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Imprint talks John Porcellino

Updated January 12, 2012

November 6, 2011
Bill Kartalopoulos

The background of John Porcellino’s website, King-cat.net, is a Crayola-blue sky populated with fluffy white clouds. The comics artist’s digital wallpaper genially marries the aesthetics of nursery-school nostalgia to those of upbeat indie animation, but anyone familiar with Porcellino knows that he is no blue-sky artist. While his work can be charming, it is never lightweight.

Since 1989, Porcellino has self-published his seminal “King-Cat Comics” series (now up to its 71st issue) in the zinelike “minicomics” format, a DIY production that supports the sublime authenticity of his comics. For more than 20 years, Porcellino has chronicled the events and rhythms of his life — relationships, breakups, depression, death and the experience of nature — as a series of small moments made resonant by a striving for grace. Although he has produced some longer stories (notably, the teenage chronicle “Perfect Example”), the warp and weft of his ongoing series resist a standard narrative arc. Instead, “King-Cat” poetically expresses the cyclical unfolding of an evolving existence. If this sounds a little Zen, a term usually applied superficially, it is no accident. Porcellino has engaged the ideas, literature and practices of Zen Buddhism, and his body of work includes comics adaptations of Zen stories and parables.

The rise of the graphic novel and the emergence of digital media have marginalized zine production, but many dedicated practitioners remain and continue to adapt. While Porcellino has resisted digital media as a platform for first publication, he has accommodated the possibilities of the book format. In addition to “Perfect Example,” noted above, his books include two large “King-Cat” anthologies from Drawn and Quarterly (“King-Cat Classix” and “Map of My Heart”) as well as “Diary of a Mosquito Abatement Man” (from the boutique imprint La Mano), which collects Porcellino’s stories about his former day job as an exterminator. “Diary” chronicles his drawing style’s development over a 10-year period, from a messy punk scribble into refined, gestural calligraphics, just as the stories track the development of his values from reckless youthful enthusiasm toward a do-no-harm ethos.

Porcellino has generally resisted industry pressures that have swayed other cartoonists toward supposedly marketable works (memoir, collaborations, adaptations, topical works, biographies). One exception might be his book “Thoreau at Walden,” published by Hyperion as part of a series of comics biographies for younger readers that was organized by the Center for Cartoon Studies. But the book seemed very much like applied art at its best: a work by an artist who feels an affinity for the subject at hand and brings his own experience to bear for the benefit of his readership.

One can say much the same thing about “The Next Day” (Pop Sandbox; $16.95), which has its official U.S. release on Nov. 2. A graphic novella with a multimedia component sponsored by the National Film Board of Canada, “The Next Day” is a socially motivated project aimed at suicide prevention. The book was co-written by Paul Peterson and Jason Gilmore, based upon interviews with four people who survived suicide attempts. The (edited) testimonies of these survivors trace their lives from childhood up to the point of attempted suicide, and beyond. And “beyond” is very much the purpose of this project: Surviving the suicide attempt — moving past a moment in which escape from life appears to be the only option — the four are able to provide accounts of their lives that begin to explain how they arrived at that near-final point. The book is not diagnostic, but in its structure, which intercuts chronological testimony from all four subjects, some common themes emerge: troubled family relationships, depression and bipolar disorder, sexual abuse, self-medication with alcohol and drugs that mask but do not eliminate pain.

Porcellino’s visual style is here, as always, simplified to the essential gesture: iconographic but infused with the authentic feeling of a note written in love or friendship. The deceptively childlike quality of his artwork connects at the root with the stories it depicts, tracing a taut line through each developing emotional life up to the moment of climax. Throughout the book, Porcellino employs a visual metaphor that first appears on the book’s cover: A simply drawn house stands on a lawn, beneath a sky, empty but for a forebodingly shaded cloud. Each section begins with some version of this image, as clouds gather and rain begins to fall; eventually, as life seems untenable, there is a downpour, coinciding with the suicide attempts of the book’s four subjects. Afterward, they are left to reckon with the effects of their actions, and the storm dissipates.

By itself, this might seem like a facile metaphor — “every storm passes” — if not for the final drawing in the sequence: the house, again, with more shaded clouds above it. Are these the last remnants of the now-passing storm or the gatherings of a new downpour? The ambiguity of this poetic image is underlined by its relationship to the book’s concluding passages, which relate the lives of the survivors, post-suicide attempt. “Anyone who says they never think about it again is lying,” says one. “I have a mental illness that requires constant care,” asserts another, who is later revealed to have reattempted suicide. As in his other work, Porcellino has resisted the conventional narrative arc of self-help books and Movies of the Week. The storm that passed was one among many, Porcellino’s image insists, and survival is achieved not by conquering life — a concept that carries its own implied converse of defeat — but by mastering the experience of living with life’s difficult cycles. This is not the kind of blue-sky optimism that might put off a person in the deepest throes of depression, but a hard-won wisdom that speaks with the compassion of experience.
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John Porcellino

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Map of My Heart

  The Daily Texan gives JOHN PORCELLINO's 71st issue of KING-CAT a grade A

Updated September 16, 2010

King-Cat’s 71st issue slice of artist's life
Comic Book Review

by Ao Meng, Daily Texan

One of the grand masters of autobiographical comics, John Porcellino, remembers long-lost loves and the city of Denver in his 71st issue of King-Cat, all in his signature minimalist style. This new entry to the long-running series delivers more of the same — namely, powerful and poetic work from a living legend.

The Denver-based Porcellino, who is by now surely one of America’s national treasures, has been producing (or, more accurately, photocopying and stapling) King-Cat since 1989. The first issues were humorous and hormonal, reflecting his then teenaged punk-rock lifestyle. Since then, he’s mellowed out, becoming a lot older and wiser. He’s become something of a poet laureate of underground minicomics, influencing generations of cartoonists with his deeply personal and profoundly spiritual work. In the time since issue 70 dropped in September of last year, events like Harvey Pekar’s (the alt-cartoonist who wrote “American Splendor”) passing in July have made Porcellino’s slice-of-life comics feel more precious and vital than ever.

In a talk at Domy Books last April, Porcellino spoke about his goals and influences for King-Cat and said the comic is how he documents his life. The cartoonist spoke about how he strives to capture the in-between times, the quiet moments of tranquility and contemplation. His work is deeply influenced by the ideas and philosophies of Zen Buddhism, and the koan-like writing style in King-Cat perfectly complements the serene perfection of his images.

Issue 71 opens like a force of nature, with a one-two punch of quotes taken from a winter 1855 entry in the journal of Henry David Thoreau and the last line of the refrain of “Odds and Ends” from Bob Dylan’s The Basement Tapes. A lesser poet might have stopped there, but not Porcellino — the opposite page illustrates Matthew 8:20, Jesus’s famous pronouncement to an eager scribe of the weariness inherent in being a son of man. The two-panel strip, instilling a sense of the profound and holy in around 200 pen strokes that obliterates the reader’s thoughts of whatever else he or she was doing before cracking open the issue, wipes the mind clean to a state of ready openness and contemplation.

The meat of the issue collects short comics dealing with memories of lost places and the aching of past relationships remembered anew. Highlights include an illustrated essay on the pre-gentrified Denver of the early ’90s and “Boots On,” a story of an evening spent alone in the cold Illinois winter. The artist falls asleep reading Mark Twain, and dreams of a reunion at an infinite bus terminal with some bygone love. A slyly comedic note is hit with “Portrait of the Artist as a Middle-Aged Dirtbag,” a self-aware riff on a life spent in happy squalor

The issue ends with two melancholy stories that end with the cartoonist’s avatar staring introspectively out the right of the frame, surrounded and almost consumed by a whirlwind of personal loss. The back cover attempts to shed a little sun on the dark feelings — a whimsical “Greetings from the Sunshine State” featuring postcard images of oranges, a rocket ship and friendly wildlife. A note entitled “Welcome to the Jungle” illuminates — “there comes a time in every man’s life when he moves down to Florida, child.” It’s in the middle of the issue, in heart and in print, a tour de force of drawings of the local fauna of Gainesville, Fla. Positively outright Daoist in nature, it delights and illuminates like the words of a pillarist hermit depositing wisdom from a secluded scenic mountaintop. It is a love of warming, radiating light.

Grade: A
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JOHN PORCELLINO interviewed by Comic Book Resources News

Updated September 1, 2010


by Alex Dueben

John Porcellino recently published issue #70 of his long-running minicomic "King Cat Comics and Stories," which he began in 1989. Earlier this year, Drawn and Quarterly released "Map of My Heart," a collection of his comics from 1996-2002. With a minimalistic style, in terms of his artwork and the dialogue and descriptions he crafts, Pocellino's work conveys the most essential information of a scene with a meditative beauty that is hard to find in comics.

While his early work has a very different sensibility and the influence of Lynda Barry and Matt Groening can be more easily seen, it's his most recent work and its focus on the natural world, rethinking and revisiting his own youth, and meditations of the present where Porcellino has really found his voice and subject matter. In more recent issues of "KIng Cat Comics," Porcellino's depictions of nature and the quotidian aspects of daily life could make the argument for him being one of the great American Zen artists and writers.

Porcellino continues to produce King-Cat, photocopying and mailing each new issue to subscribers and select stores. He also runs Spit and a Half (spitandahalf.blogspot.com) which distributes comics and zines by Gabrielle Bell, Lilli Carre, Dave Kiersh, Zak Sally, Tim Lane, Rina Ayuyang and others.

In between two lengthy book tours, Porcellino took time out to speak with CBR over e-mail about minicomics, Henry David Thoreau and the influence of Zen on his life and work.

CBR News: "Map of my Heart: The Best of King-Cat Comics and Stories 1996-2002" was just released through Drawn and Quarterly and I'm curious, just how much of a selection is the book and was it a complicated process of assembling the book?

John Porcellino: In this case, it was mostly a matter of getting the pages set up and in the right order, as there were only a few stories from the original zines that didn't make it into the book. Of course, there was still a lot of tweaking, proofing and decision making, and the back of the book required assembling all the extra material, writing and editing the notes and transcribing journal entries etc. So it was still a lot of work. But compared to "King-Cat Classix," which involved a lot of editing, this one was pretty straightforward.

"Map of my Heart" is the second major collection of "King Cat Comics" after "King-Cat Classix," which you just mentioned, and was released a few years back. Had you read most or any of the comics since you wrote and drew them?

I haven't really read them that much since they were published. But by the time I finish drawing and writing them for King-Cat, they're pretty indelible to me. There were a few in there that I had kind of forgotten about, though.

"Map of My Heart" contains issues 51-61 of your comics. Is the plan or the hope for D&Q to publish a collected edition of the comic every few years like this?

Yes, the next collection will be called "From Lone Mountain" and will contain material from King-Cat issues 62- 68 or so. We plan on beginning to intersperse the release of the collections with books of all-new material as well.

How has your style as an artist developed and how did you settle on this minimalist style?

I've always tried to make King-Cat as true to my vision as possible. What I try to do as an artist is bring out the comics as I see them in my head. I don't know exactly why, but this is the way I see comics. Sometimes I see them with more detail, or crosshatching, or what have you, but mostly I see them in this clean, simple linework style. So I trust that, and try to bring that out on the page. I've always been attracted to simplicity in art, whether it be writing, painting, music, film or whatever. So I guess it's only natural that my own work developed its own kind of simplicity.

You have a very simple style which leads me to wonder how much editing and revision you do during the creation of your comics.

I do a lot of editing and revising. Most of the work I do on comics happens before I ever sit down to draw. I keep a constant trail of little ideas, stories, titles etc, in my notebooks, and, over time, I try to pare those down to something that makes cohesive sense to me. Then I begin writing and whittling that down. A lot of the work ends up "on the cutting room floor," so to speak.

