Whether Kate Beaton's new collection of black-and-white comics, Hark! A Vagrant (Drawn and Quarterly; 169 pages; $19.95), fits within the purview of science fiction and fantasy is open to debate. Its expressively, yet simply, drawn strips are most often concerned with alternate interpretations of literature and history - very often Canadian history.

But the book also contains confrontations between Jules Verne and H.G. Wells, the very reluctant adventures of Wonder Woman and a quick run through "Dracula," a book written, Beaton points out, "to tell ladies that if you're not a submissive waif, society goes to hell and ungodly monsters are going to turn you into child-killing horrors and someone is going to drive a bowie knife through your heart/cut off your head/etcetera. As you deserve!"

Beaton has been posting her work online ( www.harkavagrant.com) since 2007, building a fan base that now borders on the slavishly devoted. And it's no wonder. Beaton knows how to strike deep at the satirical heart of the matter, treating her subjects with an inspired mix of erudition and ridiculousness, whether she's chronicling the cases of the world's worst teenage detectives or illustrating various Canadian stereotypes.

In eight panels, her "Dude Watchin' With the Brontes" says more about one branch of the 19th century novel than many doctoral theses. After you read "Hark! A Vagrant," you'll never be able to look at "The Great Gatsby," Nancy Drew or "Jane Eyre" the same way again, and that's what makes Beaton's Web comic worthy of this handsome permanent edition.

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