian-specific backstory that I'm missing?
posted by viggorlijah


What I read as distressingly sad could be read by others as melodramatic, but what gave the story emotional punch to me was two things. First, the little details of lives robbed of agency by economic circumstance and "the system" (the CV with all those years in the now-defunct fishing industry that explains why he left home and is looking for work in Alberta with an 8th grade education or the guy who admits that the work he is doing to scare off the ducks is probably pointless and just serves the higher ups who need to give the appearance of caring). "Somebody high up thinks ducks are pretty fucking stupid." In my reading the unspoken point is that the workers aren't much different from the ducks in the view of management.

Secondly there's the broader context which I interpreted as framing all these individuals stuggling to get by with the reminder that they are cogs in a problematic economic system, a system on the one hand that has raised more people out of poverty than any other but that is also environmentally unsustainable and can be very hard on unlucky individuals. Pruitt-Igoe's point above that this is a first world operation that meets relatively good labor and environmental standards is true, but still sad. Actually makes it sadder, for me, to think that even in the places where people are collectively trying to address labor and environmental issues we still fall so short.
posted by Wretch729 at 6:06 AM on April 8 [6 favorites]


Hi, made an account to talk about this. I grew up in Fort McMurray and spent a couple of summers working at Suncor (Kate's company in the comic).

I've seen a few comments about how evil the oilsands are. This is not the impression I had growing up there. They treat the employees well, give a lot of money to the town and invest huge efforts in personnel safety. They gave me a USB stick with data on their environmental efforts, I could dig it up and post it if you're interested.

James Cameron had been chewing them out, so the companies invited him down for a tour. A friend of my moms did the opening Q/A with him in the helicopter circuit. I'm told the friend made a good impression and Cameron later changed his tune a fair bit. I get the feeling that a lot of people here are judging a bit swiftly and haven't really looked into this, like Cameron did.

EDIT: For a while I worked in the office that handled the weighting of various environmental and personnel projects. I'm not just going by impressions here.
posted by Mike_From_Canada at 6:13 AM on April 8 [5 favorites]


I'm still glad I read it. I wish I could be moved and amazed by it, and cry... I really wanted to... But, unfortunately, that did not happen. I'm sorry, guys. :(

I'm sorry for you buddy.

This is show-don't-tell storytelling at its finest.

('Night Shift' above is also incredible.)
posted by Quilford at 6:38 AM on April 8


In addition to the elements that Wretch729 points out, for me this story is also informed by the emotional wake created by some of Beaton's earlier work, in particular the piece that we discussed here.

She's a powerfully expressive artist, easily my favorite cartoonist.
posted by Ipsifendus at 6:42 AM on April 8 [1 favorite]


I'm still glad I read it. I wish I could be moved and amazed by it, and cry... I really wanted to... But, unfortunately, that did not happen. I'm sorry, guys. :(

For me, the sad thing is realizing that the old guy on the radio wandering in the road, the hooker who got into the camps, the Cape Breton guys who got killed in a crash - they're ducks.

And "somebody high up thinks ducks are pretty fucking stupid."
posted by maryr at 7:22 AM on April 8 [15 favorites]


The part that rang true for me is that I have cousins who work/ed up in Williston, ND, at the US version of this. One who had to be away from his young kids for days and weeks on end, just so he could make some money and send it home to them. He didn't last very long out there. It was too hard on him and the kids.

The other cousin has been out there for years and has moved up in the ranks and made a good life for himself.
posted by jillithd at 7:25 AM on April 8 [2 favorites]


I've seen a few comments about how evil the oilsands are. This is not the impression I had growing up there.

Yeah, I think that's one of the things that makes it so gut-wrenching for me, is that it's not 100% black and white. It's not a fairy-tale simple tale of pure good vs. pure evil. All of us, human and animal alike, are caught up in this huge thing that nobody completely understands, not even the people in charge of it.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 7:30 AM on April 8 [6 favorites]


I'm a Maritimer who grew up in New Brunswick. My brother-in-law was the very talented head mechanic for the biggest car dealership in the largest city in that province. Despite this, they had to reduce his hours and it wasn't a tenable situation for him financially. So now he's gone out west, to the middle of nowhere, thousands of miles/kilometers away from his wife, kids and the rest of his family. He's there for months at a time. This was his best option to make what he considered a livable wage. And despite getting paid good money, during the winter it was so cold that no one could work, so there were weeks where he wouldn't get paid.

And he is but one of many Atlantic Canadians so far from home, forced to live and work like this because there is no work available. It's very hard, and very sad, and I have no idea what the answer is. The environmental concerns are valid and I share them. I think it's awful how Canada, once proud of its environmental record, has completely cashed in once dollar signs started appearing over the oilsands. But my brother-in-law and people like him, for the most part think little of the harm their work is causing, because they can't afford to think long term about the bigger picture. It's hard for me to blame them much when they have bigger, more immediate problems confronting them.