Is the editing more a question of simplification - fewer lines in a drawing, less dialogue, less description - or is it a question of "getting it right?"

It's a matter of both. Often what I do when I start writing is throw everything I can into the mix. Then I need to pare that down to what's essential. What elements add more to the story than they detract? What am I really trying to say here, and how do I accomplish that in this instance? For me, it's, as you said, an attempt to "get it right," which is a constantly shifting and mysterious thing to me as an artist. I want the comic to be what it wants to be, and the creative process is the way that's accomplished (hopefully!).

You began "King-Cat Comics and Stories" in 1989 . What is it about minicomics that has kept you creating them for so many years?

I love the independence of it, I love the ability to connect on a more personal level with readers, I love being closely involved in all the aspects of production. It's just the way my mind sees this work.

How has Buddhist thought and practice affected your art. There are references to zen practice and illustrated poems, of course, but in what ways has it shaped the way you work and how you think about your work.

When I discovered Zen, the things that attracted me to it were its humor, its simplicity and its emphasis on everyday life. These were all things that I was working with in my comics already, but Zen kind of gave a form to these somewhat amorphous ideas I'd been kicking around for a while. Zen practice is the practice of everyday life, so, as a cartoonist, my comics are an important part of that. Practice is finding out who you are and working out your place in the world. So to me, these two things go hand in hand.

I know you did a book about Henry David Thoreau a few years back for the CCS Biography Series from Hyperion. What is it about Thoreau that speaks to you?

The same sort of things that attracted me to Zen - simplicity, directness and self-awareness. As an artist, I learned from an early age that Thoreau could be an important role model for me. He was involved wholeheartedly with nature, and his own idiosyncratic work, in living frugally and in finding a way to focus on the things that really mattered to him. He also understood that his work was a socio-political statement. These are all things that I've been interested in, as well.

In addition to your "King Cat" work, you have a graphic novel coming out from Drawn and Quarterly next spring, "The Hospital Suite." I don't know how much you want to say about or where you are in finishing it...

It's one of those "all-new" books I mentioned earlier - my experiences from 1997-98, when I was very ill. That period was the hinge of my life thus far, and when I look back, things are clearly divided into Pre-Illness and Post-Illness. The story has been written for a while now, I just need to draw it.

How does your process of creating longer works like "Thoreau at Walden" or "The Hospital Suite" differ from how you put together stories for "King Cat?"

Well, longer works are a different animal. For Thoreau, I was working with his writing directly, so what I did was create notecards with little anecdotes, quotes etc on them, and arranged them by theme - animals, weather, the pond, independence, etc. I knew I wanted to present the book as a passing of seasons, like the original Walden. Then it was just a matter of finding some kind of narrative thread, or progress, in terms of presenting his thinking in an evolutionary way.

For "The Hospital Suite," it's obviously based on true events, so there's an automatic narrative arc to the material. In these kind of longer autobiographical works, I have an idea or theme I want to get across and I try to find some way to make that work in a narrative form. I give myself some flexibility in terms of "accuracy" - I may combine different experiences, or edit things out, or slightly reorder things if it helps the comic read better. I'm not after some kind of "pure truth," but a more "narrative truth" - one that respects both the actual events and the story.

What's your relationship like with D&Q. Obviously it's a good one, but is it sometimes frustrating as a self-publisher to work with someone else or is it a relief to give up a lot of work and responsibility?

In certain ways, it took me a while to get used to working with an outside publisher, I'd done things on my own for so long. But they respect the work, and they support me wholeheartedly as an artist, and I really appreciate that. They have certain skills and abilities that I don't have, so it's great to work with people who can bring those different elements to the process. They help me out a lot. It's a relief to have that kind of help. Hopefully I also bring something to them, in terms of my commitment to work hard as a self-motivated artist.

You recently finished a month long tour. What was it like and what was your thinking behind such a lengthy tour schedule?

This last tour was fantastic. I went out to Chicago for the new Chicago Zine Fest and the SAIC Comics Symposium, and then worked my way down south to Florida and across the Gulf states into Texas, then back up to Denver. I met so many great people and saw so many great things. I'd never really been down south before, so it was especially exciting for me. I love traveling and I love meeting readers, shop-owners and other artists, so touring is something that is really fulfilling to me. So far, I've driven over 15,000 miles on this tour, and I still have the west coast coming up in August!

At this point in your career, are you able to support yourself and make a living through your comics work?

I make a living as an artist, and a good portion of my income comes from comics. I mean, I've existed the last few years mainly due to sales of my original artwork, commissions, illustrations and the like. Of course, the royalties and "King-Cat" sales are a big part of things, and without the comics themselves, I doubt many people would be interested in commissioning work from me. So I've come to view it all as sort of one big project. I should clarify, when you say "make a living" - my living is very barebones, and very simple. (See Thoreau, above!) But to have the freedom to work as an artist is a great privilege, and at this point I wouldn't trade it for the alternatives.

As you've gotten older, has what you've wanted to do with comics - not just even in terms of subject matter, but your thinking on creating them - shifted over the years?

Cover for "King-Cat Comics" #70
Of course. Things do change over time. When I began drawing comics, I had no idea that they would turn into my life's work. I still think it's kind of funny when I consider it now. As for creating them, I would say things have gotten more complicated in some ways over the years. I spend the bulk of my time taking care of King-Cat "business" stuff now, much more time doing that than drawing. But to survive as an artist, I think that's a requirement (for me).

And, yeah, the way I look at creating them has also shifted a bit. That's kind of due to circumstances, etc. changing, and having to adapt to changes in my life. But I still feel the same way about them that I did at the start in a lot ways - I just want to do what comes natural, to let "King-Cat" be what it wants to be. So it changes, gradually, subtly, at this point. I just want to follow it wherever it leads me.

Who were the cartoonists who really inspired you when you were younger and who do you enjoy reading now?

I loved all kinds of comics as a kid, but mostly I read the newspaper funnies. As a teenager, it was Matt Groening and Lynda Barry, whom I read in the weekly "Chicago Reader," that inspired me to start drawing comics again and to start looking at all the possibilities offered by the form.

Nowadays I read all kinds of stuff. I love most of the old reprint collections that are coming out - Walt and Skeezix, old Marvels/Jack Kirby stuff, Little Orphan Annie etc; I read a lot of European and international comics; zines; I really love the new comics coming out by people like Gabrielle Bell, Sammy Harkham, Kevin Huizenga...I have pretty eclectic tastes.

As far as the connection between life and art, it really feels as if that's fairly rare for artist. One gets a sense of you and your thinking through reading your work in a way that most people wouldn't from most artists' bodies of work. Do you think that's true?

I think it's true to a large extent, but also can be a little misleading. I think sometimes people who only know me through my comics have the idea that I'm a super quiet, refined kind of guy. But I'm actually kind of dopey, and I like stupid humor as well. The fact is, not everything in my life goes into "King-Cat," for various reasons. But hopefully, over time, it can paint a pretty accurate self-portrait. I strive to be personally and emotionally honest in my work, and I think people understand that.

What is it about Denver and Colorado that you love and that keeps you there?

I love the sense of space, the vast sky, the light. I love the openness and independence I feel in the West. Denver is a great city, and it's very livable. You can lead a pretty simple life out here. That's important to me.
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John Porcellino

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King-Cat Classix

  MAP OF MY HEART reviewed on Reverse Direction

Updated April 21, 2010

Review: Map of My Heart by John Porcellino

by John Seven

There is something jarring about the intimacy of John Porcellino’s “Map of My Heart,” from Canadian publisher Drawn and Quarterly. It’s not any big revelations that give it that quality — rather the earnestness about his life’s smallest moments, as well as those observed regarding others.

Porcellino offers slices that usually have no punchline — nor denouement of any kind — and in their open-endedness perfectly capture what each moment of life is like for any of us. At no point does any person know what comes next, and Porcellino’s narrative captures this reality, creating little isolated sections of our larger, conscious movements that put an artistic microscope on the specific emotions of that specific moment.

Porcellino’s tales are realized not only through his spare journaling, but also brief zen-like fables and moments of spare poetry. Setting the tone for his work, though, is his simplistic cartooning — to describe him as unskilled is not an insult, merely a hint at the outsider quality to his work that makes it more vibrant. Any strip in “Map of My Heart” is the sort of thing you might find rendered on a stray piece of paper you find in the street, or in a box of someone else’s recycling that you decided to rifle through in the hope of find old New Yorker issues. It’s this quality to the artwork that gives the book a feeling that we are not meant to see this work, that these are entries between Porcellino and himself — and that only strengthens the allure.

Porcellino began self-publishing his King-Cat Comics in 1989, the beginning of the ‘90s zine boom, and this collection captures well the spirit of that do-it-yourself era that predated blogs. In this manner, it’s not only the autobiography of some guy, but also a chronicle of a medium and movement that passed as quickly as it came.
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John Porcellino

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Map of My Heart

MAP OF MY HEART is "the most personal experience anywhere in comics today" says Newsarama

Updated April 20, 2010

Review: Map of My Heart

by Michael C. Lorah

It seems, on some level, antithetical to call a self-created and self-distributed indie comic influential, but John Porcellino’s King-Cat Comix is probably the most famous and regarded self-published comic in the U.S.A. So successful is the comic that Drawn & Quarterly has published two collections of King-Cat – King Cat Classix and the newest volume, Map of My Heart.

Map of My Heart will not be to everyone’s tastes. I guess that goes without saying, but it’s worth noting here. Porcellino’s artwork is, to be incredibly kind, crude. Flat line work, with little detail or perspective, a poor grasp of backgrounds and places, and only a rudimentary understanding of anatomy are among the obvious characteristics of Porcellino’s illustrations. Yet there’s a certain appeal to the minimalist, untalented DIY quality in Porcellino’s artwork.

In truth, I find Porcellino’s work hard to review. Many will dismiss it out of hand because of its crudeness. Many will embrace it specifically because of that lack of professional illustrative prowess. The stories, such as they are, range from nakedly confessional pieces, to visual diaries of lengthy nature walks, from illustrated poems to prose articles about recent events in Porcellino’s life or about plants or animals.

Porcellino’s devotion to nature is inspiring and engaging. Following his outdoor excursions, even when seen through his limited graphic skills, offers a meditative beauty. However, his poetry is less inspired. Due to its intensely personal nature, I suspect that many readers will find Map of My Heart saccharine and trite. Just as many others will think it the most personal and affecting work they’ve ever read. Personally, I find it straddles both territories in equal measure.

If my will were all, I’d ask readers to at least sample Map of My Heart, the recent compilation of John Porcellino’s King-Cat Comix, if only because there’s really nothing else like it. It’s a purely personal message. You may not like it, but Porcellino is creating something unique, a confession of his own life, and it’s an experience readers should attempt to navigate. Resembling a confessional blog, or perhaps a diary even, King-Cat is a deeply spiritual (though not religious) journey, through nature and love, with all the heartbreak, joy and absurdity inherent in such. It’s the most personal experience anywhere in comics today.
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John Porcellino

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Map of My Heart

  The North Adams Transcript is "jarred" by MAP OF MY HEART

Updated April 6, 2010

Two memoirs of creative living

By John E. Mitchell

Two new-release autobiographical graphic novels do a remarkable job not only at capturing the smaller details of each author’s life, but their artistic movements as well.

