Get Your Hark! A Vagrant Fix With a New Compilation

No one has ever said that writing about webcomics is like dancing about architecture, but the simile applies when trying to describe Kate Beaton’s Hark! A Vagrant. You just have to read it to get it.

Beaton’s first collection of comics was released in 2011 and the latest—Step Aside, Pops: A Hark! A Vagrant Collection—will be published on September 22 (she also released a children’s book called The Princess and the Pony earlier this year).

In the intro of Step Aside, Beaton describes her work in pretty simple terms: “When I get asked to describe my comics, the easiest thing to say is that it is historical or literary or pop-culture parodies.”

That’s apt, but it fails (sorry, Kate) to capture the silly, strange, smart and joyful elements that emanate from Hark!. The latest compilation has occasional bits of narration below the strips, which sometimes serve as introduction or context, and sometimes function only as a delightful aside. Most often, they do both.

On a page with the header, “The Rum Rebellion,” we get this caption: “Here is our old friend, William Bligh. I say old friend because you probably know him from Mutiny on the Bounty already, not because we are personal acquaintances (he is dead). It is easy to find Bligh in the history books—you just follow a breadcrumb trail of temper tantrums.”

On one titled, “The Last Days of George Danton,” it’s: “Quick! Who’s your favorite revolutionary! Is it Danton? Mine too! How many people described as “lionesque” actually fit the bill in looks and character? Did you say Robespierre is your favorite? You’re out of the fan club.”

You get the idea. Whether it’s the Founding Fathers, Wuthering Heights, the concept of “Strong Female Characters,” Ida B. Wells, or just an image from the archives, Beaton puts her clever and mirthful spin on an assortment of things you never imagined would send you into laughing fits. It’s sort of like a weird, fun, not entirely accurate lesson in history, literature and pop culture all at once.

Visit Hark! A Vagrant to see for yourself.

SP Books
A Limited Edition, Handwritten Manuscript of The Great Gatsby Can Be Yours for $249
SP Books
SP Books

Fans of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s classic The Great Gatsby need to put this on their holiday wish list: The French manuscript publisher SP Books is releasing a deluxe, limited-edition version of Fitzgerald’s handwritten Gatsby manuscript.

A handwritten manuscript of 'The Great Gatsby' open to a page
SP Books

The 328-page, large-format edition is cloth-bound and features an ornamental, iron-gilded cover. The facsimile of Fitzgerald’s original manuscript shows how the author reworked, rewrote, and otherwise altered the book throughout his writing process, changing character’s names (Nick was named “Dud” at one point), cutting down scenes, and moving around where certain information was introduced to the plot, like where the reader finds out how Gatsby became wealthy, which in the original manuscript wasn’t revealed until the end of the book. For Fitzgerald superfans, it's also signed.

A page of the handwritten manuscript with a pen on it
SP Books

The publisher is only selling 1800 copies of the manuscript, so if you’re a lover of literary history, you’d better act fast.

It’s available from SP Books for $249.

Andreas Rentz/Getty Images
Pop Culture
An AI Program Wrote Harry Potter Fan Fiction—and the Results Are Hilarious
Andreas Rentz/Getty Images
Andreas Rentz/Getty Images

“The castle ground snarled with a wave of magically magnified wind.”

So begins the 13th chapter of the latest Harry Potter installment, a text called Harry Potter and the Portrait of What Looked Like a Large Pile of Ash. OK, so it’s not a J.K. Rowling original—it was written by artificial intelligence. As The Verge explains, the computer-science whizzes at Botnik Studios created this three-page work of fan fiction after training an algorithm on the text of all seven Harry Potter books.

The short chapter was made with the help of a predictive text algorithm designed to churn out phrases similar in style and content to what you’d find in one of the Harry Potter novels it "read." The story isn’t totally nonsensical, though. Twenty human editors chose which AI-generated suggestions to put into the chapter, wrangling the predictive text into a linear(ish) tale.

While magnified wind doesn’t seem so crazy for the Harry Potter universe, the text immediately takes a turn for the absurd after that first sentence. Ron starts doing a “frenzied tap dance,” and then he eats Hermione’s family. And that’s just on the first page. Harry and his friends spy on Death Eaters and tussle with Voldemort—all very spot-on Rowling plot points—but then Harry dips Hermione in hot sauce, and “several long pumpkins” fall out of Professor McGonagall.

Some parts are far more simplistic than Rowling would write them, but aren’t exactly wrong with regards to the Harry Potter universe. Like: “Magic: it was something Harry Potter thought was very good.” Indeed he does!

It ends with another bit of prose that’s not exactly Rowling’s style, but it’s certainly an accurate analysis of the main current that runs throughout all the Harry Potter books. It reads: “‘I’m Harry Potter,’ Harry began yelling. ‘The dark arts better be worried, oh boy!’”

Harry Potter isn’t the only work of fiction that Jamie Brew—a former head writer for ClickHole and the creator of Botnik’s predictive keyboard—and other Botnik writers have turned their attention to. Botnik has previously created AI-generated scripts for TV shows like The X-Files and Scrubs, among other ridiculous machine-written parodies.

To delve into all the magical fiction that Botnik users have dreamed up, follow the studio on Twitter.

[h/t The Verge]


More from mental floss studios