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Cape Breton cartoonist back home after success on New York City's arts scene

The Beaton family enjoying some outdoor time this past winter. From left, Kate, husband Morgan Murray and one-year-old daughter Mary. CONTRIBUTED
The Beaton family enjoying some outdoor time this past winter. From left, Kate, husband Morgan Murray and one-year-old daughter Mary. - Contributed
MABOU, N.S. —

With stops in Halifax, Toronto and Fort McMurray, Kate Beaton’s journey thus far is much like that of many other Cape Bretoners.

That is until you get to the part about living in New York City where she found success as a renowned cartoonist in the world’s most competitive market.

Beaton is the award-winning creator of Hark! A Vagrant, a webcomic strip that often features her unique portrayal of historic people and events. Her work has received widespread acclaim, has been featured in prestigious publications such as The New Yorker and is published in three books of her comic collections.

Kate Beaton at a past San Diego Comic-Con. CONTRIBUTED
Kate Beaton at a past San Diego Comic-Con. CONTRIBUTED

The native of Mabou accomplished all of that and more by her early-30s. Beaton had conquered the city that never sleeps.

“I went to New York because I really wanted to be a cartoonist, I wanted it to work and I knew I had to be ambitious,” said Beaton, who previously lived in Fort McMurray, Victoria, Toronto and Halifax after graduating from Mount Allison University with a degree in history and anthropology.

“In New York, you’re either going to make it or you’re not, you’re either going to wake up every morning hustling more than you did the day before or you are just not going to make it.”

But after soaking up the creativity and energy that she needed, and that New York offered, she decided she’d had her fill of the Big Apple. Four-and-a-half years ago she moved home to Cape Breton.

Now 36, Beaton lives in the small community of Mabou where she grew up. She has a husband, writer Morgan Murray, and a one-year-old daughter. Her parents are not far away. Life is much quieter in Inverness County than it is in New York.

“I don’t regret coming back,” she said, during a recent telephone interview from her home that is situated on some 80 acres of land not far from the waters of the Gulf of St. Lawrence’s Northumberland Strait.

“Just the other day, I had to go to the pharmacy in Inverness and when I got out of the car I could smell the ocean, that salty smell, and I was hit with by the immediate visceral effect that those memories bring.

“As I look out the window now I can see the same hills and fields and trees that I remember from my childhood. I took it for granted. We all take it for granted.”

But Beaton isn’t taking anything for granted these days.

She keeps in touch with friends still residing in New York and sympathizes with their plight during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and lockdown.

“It’s tough for them – I have friends there who have been locked in their apartment for the past six weeks or more, so yes, we’re all much better off here in Cape Breton,” said Beaton, who added that living in New York can be tough at the best of times.

“You pay a lot of money for a small space, usually with other people. My bedroom didn’t even have a window and in the summertime it was sweltering. There was no air conditioner, it was nightmarish.”

This example of Kate Beaton’s Hark! A Vagrant focuses on the legendary singer Stan Rogers. Beaton, who made her mark on the comic world while living in New York City, is happy to be back home in Mabou where she resides with her author husband Morgan Murray and their one-year-old daughter Mary.
This example of Kate Beaton’s Hark! A Vagrant focuses on the legendary singer Stan Rogers. Beaton, who made her mark on the comic world while living in New York City, is happy to be back home in Mabou where she resides with her author husband Morgan Murray and their one-year-old daughter Mary.

Now, a large part of Beaton’s days is taken up caring for daughter Mary who just celebrated her first birthday. She also visits her parents on a regular basis. And, of course, she takes advantage of the outdoor activities so readily available on Cape Breton Island.

It’s a far cry from New York, but don’t believe for a second that the simple and tranquil life is in any way diminishing her creativity. No, there’s plenty of imagination right around her. After all, husband Morgan's new book Dirty Birds was last week placed on the Giller Prize’s Crazy for CanLit 2020 list.

And, she just happens to live in culturally-rich Inverness County, the home of countless musicians, artists and writers.

Frank Macdonald
Frank Macdonald

Frank Macdonald, a lifelong Inverness resident, author and co-founder the weekly newspaper The Oran, said the western part of Cape Breton Island has inspired creativity since the arrival of the Scots.

“This area has a rich history of storytelling that adapted better than expected right up through the 20th century and until today,” said Macdonald.

“The island is steeped in the traditions of telling stories by both word of mouth and through music, and certainly the western side of the island has, over the last few years, been overrun with creativity and that includes a group of young writers who moved here to pursue their dreams.”

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