There is something jarring about the intimacy of John Porcellino’s "Map of My Heart," from Canadian publisher Drawn and Quarterly. It’s not any big revelations that give it that quality -- rather the earnestness about his life’s smallest moments, as well as those observed regarding others.
Porcellino offers slices that usually have no punchline -- nor denouement of any kind -- and in their open-endedness perfectly capture what each moment of life is like for any of us. At no point does any person know what comes next, and Porcellino’s narrative captures this reality, creating little isolated sections of our larger, conscious movements that put an artistic microscope on the specific emotions of that specific moment.

Porcellino’s tales are realized not only through his spare journaling, but also brief zen-like fables and moments of spare poetry. Setting the tone for his work, though, is his simplistic cartooning -- to describe him as unskilled is not an insult, merely a hint at the outsider quality to his work that makes it more vibrant. Any strip in "Map of My Heart" is the sort of thing you might find rendered on a stray piece of paper you find in the street, or in a box of someone else’s recycling that you decided to rifle through in the hope of find old New Yorker issues. It’s this quality to the artwork that gives the book a feeling that we are not meant to see this work, that these are entries between Porcellino and himself -- and that only strengthens the allure.

Porcellino began self-publishing his King-Cat Comics in 1989, the beginning of the ‘90s zine boom, and this collection captures well the spirit of that do-it-yourself era that predated blogs. In this manner, it’s not only the autobiography of some guy, but also a chronicle of a medium and movement that passed as quickly as it came.
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John Porcellino

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Map of My Heart

MAP OF MY HEART gets an A- from A.V. Club

Updated April 6, 2010

March 26, 2010

Mini-comics, of course, survived the ’80s, and one of the creators who helped keep the form alive is John Porcellino. Since 1989, his lovingly handmade King-Cat Comics has been a mainstay of (and inspiration to) the self-publishing world. His work began popping up in trade paperbacks via various publishers a few years ago, but the mini-comic has always been Porcellino’s main creative outlet, and his latest collection, Map Of My Heart (Drawn & Quarterly) draws from King-Cat’s fertile mid-period of 1996 through 2002. What makes it so special is the transition it encompasses; in ’96, the series was still morphing from a ragged yet contemplative autobio comic into far more placid and spiritual work. As the strips in Map trek further into Buddhist tranquility, a spacious sadness emerges: These are still stories drawn in simple, clean lines that sketch out Porcellino’s everyday worries and experiences, but by the end of the book—including an extended section about the death of his cat, an event that feels symbolic of so much more—that calm has grown into a quiet, emotional storm… A-

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John Porcellino

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Map of My Heart

  MAP OF MY HEART reviewed by the Comics Reporter

Updated March 17, 2010

CR Review: Map Of My Heart: Celebrating the 20th Anniversary of the King Cat Zine

by Tom Spurgeon

I'd put off reading Map Of My Heart for a long while, which makes no sense at all as I'm a fiend for John Porcellino's work. While I'm not the first person to suggest his importance within the art form, I'm happy to extol his virtues with as much force as anyone out there. Porcellino employs an unadorned art style that suggests a picture of our world with as much clarity as any highly-rendered chops-having traditional master of the comics form might muster. He has a fine, intuitive skill set when it comes to work with prose as well. His best comics provide graceful evocations of moments that only Porcellino might have thought worth exploring in the first place. Beyond the comics with its pages, a regular, self-published issue of King-Cat Comics and Stories is one of comics' perfect marriages of form and function. The surge of joy I feel when I come across a new one is hard to explain. I subliminally ascribe a specific color to the white of the copy paper Porcellino uses to make his minis, which is nuts. They make an impression on me above what seems physically possible.

I realized a couple of things plowing into this anniversary-themed collection. The first is that more than any other comics series I can't tie my consumption of King-Cat into any one way of buying it or even any one general kind of purchase. I've received the minis each and every way a comics fan might get their hands on a comic book: freebies, comic shops, convention sales, mail-order, trades, area bookstores -- which makes my relationship to the work feel a lot more like the ones I have with prose authors or even creative friends with whom I trade letters, phone calls and e-mails. The second is that my reading of Porcellino's work has been greatly shaped by the autobiographically-tinged works I first encountered when I started paying focused attention to his work. Some of those comics make up the early parts of this collection, but they don't dominate; that realization was a key to grasping this volume's unique value.

The great thing that Map Of My Heart does is shake the reader out of preconceptions shaped by Porcellino's long career -- for instance, in my case, that King-Cat is about sublimely well-observed autobiography more than it is about the work where Porcellino encounters nature more than it is about the Buddhist strips more than it is about the letters pages and single drawings. It may take time and effort for many to delve into this new book with all of that material re-presented. I fought an urge to put the book down for not getting to the essential stories quickly enough, and even tried skipping over the letters. If you manage to persevere, I think you'll find the work newly rewarding. Because it's a collection rather than a run of comics, Porcellino is able to provide a few lines long-after-the-fact text commentary in a way that pushes forward yet another way to see the work (his feelings about his marriages, for one, I thought touching and raw). The cumulative effect is remarkably different than the stand-alone. The autobiographical strips read much less like a confident artist holding forth than a man struggling with a certain kind of memory; the Buddhist strips have a yearning quality I didn't see before; the nature strips can be seen in part as a retreat by the artist from a modern world that causes him spiritual and, through an ear sensitivity, actual physical pain. You can even see all the component parts, buttressed by the occasional story moment where he talks about work on King-Cat, as signs of creative restlessness or even doubt. Without the months in-between new issues, Map Of My Heart may provide a greater appreciation for Porcellino as an artist not only reporting on his world but actively reshaping it in an equivalent manner to way he whispers through so many of his comics narrative. I'm grateful for that second look. I did not imagine one existed.

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Bookgasm reviews MAP OF MY HEART

Updated February 2, 2010

Map of My Heart: The Best of King-Cat Comics & Stories, 1996-2002

by Rod Lott

Outside, as I type this, freezing rain gently pelts my windowpane — the lone soundtrack to an otherwise silent snowfall. It’s the perfect environment to read and enjoy John Porcellino’s MAP OF MY HEART: THE BEST OF KING-CAT COMICS & STORIES, 1996-2002: sparse, unassuming, real.

This marks Porcellino’s second collection of his acclaimed zine for Drawn & Quarterly, which also published 2007’s seminal KING-CAT CLASSIX. Whereas that one focused on KING-CAT’s first 50 issues, MAP culls from #51-#61. In other words, it’s more of the same, but when that same is some sort of magic, I’ll happily await the rabbit to emerge from the hat, as if every time were the first.

He works in a style of cartooning that’s almost like anti-cartooning — uncomplicated panels with little detail, just enough to get by. I’m assuming he has no formal art training, which isn’t a slam against him. Quite the opposite. In crafting drawings so simple, so bare, the focus is on the moment. And since his subjects are often emotional, stemming from real life, they achieve a raw power.

MAP’s autobiographical tales find Porcellino either sharing family stories from his past, or his struggles of the present. And while the former are captivating in their own right, it’s the latter that shows him at his most vulnerable, perhaps because there’s no great passage of time to serve as a filter or buffer.

For example, in the midst of these issues, Porcellino was battling a rare health problem, which helped tear a rift in his marriage, eventually leading to divorce. The finest piece in the book, 2001’s “Introduction to the Night Sky,” recalls that time. On a fall night, he and a friend go out to a field to observe the Russian space station Mir passing overhead, and suddenly, Porcellino opens up to him:

“Jon … she’s going to leave me … One time — it was right after she first came to Denver … we were at Target buying stuff … I was standing there, looking at something and when I glanced up — she was gone … She’d just been there a moment earlier … and suddenly she was gone … I searched everywhere for her … up and down every aisle and suddenly this terrible feeling came over me — what if she was really gone? What if she just disappeared like that? What would I do? What if her coming to Denver — our whole life together — what if it had just been a dream? And there I was — waking up in the toaster aisle at Target … totally alone?”

And then he pauses, and something unrelated occurs, and consider your heart duly tugged. That’s as honest and naked as graphic narratives get.

It’s not all despair and disillusionment, either, folks, so don’t expect MAP to be a wrist-slitter. The school-aged sequences are (mostly) filled with folly, and sporadic Top 40 lists (even if they rarely reach that number) and short essays keep things light, even when bookened by more spiritual, Zen Buddhist stuff.

Porcellino annotates the contents with endnotes that shed further light on what he was doing and how he was feeling at the time, particularly in relation to his oft-crippling OCD. And it ends with several pages of sketches of his cat, Maisie, so beloved that she has dozens of alternate names.
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  Newsarama interviews JOHN PORCELLINO

Updated January 5, 2010

Interview: John Porcellino

by Henry Chamberlain

In America, now suffering for its excess with the Great Recession, you never know who might look down upon you if you don’t own a house, or a car, or the latest gadget. Western society tends to have a problem with identity and status and capitalism and commercialism are always there to provide a quick fix. Maybe these times are converting more people to cherish a more simple life and appreciate what they already have. That back-to-basics lifestyle is what is at the core of what is one of the most significant do-it-yourself enterprises out there, a self-published zine called, “King-Cat Comics & Stories” by John Porcellino who has grown into a significant artist in his own right.

The current issue of “King-Cat Comics & Stories” marks the 20th anniversary of the little zine that has influenced a generation in comics and much more. John Porcellino’s last visit with Newsarama was a few months ago. With the current leg of his book tour completed, here’s a chance to catch up a bit more with the man called the heart and soul of the small press. Here is further insight into his latest collected work, “Map of My Heart” and “Thoreau at Walden.”

Blog@Newsarama: “Map of My Heart” covers six years, 1996 thru 2002, in your life and “King-Cat.” At the start of this period, you were just beginning to study Zen Buddhism. How would you describe that journey and how it has influenced your comics?

John Porcellino: I always say that when I first discovered Zen, it was like finding an old pair of shoes in your closet, that you’d forgotten you had. You put them on and they’re worn-in and comfortable.

Zen practice is the practice of everyday life, so eventually it connects to all aspects of your life. In that way, for me, it connected to comics. Comics became part of my practice.

In a way, meditation probably helped me to slow down a bit and have the patience to really look into small moments, which was something I was always interested in doing with my comics.

Blog@: You make such wonderful observations about nature. And, often, it’s about little creatures that must coexist with us humans and our suburban sprawl. You find the poetry in that. Tell us more about this.

JP: In one of his writings, Thoreau talked about appreciating more the natural environment in which humans have made an impact. I feel the same way. Pure wilderness is amazing, but I was always more attracted to the pastoral, where the fingerprint of human activity is on the land, but it’s not obtrusive, it’s a part of the environment. So I’ve been interested in the way Nature adapts to humans and vice versa.

I think it’s beautiful, and inspiring, that humans are so self-centered, stomping around blindly on the planet, yet Nature rolls on all around us.

Blog@: I love all your top forty lists. Among movies, I see that the Marx Brothers are all-time favorites. Those guys loved to perform and loved people. What do you think of Charlie Chaplin? I think he shares a quality you have of wanting to give back.

JP: I’ve only seen two Chaplin films, “The Gold Rush”– while in high school, and “Modern Times,” last week… so I don’t feel knowledgable enough to comment on Chaplin. As far as giving back, yes, I feel like part of a community, and that we’re all here for each other.

Blog@: What can you tell us about your influences in your work? I’m guessing that James Thurber is one of them.

JP: I’ve read Thurber for years, and I definitely love his work, but I wouldn’t call him an influence. If he was it was very subconscious. My main influences I would say were Matt Groening, Lynda Barry, the Chicago Imagists, Kerouac, Thoreau, John Rooney (college painting teacher), Warhol, punk rock, Jenny Zervakis, Jeff Zenick, and various Buddhist poets and writers.

Blog@: “King-Cat” began in 1989 and is unique in having developed this world-wide grass roots following. Can you speak to that?

