Ducks: Two Years in the Oil Sands

Drawn & Quarterly. Sept. 2022. 448p. ISBN 9781770462892. $39.95. GRAPHIC NOVELS
A coming-of-age graphic memoir from Beaton (King Baby), best known for her decade-long webcomic Hark! A Vagrant. After graduating from college burdened with student debt in 2005, a then-21-year-old Beaton left her hometown of Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, to embark upon what eventually became a two-year stint working a mining job in Northern Canada’s Athabasca oil sands, a huge petroleum deposit underneath and surrounded by vast boreal forest just below the arctic tundra. This graphic novel is an account of Beaton’s experiences in the oil sands, where her first job is as a tool crib attendant, in charge of distributing hardware while enduring a constant barrage of crude remarks, catcalling, and obvious objectification from her male coworkers. As she moves between job sites and positions, she discovers that sexism and misogyny run rampant in the fuel industry (where men outnumber women 50-to-1) and that filing a harassment complaint will only get her admonished for expecting special treatment. As this detailed memoir progresses, Beaton encounters a succession of idiosyncratic employees who open her eyes to the physical and mental tolls of performing grueling labor in harsh condition. She also comes to understand the environmental havoc wreaked by fossil fuel dependence, but it’s her depiction of how a victim of long-term abuse internalizes their trauma so thoroughly that they lose any sense of their own worth, that lingers beyond the last page.
VERDICT An unflinchingly honest coming-of-age memoir and unforgettable depiction of capitalism’s dehumanizing effect on the individual.
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