I moved away after university, because there was just nothing there for me, professionally, especially considering I wanted to get into something using my fine arts degree. I miss home a lot, because it's a beautiful, quiet place and the people are genuine and decent, but I don't know that I'll ever really be able to move back there. It's the same story all over the Maritimes. The population is already pretty small, but for whatever reason, even that's too much for the provinces to support. Something's got to change, but I'm not sure what.

I appreciate Kate's comics because she gives voice to this sort of sad fraternity, where usually it doesn't get mentioned, even amongst other Maritimers, who generally suffer in silence.
posted by picea at 7:38 AM on April 8 [12 favorites]


Wretch729 and maryr hit the nail on the head up above, as to why these comics are sad. It's not just the economic and cultural displacement of the workers (although that is part of it, a very sad part), it's the entire dehumanizing hierarchy that is the system, a system that cannot be escaped. Beaton's comic is a panoramic view of the bleak landscape we're all inhabiting.

the old guy on the radio wandering in the road, the hooker who got into the camps, the Cape Breton guys who got killed in a crash - they're ducks.

And "somebody high up thinks ducks are pretty fucking stupid."


also, thanks everyone for being awesome about the 'newfie' thing up above :)
posted by erlking at 7:54 AM on April 8 [4 favorites]


Well I ain't going back to ol' Fort Mac...no matter how much they pay.
posted by mrjohnmuller at 8:08 AM on April 8 [3 favorites]


Growing up in Alberta and living in Calgary for the last 23 years, I often wonder why we tolerate the major and long-term environmental and social problems created by projects like the Oil Sands. Even in terms of "wise energy policy" (if there is such a thing), it doesn't make any sense to consume ALL the oil ASAP. Why don't we try to build an energy industry for the long term? What's going to be left for our children? So far, all I've come up with is "because we can't" and "nothing".

Right now I'm liking this video lecture series by Al Bartlett about the arithmetic of growth - basically how a small percentage of growth can lead to rapid doubling of populations or resource usage, and how easy it's been for people to kid themselves about what this means. He's an early Peak Oil explainer from around 2001, but it's still worth watching the whole series just to hear his snarky bad examples of just how deluded politicians and industry pundits have been about these issues.

For example, here's the segment where he summarizes the last 100 years of oil production), and then explains what that means in terms of how much of that oil we're actually consuming. What he's saying is that barring any new discoveries after 2000 and continuing the historic 7% growth rate, we're on track to consume as much energy in the first decade of the 2000's as we've consumed since the beginning of the oil industry. It might seem like new energy sources like the Oil Sands & frakking in the last few years have proved him wrong, but he's going to be right eventually, even at lower overall growth rates.

This is the best explanation I've found for why we think development of the Oil Sands is more important than, well, pretty much anything else in Alberta.
posted by sneebler at 10:55 AM on April 8 [3 favorites]


I wish I could be moved and amazed by it

I think it helps if you've experienced that life. I did 6+ years on the rigs, onshore and offshore, before moving on to a role that meant I could be home at night. It's hard on you, it saps your soul being away. I've been an expat for almost 20 years and part of that existence is that you're gone. You're not able to be with loved ones in good times and in bad. You miss the places that comprise home, the colours and textures of the seasons, the sounds and smells. No amount of phone calls or FaceTime can remedy that.

Like I've said previously, working on the rigs was a good thing for me; but make no mistake, it was hard work, in rough conditions. Being expat has been overwhelmingly positive, and if you asked me to move home then the answer would be no.

But underlying it all, at it's base, there's still the yearning for home.
posted by arcticseal at 12:30 PM on April 8 [2 favorites]


I'm sorry for you buddy.

This is show-don't-tell storytelling at its finest.


I thought a long time before I posted a dissenting opinion in this thread. I wanted to be as respectful as I could be, since I know this comic addresses some important issues. I really don't appreciate the condescension.

I think it helps if you've experienced that life. I did 6+ years on the rigs, onshore and offshore, before moving on to a role that meant I could be home at night. It's hard on you, it saps your soul being away. I've been an expat for almost 20 years and part of that existence is that you're gone. You're not able to be with loved ones in good times and in bad. You miss the places that comprise home, the colours and textures of the seasons, the sounds and smells. No amount of phone calls or FaceTime can remedy that.

Thanks, arcticseal; that's probably it. I've experienced a lot of things in my life, but that's not one of them.
posted by suburbanbeatnik at 1:47 PM on April 8 [1 favorite]


Given the framing I was cautious about this, but it's very good. Reads like it could be the beginning of a graphic novel, with a bit more fleshing out.

Living here, I know people who work in the oil sands and the oil industry. Everyone does. But I know very little about what everyday life is like for them. "Ducks" is an interesting window into a part of Alberta that's always there, but little discussed.
posted by Kevin Street at 2:12 PM on April 8


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