JP: I don’t know what to say about that. I appreciate it… it’s humbling, and motivating.

Blog@: Please tell us about a project I am sure is dear to you, “Thoreau at Walden.” I see that you visited Walden. That cabin is pretty small!

JP: One day Jame Sturm emailed me and asked if I would be interested in doing a book on Thoreau… as soon as he mentioned it, I thought “Wow– what a perfect idea!” Thoreau has been a huge influence on me, perhaps the biggest influence on me as an artist, and it was a real honor to work with his writings in that way.

While on tour I finally got to go to Walden Pond. It was a clear, cold morning at the beginning of October, so there were very few people around. It was a joy to walk on those paths. It felt like American holy ground.

Blog@: What would you like to tell us about your book tour? You’ve completed the East Coast leg and there’s still more to come, right? Any stories come to mind?

JP: I toured the Northeast and Midwest in September/October, and hope to make it out to the Southeast and West Coast next spring/summer. The tour was great, but exhausting! I got to see so many new places, and meet so many people, old friends and new. It was inspiring. My life isn’t very dramatic, so I don’t know how many interesting stories I have to tell. It was fun learning how to sleep sitting up in a freezing cold car.

Blog@: Share with us a bit about your own reading of comics. What comics are you currently into? Any thoughts on DC, Marvel, whatever comes to mind.

JP: I’ve been reading mostly some of the great reprints that are coming out nowadays, Little Orphan Annie, Peanuts, Popeye, Walt and Skeezix. I picked up about two boxes full of books and zines while on tour, so I’m set for a long time as far as reading goes. Been learning a bit about the alternative Manga artists, and that’s pretty exciting, it’s a whole new world to explore.

Of contemporary cartoonists, I really love Kelly Froh and Max Clotfelter, Jason Martin, Gabrielle Bell, and all the other usual suspects.

As for DC and Marvel, this year I started reading a bunch of the Jack Kirby reprint series, and it’s no exagerration to say that they’ve totally changed my thinking about comics. They kind of re-inspired me after a long period of self-doubt. But I’m otherwise unfamiliar with anything those companies have put out since the mid-80’s.

Blog@: You’ve written about how suburban life can be comforting. Do you think that’s sort of a human’s natural habitat?

JP: No, I think suburban life is unnatural. It’s comfortable in some ways, if you have a car, and don’t expect to have a community experience. I spent my adolescence in the suburbs, so I have an affinity to them, and a nostalgic kind of longing for them, but in general I think they’re unhealthy and unsustainable. I appreciate more cities and towns. I suppose the most natural environment for humans would be a town large enough to have a cultural scene, but small enough to feel human scaled. By that I would include city neighborhoods. But there should be access to Nature. I don’t know!

Blog@: I love the notes you include in the back of “Map of My Heart.” You provide the initial thoughts that led to some of your comics. In “Psalm,” I thought you stayed out of the house to let your cat, Maisie Kukoc, sleep but you say it was the stars that kept you outside, which makes perfect sense. Could you really hear the living ground?

JP: Yes.

Blog@: You’ve had your share of illness and, in the end, you say it has strengthened you. You speak about not fearing death but, at the same time, loving being alive. Would you say that is the theme to “King-Cat”?

JP: Yeah, in a way it is. Maybe the theme to “King-Cat” is “This is your life, and it’s your job to live it. No one else can do it for you.” Find the sanctity in that.

Blog@: You started “King-Cat” as a youth full of dreams and you’ve kept on with it and seen it mature and prosper. Would you say that “King-Cat” is fullfilling your dreams?

JP: I wouldn’t really think of them as “dreams.” I had something I wanted to pursue, and a way I wanted to pursue it. To have been able to do that to the extent I have has been gratifying.

I always wanted to be an artist, I wanted to be able to communicate to people through my art. At some point that became a reality, to one degree or another. In that way it’s been successful. It feels good to go on.
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JOHN PORCELLINO is "one of the nicest guys you'll ever know"!

Updated December 14, 2009

Comics Grinder: Map of My Heart

by Henry Chamberlain

It is the simple pleasures of life that John Porcellino celebrates in his beloved and influential zine, “King-Cat Comics & Stories.” Porcellino shares with us the most simple and basic pleasures which ultimately leads to sharing the joy of being alive. There is a life struggle too, and Porcellino shares his with you, his heart being broken, his illnesses, but he keeps coming back to the joie de vivre.

“Map of My Heart” is the latest collection of “King-Cat” and covers 1996 through 2002. These are the years that Generation X comes of age. And while a case can be made that John Porcellino is a voice for his generation, he is actually much more than that. He is himself. He’s what all of us from Generation X were suppose to be: authentic. It helps if you believe in something. John Porcellino finds inspiration in Zen Buddhism and it looks like it helps to inform and guide his comics. He often will draw something from his studies like his references to the Zen-Monk poet, Ryokan. He’ll also find inspiration from the Marx Brothers and the Beach Boys. Whatever it might be, he seems to know how to tap into the good stuff.

For example, “Psalm,” is a magical meditation on being in the moment. Porcellino goes out for a walk at night. He lets his cat, Maisie Kukoc, know he’s leaving. He wanders through the neighborhood. When he returns, he sees Kukoc through the window and she might be asleep. The stars inspire Porcellino to stay outside. On the porch, he can hear the living ground beneath his feet. He tunes in to the sounds of worms, “click, click, click.” And the sounds of bugs, “zha, zha, zha.” All is well and good.

Porcellino has a simple and direct drawing style that fits in so well with his clear-eyed vision. It is just one of those things, along with the letters from readers, his extended written narratives, the top forty lists, the research on bugs and animals, all of this you can’t fake. So, brother and sister, enjoy. You too will be moved by something in this book whether it is a discussion on football plays, pill bugs, root hogs or Bruce Springsteen’s “Born to Run” suddenly tuned in on the car radio.

Something will get to you. Maybe it will be the comics essay, “Forgiveness,” which is about Porcellino as a boy from Chicago visiting his aunt down in Prairie City. He’s out of his element but is anchored by the family dog, Duchie, and a new gift, a slingshot. He promises he won’t get into trouble with the slingshot but how can he predict what may happen? Another intriguing comic is “Suburban Dreams,” which finds a man kneeling in front of a television. On the screen is the image of a beautiful woman who stares back at him and sort of sighs. He dreams. She dreams. They may find themselves together at least in a dream.

Among Porcellino’s many celebrations of life is quite a list of movies, books, music and special moments. You’ll find Annie Dillard’s “The Writing Life,” Frank Sinatra’s “Ring a Ding Ding” and “Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein.” Here’s one talking about my generation, #9 from Top Forty, Summer 2001:

“Our Band Could Be Your Life” by Michael Azerrad (Little Brown) Yes, it’s a book about Black Flag, Hüsker Dü, Replacements, etc. etc. In other words: my formative years! Worth it for the Minutemen chapter alone. Also: Butthole Surfers, Minor Threat, Sonic Youth, Fugazi, lots more. America’s last great blast of post/pre-corporate rock.

Those top forty lists are about the fun stuff, with a big nod to humanity and authenticity. It is stuff that inspires you to want to share with someone else for whatever reason is peculiar to your own private world view.

So, on one level, John Porcellino is saying he’s just another human being doing his best to live his life. He has his own life struggle, like we all do, and he has his assorted interests and passions, like we all do. He also happens to be someone who does something very special and makes it all look easy. However, much care has gone into it and is not easily emulated. ”Map of My Heart,” the latest collection of “King-Cat,” from one of the nicest guys you’ll ever know.
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  Heartwarming John Porcellino interview on Newsarama.com

Updated October 20, 2009

Creating Mini-Comics is DIY, says the King-Cat Creator

By Michael Lorah

Brian Eno once said of the Velvet Underground that though nearly nobody bought their albums, everyone who did formed their own band.

In the world of do-it-yourself mini-comics, John Porcellino has filled a similar role. Since its debut in 1989, King-Cat Comics has been the vanguard of the mini-comics scene, inspiring dozens of like-minded, lo-fi comic ’zines. Blending autobiographical content, poetry, nonfiction, Porcellino’s interest in nature and zen philosophies, and reader discourse into a personal journal of life observation, King-Cat Comics is arguably the most personal vision found in the world of sequential art fiction.

Following on the 320-page compilation King-Cat Classix, Canadian publisher Drawn & Quarterly is collecting ten more issues of King-Cat as an upscale, hardcover, titled Map of My Heart.

With King-Cat currently celebrating its 20th anniversary and Map of My Heart soon in stores, we thought it would be a great time to check in with creator John Porcellino.

Creating King-Cat is a very cathartic experience, Porcellino admits. “Without a doubt – yes. King-Cat, my art, is one of the big ways I process my experience in the world. It helps a lot,” he explained. “You know, it's hard too, making comics, and living this life sometimes, and I have even tried to quit at times, but I've always found that no matter how crazy doing comics makes me sometimes, not doing them makes me crazier. So I just kind of accept that this is my way of being in life, and keep moving along.”

King-Cat tackles a wide range of subjects, including autobiography, illustrated poetry, and fan letters. Porcellino says that the breakdown of content of each issue evolves organically as he begins to assemble each issue.

Porcellino: “I generally bumble around between issues, wondering if I'm ever going to have any new ideas, and slowly I start filling notebooks and bedside scraps of paper with ideas – memories, titles, poems, thoughts... Over time they accumulate and at some point I ‘see’ the new issue in my head: “Oh, so that's what the new King-Cat's going to be...” and at that point it becomes cohesive, I see the connections between the stories and the subtle ways the stories interact and offset each other. At that point I usually start drawing in earnest and get the new issue together. Then it all just starts over.”

“That's a good question, it kind of startled me, and maybe I need to bring that up with my therapist!” he cracked of the observation that his love of the natural world often seems to overwhelm the personal relationships in King-Cat. Long strips are devoted to Porcellino’s outdoor walks and encounters with the natural world; discussions of his family often occur in the introductory text passages rather than in comic sections. “But my first thought is that human relationships are complex, and there are a lot of emotions and feelings to consider when writing about them. I'm not just writing about my life, but other people's lives, only it's from my perspective. So in a way giving those relationships some space is respectful I think, or seems appropriate. Not everybody wants to see their humanity turned into a comic book story... I try to give those kinds of things time and space. Sometimes they come out in subtle, kind of oblique ways in my comics. But I don't consciously think too much about those kinds of things.”

Of his own and King-Cat’s zen-Buddhist influences, “I got interested in religion when, like a lot of people, I got sick,” Porcellino says, “and suddenly I was a 26-year-old guy being faced with mortality in a real way. It's a shock, and you try to find ways to understand and cope. I think I was always a ‘spiritual’ kind of person, with big questions in my head and a searching nature. Buddhism put these kinds of amorphous feelings and impulses I'd had for a long time into a context that seemed very close to me.

“It's influenced my comics in that when you practice for awhile, the connections between things become more apparent. At some point I found there was no separation between my self and my work, like my art and my life were completely interconnected. To me my life is ‘doing King-Cat’ – whether I'm drawing, writing, doing the dishes, sleeping, or talking to a friend, it's all ‘doing King-Cat.’ It's all the same thing. It's hard to explain I guess, but it's all just different aspects of the same larger thing.”

Text articles about plant or animal life feature heavily in King-Cat, as part of Porcellino’s love of the outside world.

He said of the articles, “I always liked being out in nature, and ironically, it was when I started working as a Mosquito Abatement Man again, in Colorado, in 1995, that my fascination with the natural world really blossomed. I had a co-worker who taught me a lot about plant species, and natural systems, and it was really fulfilling to me. I think I was always interested in this thing called ‘real life.’ And science is basically the study of ‘real life,’ I guess. Or – of human beings trying to wrap their minds around this strange, beautiful world. So that's what attracts me to it. I love learning about the world.”

In the span of the new collection, Map of My Heart, Porcellino marries and divorces, and move from Colorado and back to Colorado. Seeing his life compressed into a single book provides context for all that he’s lived through during the years documented in the book.

“Well, yeah, looking back – when you're in the midst of this change, turmoil, life, you don't really know where it's going,” he explained. “You can't see the big picture, or it just seems like random confusion. When enough time has gone past you can look back and see that stuff a little clearer. When putting the book together I was conscious of how that story kind of arcs along, and it seemed like a good way to organize the collection.”

After 20 years working on King-Cat Comics, an astonishing run for any comic, much less an independent mini-comic, he says that he plans to keep going for as long as he’s able.

“I feel like this is my work, it's what I want to do with my life, so that's one thing,” Porcellino said. “The other thing is that I'm pretty stubborn, and if I start something I want to finish it!”

Although he’s known as a leader in the DIY, self-published ’zine world, Porcellino laughs at the suggestion D&Q’s high-end hardcover collection is antithetical to King-Cat’s roots.

Porcellino: “I love 'zines, that format and that aesthetic, but I'm also a lover of books – that’s what got me into ‘zines in the first place – my attempts to make my own books. Both formats are valid to me. And frankly, a 360 page book that sells for $30 is about equal page for page to ten zines that sell for $3, so I'm okay with it on that front too.”

Finally, although he’s worked with Drawn and Quarterly for the King-Cat collections, published his acclaimed graphic novel Diary of a Mosquito Abatement Man through a professional house, even created a Henry David Thoreau graphic novel for Hyperion, Porcellino intends to maintain King-Cat’s self-published ways.

“Like I said before, I'm stubborn,” he laughed. “I want to finish what I started, and that's King-Cat. I think it's important to me as a person that I don't give up. I've been doing King-Cat now for exactly half my life, and looking back it's one of the only real consistent threads throughout it all. I always say I want to keep track of and follow the ‘thread of my life.’ And King-Cat is a major part of that for me. It's just what I do.

“I'm about to head out on a long book tour of the Northeast and Midwest, for Map of My Heart and the King-Cat 20th Anniversary. When that's done I'll get started on the next King-Cat, which will be all about my cat Maisie Kukoc. After that I hope to start work on a stand-alone book of new material called The Hospital Suite, which centers on the summer of 1997, when my life changed suddenly, and drastically. And just keep drawing comics...”

Map of My Heart is available in October from Drawn and Quarterly. John Porcellino is online at King-Cat.net.
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D+Q at SPX!

Updated September 22, 2009

Bethesda Marriot North. Saturday Sept 26th & Sunday Sept 27th. On hand will be Publicity Coordinator Jessica Campbell and U.S. Envoy Alison Naturale. Kevin Huizenga, John Porcellino and R. Sikoryak will be signing books. We will be debuting MAP OF MY HEART by John Porcellino to celebrate King-Cat's 20th anniversary!

Here is our signing and event schedule!
Saturday, September 27th
11:00 am- convention opens
11:30-1:00pm- John P signing
1:00 pm- R. Sikoryak spotlight in White Flint Amphitheater
2:00 pm- John Porcellino w/ Zak Sally, White Flint Amphitheater
2:00-4:30pm- R. Sikoryak signing
3:30-5:30pm- John Porcellino signing
5:00-6:00pm- Kevin Huizenga signing
7:00 pm- convention closes
9:00 pm- Ignatz awards

Sunday, September 28th
12:00 pm- Convention opens
12:00-1:00 pm- R Sikoryak signing
1:00 pm-3:00 pm- John P signing
1:30 pm- Source Based Comic w/ R. Sikoryak, Kate Beaton, Paul Karasik, Ed Piskor
2:00pm-3:00 pm- Kevin Huizenga signing
3:00-5:00pm- R Sikoryak signing
4:30 pm- The Aesthetics of Mini-Comics w/ John Porcellino, Dan Zettwoch, Jason Miles, Dina Kelberman
6:00 pm- Convention closes

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  John Porcellino in The Walrus

Updated March 5, 2009

A Q&A with John Porcellino
March 3rd, 2009 by Sean Rogers in Four-Colour Words | Viewed 711 times since 04/15, 217 so far today

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In last month’s Walrus, US cartoonist John Porcellino riffed on his adventures north of the 49th, casting himself and his travelling companions as explorers into this untamed wilderness. It’s an autobiographical strip from one of the longtime greats of the autobio genre, and it’s a hoot. For this previously undocumented exploit, Porcellino has gone back to the mid-’90s period covered in his recently released King-Cat Classix, a fat and unfussily gorgeous book compiling the best of his seminal lo-fi mini-comic King-Cat Comics and Stories.

Since 1989, King-Cat has felt like an intimate venue where Porcellino shares the goings-on in his life with a close circle of friends, whether through his minimalist black and white line-drawings, his lists of things he’s enthusing over this month, or his typed or hand-written anecdotes and reveries. His most recent book, though, is Thoreau at Walden, a quiet and generously paced adaptation of Thoreau’s writings, a project that might seem a departure if it weren’t such a perfect match for Porcellino’s sensibilities, so attuned to King-Cat’s cadences of everyday life. I probably mistakenly thought some of Thoreau’s two-colour work and historical flavour may have carried over into his strip for the Walrus–I asked Porcellino to straighten me out about this and a few other things by email, and he was kind enough to supply the following responses.

* * *

Have you been beyond the US borders since the trip you portray in this Walrus strip?

Just once, on a trip across southern Ontario from Detroit to Niagara Falls. And it was quite a trip. Someday I’ll tell you all about it…

You’ve made quite a few road trip comics–how do you know which moments or things from your travels are worth isolating and depicting in comics form?

It’s just a feel thing. It just seems “like a comic” or not. Sometimes it takes years, and then one day out of the blue, I’ll remember something and it will present itself in my head as a comic.

People around me, my friends, they all know I do these autobiographical comics, and you can tell–we’ll be out somewhere, and they’ll kind of look at me like, “Is this gonna be a comic?” Sometimes it is, sometimes I’m like, “Nah…”

You’re illustrating a trip you took fifteen years ago. What’s made it stick in your mind? Did compiling King-Cat Classix have you at all wanting to make comics about experiences long since past?

Well, it was the first time I was outside the US so it was memorable in that way, and it was part of an epic road trip I took across the west and west coast… so it was a pretty eventful time overall.

As far as doing more comics about past experiences… as I get older and more tired I have less exciting things happening to me, so I find myself sometimes looking back on old times for comics inspiration. For better or for worse I had a lot of wild years, so there’s probably a good amount of material in there.

In King-Cat, when you draw strips about things that happened some years ago, the narration is more wordy than it is with strips about more recent events. Still, none of them take the same kind of obvious pleasure in language and centuries-old Englishe as this strip does. What made that approach right for this material?

I think when I’m writing about current experiences, in large part, my feelings and thoughts about them are less formed, so those comics might be more amorphous because of that. Older experiences have become “stories” in my head, so maybe they come out differently.

For this strip, I was wracking my brain for a way to give some life to the story. Somehow that pioneer/voyageur angle popped up, and as soon as it did I got really excited about the comic. It gave me a chance to do something a little different with it.

I feel like the strip is a glimpse of what a Canada-specific version of your King-Cat Top 40 list might look like–I see, from King-Cat Classix, you did a quick run-through of highlights at the time too. While I am a big fan of the Big Turk, my favourite bit of Canadiana you’ve included in the strip is the DOA and Subhumans tshirts the punks are wearing. Any other Canadian favourites you had to leave out?

I didn’t think of it that way, but you’re right! As for other Canadian Faves–uh, Tim Hortons?!?

Two- or three-colour work is something that I hadn’t seen you work with before Thoreau at Walden. I wouldn’t have thought it would complement your spare linework so well, but it really does. What’s brought about this change? Do you find yourself approaching the drawing any differently, knowing you’ll be applying tones over it?

The color thing has only come up recently… truthfully, I pretty much think in black and white (as far as comics goes). When I have used color, it’s been a limted palette type thing, so no I don’t think about it too much when I’m making the line-art. I just go and start trying to add color swatches in balance. I don’t claim any particular skill at this at all. I’m pretty computer-shy, so I don’t have much experience with laying on colors that way. (For the Walrus strip I gave [Drawn & Quarterly Books creative director] Tom Devlin a general sheet of color placements, and he was able to lay it out for me, and for Thoreau at Walden, the coloring was the work of JP Coovert–he should get all the credit for that!)

You still make all your own King-Cat Comics and Stories issues, but lately you’ve had your work published by bigger presses and magazines. Still, I’ve noticed this increased exposure having very little effect on your work. Is the wider audience something you’re conscious of, or try to work around, or do you think you’ve settled in to an approach to comics you don’t need to waver from?

Well, I do think about the audience, in terms of–I want to make the best comics I can, for other people. But you can’t think about that other stuff too much, right? I mean as an artist you have to do what you have to do. I trust my muse to take me where I need to go, and hopefully people are willing to come along for the ride.

Why is Hank Williams so great? should every road trip with friends include at least a little Hank Williams?

Well, you can’t go wrong with Hank Williams! Why is he great? First of all, I think it’s the SOUND–his music is sharp, rhythmic, and modern sounding. So I think it has a lot of appeal that way. And he was just a brilliant songwriter. Funny, sad, and true. To me his music never grows old.

Finally, you are granted a personal audience with Lovie Smith: what do you ask, advise, or say?

What would I ask him? Maybe: “Does just SEEING those Bears colors make your heart beat a little faster, like catching a glimpse of your beloved? Cuz it does for me!”

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Featured artist

John Porcellino


John P Events!

Updated December 8, 2008

"Hi Friends

A few bits of news for you.

Coming up on December 20th, two King-Cat related events, both FREE and ALL AGES!

SATURDAY DEC. 20, 2008; 10AM - 1 PM: Opening reception for a group show of local comics artists. There will be workshops for kids during the reception, and most work will be for sale-- reminding us all that Comics Make Great Gifts™.

Cartoons: Beyond the Comic Book
December 17, 2008 - January 2, 2009
Saturday, December 20, 10 am - 1 pm Opening Reception & Comic Laboratory
Curtis Arts & Humanities Center
2349 East Orchard Road
Greenwood Village, CO 80121-1570

Featuring the talents of Lonnie Allen, Daniel Crosier, Amy Reeder Hadley, Gerhard AKaaihue, Paul Niemiec, John Peters, John Porcellino, Ron Ruelle and Stan Yan.


* * *

Then, later that same day:
SATURDAY DEC. 20, 2008; 6 PM: KING-CAT / BLAMMO Battle Royale at Kilgore

John P. of King-Cat and Noah Van Sciver of Blammo! Comics square off in a battle for the title of Denver's simpiest navel-gazer! In other words, they'll sign books, talk about their work, answer questions, and otherwise embarrass themselves-- all in the name of ART. Not to be missed! Plus: Music (?) TBA; so come on down, because Comics Make Great Gifts™!


* * *

I'll have copies of the brand new King-Cat 69, as well as my other publications available at both events!
For more info, please visit www.king-cat.net...

Lastly, I'll also have work up in the new POST IT SHOW at Giant Robot LA (Dec. 13, 2008 through Jan. 14, 2009), if anyone wants to go to LA to buy a Post It. More info:www.gr2.net

Thanks everybody!"

Featured artist

John Porcellino

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King-Cat Classix

  JOHN PORCELLINO is asked 20 Questions

Updated November 28, 2008

John Porcellino
20 Questions With Cartoonists
Friday, October 31, 2008

John Porcellino is a favorite cartoonist to many. He has published over 60 issues of his comic King Cat. Porcellino would be important simply for his self publishing efforts, but it's his actual comics that have been important to me and many others. There are currently 3 collections available of his work available. Find all about them at his website:


John was unable to provide photos of his studio but his interview is so good that I'm sure no one will mind.

1. can you describe your drawing routine---how often you draw, how many hours per day---how you break up the day with drawing?

It really varies. Sometimes I’ll go weeks or even months without drawing much at all. But all that time I’m working on King-Cat. I spend a lot of time writing, and revising, before I sit down to start drawing. I keep notebooks and scraps of paper everywhere with little ideas or phrases jotted down on them. Sometimes I start to wonder if I’m ever gonna get a new issue out. Then somehow it starts to gel and I can “see” the issue in my head-- where all this stuff has been leading. Then, once I sit down to begin drawing the new issue, I might work 12 hours a day until it’s done.

Usually I try to draw/work in the mornings, cuz the later the day gets the worse I feel physically and mentally, so it helps to do my comics when things are smoother in my brain/body.

2. how much revision/editing do you do in you work?

A good bulk of my creative time is spent revising. It’s hit or miss. Sometimes you get it on the first try, sometimes I agonize for weeks over little words choices etc. One reason I spend so much time on the writing is I like to have a clear idea where the comic is going before I start drawing. It’s hard to edit the pages after they’re drawn, and I try not to do too much Photoshopping.

3. talk about your process---do you write a script or make up the drawing as you go?

At this point I almost always have a completed script before I start drawing. Every once in a while though I do just sit down with a blank piece of paper and start writing/drawing off the top of my head. It’s interesting to see what comes out that way.

4. do you compose the page as a whole or do you focus more on individual panel composition?

I tend to concentrate on the panels and the rest works itself out. Sometimes I’ll compose with the idea of the end of the page, or the start-- meaning I take into consideration that slight pause that happens when the reader turns the page, or their eyes move to the top of the next facing page. When you can work something like that in, I think it adds something to the reading experience.

5. what tools do you use (please list all)?

I use various non-photo blue pencils to draw with. I ink with Microns, or sometimes a soft-lead pencil or black colored pencil. I use brushes only rarely nowadays. Using the pencil to “ink” gives me some of the flexibility and surprise of using a brush, but a little more control, which I like.

I used Rapidographs till the late nineties, but I always had problems with them splattering and clogging; and the ink took so long to dry, I’d smear things sometimes. I like Microns cuz they’re easier in that way, but I think they’re a little inconsistent-- the line quality really varies as the pen gets broken in. And with my artwork being so simple, and typically drawn at 100%, that kind of thing can really bother me. So when I’m drawing I often have a stack of Microns on the table, not only varying line weights, but in various states of decay. At first Microns give me a scraggy, thin line, then they flatten out into a nice smooth line, then they start to dry up and thin out, then they mysteriously start making a thick, wet line, then they start to erode and give a scratchy unpredictable line… so I have all these pens on the table with identifying marks on them so I know which one is in which state, and I plow ahead.

Other than that, just the usual-- a Staedtler Mars plastic eraser, X-Acto knife, misc. black and colored inks, rubber cement, white-out tape, old typewriter correction sheets (the best for whiting out tight or detailed areas), miscellaneous white-out bottles, a ruler (for cutting paper), various brushes for whiting out or filling in with ink, scraps of paper, a small light box for tracing.

6. what kind(s) of paper do you use?

For years I’ve just used some kind of inexpensive smooth laser paper. I fold it in half and it’s King-Cat sized, but sometimes the quality and smoothness varies from batch to batch. The nice thing is I can buy a ream for not too much money, and get like 3 or 4 years worth of comics pages out of that.

Recently I have been using nicer paper, bristols, for doing commissioned artwork on. It’s great-- using a good paper like that-- it kind of made drawing fun again-- that delicious tactile sense of putting this ink down on paper. So I may start experimenting with using better paper for my actual comics. We’ll see… For the first 5 or 6 years of King-Cat I just used these cheapo notepads I got from my Dad, that read “From the Desk of Charles Porcellino”, and had like a clip art image of a pen and bottle of ink. I’d just use the back side to draw on… and sometimes you could see where the printed ink bled through onto the comic side, but I always thought that was funny.

One thing I like about comics is, if you need to, you can really get away with just the basics in terms of materials.

7. do you read a lot of comics? are you someone who reads comics and then gets excited to make more comics---or is your passion for making comics not linked to any particular love for other comics?

Sometimes reading comics inspires me directly to sit down and draw, but mostly it’s like a kind of psychological boost I get.

I have a lot of hang-ups about comics, and for years I never really read too many. I used to pretty much just read whatever I happened to get in the mail from creators. As that scene kind of got smaller, I found I was seeing a lot less comics. It helps me to read people’s comics, because I think: “See, other people do this and it’s fine…” Nowadays it’s hard to afford comics, but I try. I check them out of the library sometimes. I think it’s helpful for me. It kind of reminds me: “Oh yeah-- I like comics!”

8. do you make comics for a living? if not, how do you support yourself, and how does this relate to your comics making process?

For the last few years, and off and on in the past, I’ve really tried to make a living doing just my art. To be honest, I don’t know how I feel about it. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with doing that, but it sure is hard, and the stress it creates kind of messes me up.

When I work dayjobs sometimes it’s actually kind of inspiring to me-- like I have this secret life of comics outside this, and it kind of keeps me going and strengthens my faith in my art.

As I mentioned I have a lot of hang-ups about art, and comics. I struggle with it all the time. It might be that trying to make a living 100% off my comics brings out too many of those bad feelings-- the doubt and insecurity. I don’t know.

9/ do other artforms often seem more attractive to you?

Well for years I made music too, and that was nice balance. It’s a different part of the brain that gets exercised. Same is true for painting. I miss getting messy, and the unpredictability of painting-- not knowing where things are going and being surprised and making mistakes that turn out to help the work. I bought some paints this summer with the idea of getting back into it, but I haven’t really had time to do so yet.

Sometimes I think music is the best medium, cuz it has words, but also that non-intellectual aspect of SOUND, where emotions are translated without words or ideas. It adds to the power. Then I think movies are the best because they can be closer to real life. And formally, they’re visual, literary, and musical. So they cover a lot of those bases.

But the fact is, I’m a cartoonist. It’s what I do.

10. what artwork (or artists) do you feel kinship with?

I draw inspiration from just about everything. And I can find a connection with just about any creative person. That said, a short list of people and things that have had a strong impact on me would be: The Chicago Imagists, Lynda Barry, Matt Groening, Jenny Zervakis, Jeff Zenick, Eric Bag-O-Donuts, Max Beckmann, Matisse, Warhol, Duchamp, Joe Chips, Bob Dylan, Brian Wilson, Punk Rock, Han Shan, Ryokan, Kosho Uchiyama Roshi, Dogen Zenji, the Arts and Crafts movement, Kerouac, Kobayashi Issa, Thoreau, John Lennon, and the Zine movement. To name just a few.

One time I was in Chicago with Kevin Huizenga. We were at the Art Institute, it was a few days after 9/11. I was wandering around looking at all this great art, and I just couldn’t relate to it-- not only the imagery, but even the process-- I was wondering how did people make these pictures, and why? I couldn’t connect-- it was this weird state of mind. Then, from down a long hallway, I saw a large black and white print by Un’ichi Hiratsuka, of the Buddhist monk Nichiren, and I practically fell over-- it was so bold and simple and lovely -- and I could intimately relate to it-- it was an astounding experience. Learning about Hiratsuka really added something to my thinking, about art, and being an artist.

11. is a community of artists important or not important to you?

I used to think “I could be anywhere and do what I do.” And that’s still true. However, as I’ve gotten older, I’ve begun to really see the benefit of having artists around that you can relate to, that you can talk to about stuff. To me, making art is a pretty private thing. I squirrel myself away and make it. But then it’s nice to emerge from that mindset, and have people around to share with.

12. what is your parents/family's reaction to your work?

My Dad used to read King-Cat, and we would talk about it. He surprised me once-- we were having a conversation about art and DIY, etc, and I saw that he really understood where I was coming from. I’m not sure he necessarily thought it was the best thing for me, but he understood it.

Now, my Mom reads King-Cat sometimes, but I have to go through each new issue and make sure there’s nothing in there that’ll bother her. So she doesn’t read every issue. And she doesn’t really talk about it when she does.

13, what is more important to you---style or idea?

I guess you need both-- an idea, and a way to express it that makes the thing whole.

14. is drawing a pleasure to you or a pain?

Well it’s been a particularly bad time for me lately, so my answer might reflect that… but-- when I’m not drawing it seems like the hardest thing in the world. I’d rather do just about anything than draw. And for that reason I procrastinate a lot. Then when I finally sit down and start drawing, the instant the pencil hits the page, I realize “This is what I was born to do.” Then the second I stand up, that feeling of confidence is so distant, it’s almost like it never existed, and the despair and fear sets in again. It must be something weird in my brain. I don’t understand it.

15. when you meet someone new, do you talk about being an artist right away? do you identify yourself as an artist or something else?

For a long time I would never bring it up. I was afraid of being an artist. So to fight back I started trying to come out and say it when the situation warranted. Now I’ll say I’m an artist, or sometimes a cartoonist. Why not? It’s the truth.

16. do you feel at all connected to older comic artists like steve ditko or jack kirby---or does this seem like a foreign world to you?

Yes, I feel connected to those guys, though I should say I never really read much of that stuff growing up. I love to look at it though. You get a sense of the paths cartooning has taken and is taking. Anyone who sits at a drawing table and digs away at comics I can relate to in one way or another. These guys dedicated their lives to this artform. It’s inspiring.

17. do you ever feel the impulse to not draw comics?

All the time. Practically every issue of King-Cat I’ve released over the last 8 or so years, I’ve wondered whether it will be the last. The process is so painful to me. I know people don’t like to hear that. And I know it’s not like that for everyone. But in my case it’s true. I have OCD, and it makes a lot of things really difficult. When I’m focused on comics, the OCD focuses on comics, and it can be brutal.

I often think of trying to lead a normal life. It seems really inviting at times. The bottom line is I know that as crazy as comics makes me, I get crazier if I don’t do ‘em. So I do ‘em, and hope for the best.

18. do you draw from life?

Yes. I like to draw alleyscapes in particular. I’ve sometimes thought if I quit comics maybe I would become a landscape painter. It took me a long time to understand landscape painting. But once I did, it seemed like the purest, most beautiful thing.

19. do you pencil out comics and then ink? or do you sometimes not pencil?

I almost always pencil first. Then I dread inking, cuz I like how the pencils look-- they have a looseness and an organic quality to them. Then I start inking, and I like how the ink looks, so… The only times I don’t pencil first are sketching, or those comics I mentioned above where I just let loose on the page as therapy.

20. what does your drawing space look like?

A mess.
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Featured artist

John Porcellino

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King-Cat Classix

WHAT IT IS and THOREAU AT WALDEN nominated for YALSA's Best Books for Young Adults 2009

Updated June 25, 2008

The Young Adult Library Services Association names Lynda Barry's What It Is and John Porcellino's Thoreau at Walden in their compilation of the current year’s books with "proven or potential appeal to teens."
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Lynda Barry

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What It Is

  JOHN PORCELLINO in The Minneapolis City Pages

Updated October 18, 2007

Minneapolis City Pages - Minneapolis,MN,USA
John Porcellino - The graphic artist discusses his work.
Price: free
Readings & Lectures
Big Brain Comics
1027 Washington Ave. S
Minneapolis, MN
Big Brain Comics

There's this secret little river flowing through the world of underground comics, and it's called King-Cat Comix and Stories. Since 1989, John Porcellino's simple, and simply beautiful comics (along with letters, lists, and a few photographs) have been self-published to growing acclaim. Not only did they inspire local comics-meister Zak Sally to start La Mano Press (in order to print Porcellino's wonderful Diary of a Mosquito Abatement Man), but moved Drawn & Quarterly to collect the best of the 'zine in an impressive tome called King-Cat Classix. These stories are gathered from Porcellino's waking life, from his dreams, from the obviously holy lives of the cats he's known, and they move us profoundly. They're at once hilarious, sexy, violent, sad, and puzzling—Zen koans Xeroxed onto scrap paper. Porcellino is going to be appearing Thursday night at Big Brain Comics, where he'll unveil the newest King-Cat 'zine and jam on his guitar with Zak. — Peter Schilling

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John Porcellino

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King-Cat Classix

KING-CAT CLASSIX reviewed by Bookgasm

Updated September 6, 2007

King-Cat Classix: The Best of King-Cat Comics and Stories
Author: Rod Lott
Sept. 4, 2007

John Porcellino draws comics, but he’s never going to get hired by Marvel or DC or any of the second- or third-tier publishers. But I wouldn’t have it any other way. Besides, how many Marvel or DC artists can you honestly identify just by a glance at their work? Not many, judging from the homogenization. But with Porcellino, there’s no mistaking his style: minimalist, simple, sparse and painfully honest.

Drawn and Quarterly’s handsome hardcover KING-CAT CLASSIX: THE BEST OF KING-CAT COMICS AND STORIES showcases his growth as an artist and a person, as demonstrated from selections from the first 50 issues of his still-ongoing self-published zine, which he began in 1989 (damn, and I thought my zine was old). Though well-known in the DIY world, very few Americans know of Porcellino’s work. Even still, I think he’s a national treasure. Seriously.

His comics – never more than a few pages, and often just one – tend to fall into three categories: intensely personal scenes from his real life, accounts of oddly surreal dreams he’s had and occasional whimsical fictions that sparkle with dry wit. The former often involve remembrances of pets he’s had (like the dog who used to eat cat poop out of the litter box), drunken escapades with friends, simple days outdoors or his three testicles.

Whether it records a depressing day filled with heartbreak or one filled with hope, it’s a candid, warts-and-all record of someone’s life. Whether you’ll wish you were he or glad you’re not, the fact that he’s put it out all there without shame or apology is to be commended. Honestly, when he’s 80, he can look back at old issues of KING-CAT and have a more accurate story of his life than a closet full of photo albums. That’s quite an accomplishment.

But it’s even more so that we give a flip. Porcellino’s drawings – initially a step above child-like, and ultimately naked in their sincerity – are so cut-and-dry and what-you-see-is-what-you-get, that they’re exponentially endearing. It helps that he appears to be a normal guy, coming from a ordinary home and not an overly tortured adolescence. We have no reason to hate him, but hundreds of reasons to root for him.

The made-up bits, obviously, add levity. My favorites were chapters from a recurring bit called “The Violent Garden,” sort of a spoof of a soap opera with a mansion, a creepy butler and an ax-wielding gnome. Non-sequiturs abound, most of them provoking a smile, if not a laugh.

D&Q’s presentation is top-quality, with heavy, bright-white paper that give Porcellion’s black-and-white drawings a super-crisp look. The author provides annotated notes at the end, and honestly, the only fault I can find with the book is that it stops in 1996, leaving a whole other decade – and counting! – still awaiting CLASSIX treatment. –Rod Lott
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King-Cat Classix

  JOHN PORCELLINO interviewed by Express

Updated August 29, 2007

Practice Makes Imperfect: 'King-Cat Classix'
Christopher Porter
August 27, 2007

INSPIRED BY PUNK ROCK and the personal 'zine revolution, John Porcellino opened an artistic vein in 1989 and began to bleed his life on the printed page with "King-Cat Comics and Stories."
Porcellino would crank out hyper-personal tales about his life and more, all in a rough-and-ready black-and-white style that echoed the honesty and energy of the independent music that inspired him. His open-book life stories have covered his failed marriage, suffering from depression and an ongoing bout with a hearing disorder (hyperacusis) to his interest in Zen, nature, animals, music and beyond. In between the tales of woe are celebratory, often humorous accounts about the everyday man and the world around him, including falling in love over snapdragons.
And along the way this middle-class kid from Illinois began to meet like-minded souls, whose ideas about life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness didn't fit in with mainstream America.
Now 39, Porcellino is still writing and drawing stories about his life, and still publishing "King-Cat" in a classic 'zine style: white paper, copy machine, staples.
While contemplating questions from Express, Porcellino suffered a loss that will almost certainly be chronicled in "King-Cat" in the future: The death of Maisie Kukoc, his beloved 16-year-old cat, who made frequent appearances in the 'zine.
Readers who want to catch up with Porcellino's world — and possibly see their own reflected back in his universal work — can buy "King-Cat Classix" (Drawn & Quarterly), a 386-page hardcover collection that cherry-picks a huge cross-section of works from 1989 to 1995.
Porcellino spoke to Express about "King-Cat Classix," his health, Zen and his upcoming projects.
» EXPRESS: How did you go about choosing the stories for the book?
» PORCELLINO: Well, there were certain stories, like "Ed the Happy Trucker" or "Leaves," that I knew all along should go in. Then I went back through all the old issues and made a list. I wanted to give a true overview of the "King-Cat" 'zine, so I tried to view things that way. Certain comics that weren't necessarily my favorite all-time comics, but that showed some interesting aspect of "King-Cat" history, I tried to include. I tried also to have a balanced selection of stories. Some comics I included because, though they might not be the best comic in the world, they mention or present some person or event that gets referenced in a later comic. That kind of "flow of time" — recurring themes, events, people, places — is one of the parts about "King-Cat" that people enjoy, so I tried to let that come through. Finally, I just had to make strictly editing choices, in terms of page count and so on.
» EXPRESS: I know you've always done dream cartoons, but it surprised me how many were in the book.
» PORCELLINO: I used to dream a lot more than I do now, and as I mention in the "King-Cat Classix" notes, dreams always seemed intuitively important to me — the dream state. As I've gotten older I find it harder to recall my dreams, and consequently there are less dream comics in "King-Cat" now.
» EXPRESS: How did you go from an agnostic-seeming, punk-loving suburban kid to Zen-loving, spiritually-aware mountain man? Did you have a "eureka" moment with Zen?
» PORCELLINO: Although outside characteristics have obviously changed, I think inside certain things have remained consistent. Maybe my perceptions have changed, but the essence is the same. I was always questioning, looking for answers. And to me there are a lot of parallels between punk and Zen: They're both focused on open-minded awareness, the ability to see beauty and meaning in everyday life, in the essence of life. In both punk and Zen there's no sugar-coating reality — you just work with whatever you have.

As for a "eureka" moment, no. I always say when I discovered Zen it was like finding an old pair of shoes in your closet, that you'd forgotten you had, and you put them on — and it's instantly just a perfect fit. They're already broken-in, ready to go.
» EXPRESS: Did your ear illness contribute to your search for serenity?
» PORCELLINO: Well, the hearing thing definitely forced me to slow down, kind of go within, maybe withdraw a little. So, yeah, it did kind of cause me to make some lifestyle changes that I'd wanted to make for awhile, but had kind of lacked the willpower to actually follow through with.
» EXPRESS: Has the hyperacusis ever gotten better?
» PORCELLINO: Yes, definitely, though I still need to be careful. No rock concerts or Harleys, but I'd say the hearing is about 80 percent improved. I've also gotten better at avoiding the situations that bother my ears, so that helps, too.
» EXPRESS: Since music is a huge part of your life, how did you deal with the hearing problems? Can you listen to music now?
» PORCELLINO: Well, it's certain tones and sounds in music that are worse than others. So, for awhile I listened mostly to old jazz, old country, Sinatra, etc. It took awhile, but now I can listen to rock and roll again, as long as the volume isn't too loud, or I push it too long. My old band actually just reunited for a one-off acoustic show here in Denver, so that was really nice.
» EXPRESS: Did you have other illnesses in addition to the hearing problem?
» PORCELLINO: The hyperacusis appeared in early '95. In '97 I got severely ill, with a benign tumor blocking my small intestine. It took a long time to diagnose, and I got very sick. This will be the story I cover in "The Hospital Suite." Although the tumor was removed successfully, I've never fully recovered from the experience. Since then I've dealt with numerous, complicated health problems — someday of course I hope to write about all this in "King-Cat."
» EXPRESS: When you look back on your early work, do you still feel connected to it? Or do you feel somewhat removed since the comics are from 10, 12, 15, 17 years ago?
» PORCELLINO: I feel connected to it, definitely — it's my life. It shows the movement of a life through time. That said, looking at a lot of that old work — it surprised me at times how uninhibited I was, how willing to throw it all out there, whatever it was. But despite the changes in attitude and styles, it does all feel like one thing to me.
» EXPRESS: Your comics are so personal and honest — sometimes shockingly so. Have you ever regretted publishing something personal in your 'zine?
» PORCELLINO: I don't know I've ever regretted something, no. I probably have looked back at times with a little embarrassment, or a sense of "I could've done this better or differently," but it's not regret. I think I've always felt this sense of "that's what it was at the time" and that the honest acceptance of things, of my own expression, has value in itself.

» EXPRESS: I know you had a bit of a manifesto about making your drawings quickly and not worrying too much about them. But I also know that you've improved greatly over the years. Have you ever thought about doing a more polished version of "King-Cat"?
» PORCELLINO: I guess, you can't do something that long without improving, or at least evolving. The drawings have certainly refined themselves over the years, sometimes I think at the expense of some spontaneity — it's a fine line there — that I always struggle with. But again, part of what I'm doing is just trusting the process — letting it lead me where it goes, So, now it's led me to this more refined approach, and that's OK; the unedited style is where I was supposed to be back then. I suppose that's what I believe.
» EXPRESS: Between 1989 and 1996 you published 50 issues; since then you've published 17. Why the slowdown in production?
» PORCELLINO: Some of it is just practical reasons: early issues were, like, 12 pages, including the covers. And there was no second guessing or self-editing going on. I'd simply write out the pages as fast as they came out of me, photocopy them and move on to the next thing. I think I did two issues a month for the first year or so. So they stacked up pretty quick.

Over the years I just naturally began to take more time with things, reworked things, drew a lot of comics that didn't make the final cut, so it took longer between issues. Plus, the issues became 20, 24, 32 or more pages long. So each "King-Cat" just had a lot more going into it. And finally, as I got older, and life got more complicated, that took time and energy away, too. I just wasn't an up-all-night madman anymore.
» EXPRESS: I connect with these stories on a personal level because we're the same age, have similar interests, backgrounds and points of reference, but how do you think a 20-something today — the age you were when most of the book's stories were written — will relate?
» PORCELLINO: Well, doing what I do — self-publishing and distributing the "King-Cat" 'zine — I'm fortunate to have contact with a lot of my readers. Many readers have grown up along with me and "King-Cat" — that's so great to me. But there are always new readers, and I hope that — even though "King-Cat" is about one guy's particular life — it's universal enough that lots of other people can relate. And that seems to happen. Circumstances and times change but that universal essence of being alive remains the same. So I think people of different ages and backgrounds can somehow find that, and relate to it. It's an amazing, humbling feeling when it happens.
» EXPRESS: Do you have a day job now? So many of your stories focused on the soul-destroying nature of grunt work.
» PORCELLINO: I've managed to get through the last year or so without a day job, but I'll probably have to give in sometime soon. I pay the bills now, barely, through selling "King-Cat," book royalties and making artwork for people.

» EXPRESS: What projects do you have coming up?
» PORCELLINO: "Thoreau at Walden" is a reflection of Thoreau's time at the pond, in comics form. For the text, I used all actual quotes from Thoreau's published writings. Thoreau is one of my biggest inspirations, so the opportunity to work with that material, in comics, was something I could never pass up. Due out Fall 2008, from Hyperion Books for Children.

"Map of My Heart" is an upcoming collection of the "King-Cats" I made while living in Elgin, Illinois, 1998 to 2002. "The Hospital Suite" is a long story about the illness I experienced over the summer of 1997. "Through the Year With Gordon the Fox" is a 2008 calendar published by Little Otsu of San Francisco.

And the next "King-Cat," No. 68, will be out shortly, within a couple months or so.
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John Porcellino

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King-Cat Classix

EXIT WOUNDS, KING-CAT CLASSIX and SPENT reviewed by The Patriot News

Updated August 24, 2007

Israeli artist shares her stellar new 'Wounds'
Friday, August 24, 2007
Chris Mautner

Young Tel Aviv taxi driver Koby Franco is coasting through his life when a female soldier shows up by his car one day and says "We need to talk."

"Remember that suicide bombing in Hadera three weeks ago," she asks? "Remember that body that was so badly burned it couldn't be identified? Well, she says, I think it was your father."

That's the start to "Exit Wounds," the stellar new graphic novel from Israeli cartoonist Rutu Modan.

The story's locale and references to terrorism suggest an overt political tome. Modan, however, wisely keeps such themes in the background, instead creating a wise and warm romantic drama.

You see, Koby has been estranged from his dad for a number of years and would prefer to keep things that way rather than risk any further disappointment. He's not eager to find out if this poor, unclaimed soul is really his father, and he knows his dad well enough to suspect that it's not.

But Numi, the female soldier, had been romantically involved with Koby's dad prior to the bombing and will not be stopped in her quest to uncover the truth.

Thus, she drags the reluctant Koby around the country, talking to eyewitnesses and digging desperately at long-shot clues. Slowly, the father's identity and whereabouts start to take shape, while Numi and Koby begin to forge a relationship of their own.

Never a household name even among the indie crowd, Modan is probably best known as a member of the Actus Tragicus, an Israeli comics collective (she's also illustrated a number of children's books). "Exit Wounds," however, pretty much establishes her as a top-tier artist worthy of notice.

Modan adopts a simple "clear line" art style with little shading or variance in width. Instead she uses flat, warm colors to suggest depth or feeling.

Warm, funny and touching, "Exit Wounds" is specific enough in its look at modern Israeli life to seem unique, but universal enough in its characters and themes to be easily recognizable. It's one of the best books you'll read this year.
Also from Drawn and Quarterly:

"King-Cat Classix" by John Porcellino, 384 pages, $29.95.

Porcellino is one of the stalwarts of the indie-comic scene, having self-published his "King-Cat" comics for almost 20 years now.

"King-Cat Classix" compiles the best of the early years in one handsome hardcover volume. The stories included here suggest a young artist attempting to find his way, trying a variety of different methods and styles before settling down into the contemplative, minimalist style he uses to great effect today.

For fans of his work, "Classix" provides a great look at Porcellino's growth and development. The uninitiated might feel a bit lost here however. For them, I would recommend tracking down "Perfect Example" instead.

"Spent" by Joe Matt, 120 pages, $19.95.

For several years now, and at a glacial pace to boot, Joe Matt has cast a devastating, caustic eye on his own life, such as it is, documenting his failed relationships, nerdy childhood and ugly personality traits in excruciating detail.

"Spent" reaches a new high (or low as the case may be) as it documents his devastating addiction to pornography.

But for a book about such a salacious subject, there's surprisingly no nudity or sex involved; Matt emphasizes dialogue instead, with lots of narrow panels of talking heads, emphasizing the claustrophobic feeling of the book.

It sounds like a depressing and dull topic for a book, but Matt is a gifted storyteller, boasting a likable, thick-lined style, and he knows how to break down a lengthy monologue into readable chunks. "Spent" might be the comic book equivalent of rubbernecking, but all the same you won't be able to tear yourself away from it.
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Featured artists

Joe Matt
John Porcellino
Rutu Modan

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King-Cat Classix
Exit Wounds


Updated August 23, 2007

"...King-Cat Classix gains depth that only his most loyal fans have really seen until now. Over the course of two decades, Porcellino and his work grow up at a nearly imperceptible rate, but they do grow up. His lines stay simple, but more confident. His subject matter slowly loses silliness to sincerity."
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John Porcellino

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King-Cat Classix

KING-CAT CLASSIX reviewed by The Montreal Mirror

Updated August 23, 2007

Drawing badly well
John Porcellino’s King-Cat Classix is a deceptively skillful collection of off-kilter illustrations and musings
by Juliet Waters

I was lucky enough this summer to receive an advance excerpt from Lynda Barry’s What It Is. This anarchically fun writing/workbook is scheduled for publication in Spring 2008 by Montreal’s Drawn & Quarterly. If one of your goals for next year is to start writing graphic novels, or to start writing anything for that matter, keep an eye out for it. In the meantime, however, you can learn tons about drawing, writing and even living from a recently published Drawn & Quarterly masterpiece, John Porcellino’s King-Cat Classix.

It’s a big-ass, hardcover bible of a book, an anthology that includes strips from the first 50 issues of his popular self-published zine. These issues were drawn and written between the late ’80s and mid-’90s. There’s also fan mail, notes and a few of the first comics he ever drew.

Longtime fans, and there are many, will enjoy old favourites: “Three Balls” (Porcellino has always hinted he might have a third testicle, or something that looks like one), “Untitled Pee Dream,” “Justify My Love” (from the Madonna tribute issue, in which Porcellino imagines a relationship with Madonna that’s a little something like Dave Chappelle’s relationship with Oprah), “A True Mouse Doesn’t Spell Mayonnaise by Sniffing Robin Williams” and a selection of comics starring his own and some neighbourhood cats.

If Lynda Barry is a little like the Patti Smith of comix, Porcellino is its Paul Westerberg. Bleak, elemental, funny, angry, melancholy genius is scrawled with deceptive skill across 384 pages. If you’re new to Porcellino, settle in for something that reads as much like a graphic novel as it does a collection. Most of the material from King-Cat is drawn from Porcellino’s life and dreams. Even his Racky Raccoon series, about a slacker, punk-rock Raccoon, resonates with the same themes: rebellion, apathy, anger and art.

About a quarter of the way in, Porcellino provides something of a manifesto. In “Well Drawn Funnies #0,” Porcellino answers critics who’ve claimed he can’t draw. He writes about his punk-rock awakening and how that translated to his drawing. “A big turning point came when I discovered that a crappy line, scratched on paper, was infinitely more ‘realistic’ than the most laboured rendering. Especially in this day and age. Why bother spending three hours on a drawing if the world could end tomorrow? Or I could spend time watching TV instead? Anyhow, if the world is a piece of shit, art that denies that is in essence a lie. It is more important to me to make art that is an honest expression of my life than it is to make pictures people think are well drawn.” (In a recent interview Porcellino reveals that the “big turning point” was probably somewhere around the time he discovered ex-Montrealer Julie Doucet. Porcellino appeared in cameos in Dirty Plotte, and volume two of King-Cat has a hilarious Dirty Plotte-inspired self-portrait.)

If you can get past some of the juvenile, nihilistic posturing (and there’s so much authentic creativity in here that it’s easy to do), you’ll discover someone who can draw a lot better than he’s willing to admit. As his work matures the lines are significantly less “crappy,” but it’s not how the lines are drawn that counts—it’s where they’re drawn. Porcellino has an instinctive sense of proportion. He can portray depth, emotional and spatial, with a few impressionistic scrawls. He’s like some shit-faced drunk Zen archer, hitting the mark over and over again, all the more amazing because he’s so constantly off-kilter.

When you take into account that Porcellino is a trained artist with a BFA (he draws himself wiping his ass with it, right after the scribbled manifesto), his work is even more impressive. It takes a lot of dedication, and possibly a third ball, to keep drawing this “badly.” And, who knows, maybe with enough practice, or no practice, we all can. But somehow I doubt it.
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John Porcellino

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  KING-CAT CLASSIX reviewed by the Onion A.V.

Updated July 20, 2007

The nearly 400 pages and seven years' worth of mini-comics collected in the John Porcellino anthology King-Cat Classix: The Best Of King-Cat Comics And Stories (D&Q) may seem immediately inconsequential, hardly worth being preserved in a handsomely designed hardcover edition with extensive endnotes. But the best way to treat this book is like a collection of poems, to be dipped into lightly, a few pieces at a time. Beneath the crude linework and dream-journalism, Porcellino has crafted an affecting scrapbook of a part-time artist's life. The decade-plus remove from these comics' initial publication only adds another layer of poignancy, since so many of its concerns are those of a young man, unaccountably adrift in a decade geared towards his generation… A-
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John Porcellino

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King-Cat Classix

KING-CAT CLASSIX in in Entertainment Weekly

Updated July 10, 2007

Stand-Up Comics
EW's editor-at-large recommends a Jack Kirby collection, a fascinating manga series, and more
King-Cat Classix
By John Porcellino (Drawn & Quarterly)
Posted Jul 06, 2007

What started out as a self-published mini-comic ''zine'' has grown into this handsomely designed 384-page anthology of artist-writer Porcellino's intentionally simple drawings, largely autobiographical tales and renderings of dreams. The diaristic element of Porcellino's work is particularly compelling. On page 125, read ''Picture This: A True Work Story Written at Lunch at Big Ray's, Drawn in 10 Minutes During Break Monday 3/18/1991,'' a tale of paycheck-job monotony and the way a few of the millions of people stuck in such employment find small pleasures in singing, joking, and commiserating. Porcellino is a master at miniature poignance.
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John Porcellino

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King-Cat Classix

  KING-CAT CLASSIX in Contra Costa Times

Updated June 26, 2007

Newfangled capers, old-school charm
Contra Costa Times

# "King-Cat Classix," by John Porcellino (Drawn & Quarterly, $29.95, 384 pages): If indie films on everyday people dealing with everyday reality isyour thing, you'll swoon over this compilation. Porcellino's self-published and personal zine -- the blogging of its day -- is stuffed with universal and unique truths. Don't be turned off by the basic artwork; its unadornment is part of the point, as Porcellino collects honest moments from his life and makes us feel like we're re-experiencing them. And, yes, there are kitties; quite a few that left indelible pawprints on his memory. A-

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John Porcellino

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King-Cat Classix

Randomville reviews KING-CAT CLASSIX

Updated June 20, 2007

Kin-Cat Classix
Nathan Meunier

Cracking the cover and leafing through the pages of King-Cat Classix feels like delving into an ancient volume of zinester history. True to the punk rock do-it-yourself ethic, John Porcellino began self-publishing King-Cat Comics and Stories as a hand-stapled zine in 1989 and has continued to churn out new issues packed full of his loosely scrawled art and personal stories for the better part of 18 years. With over 65 issues under his belt, he’s got to be one of the most prolific zine writers still around. No doubt his work has influenced and inspired many others over the years to put pen to paper, fold and staple, and pass around their own creations.

At a hulking 384 pages, King-Cat Classix collects a sampling of the best comics and stories from the first 50 issues of Porcellino’s zines, printed between 1989 and 1996, into a hardcover format. For anyone who’s picked up individual issues of King Cat Comics and Stories here and there, and grown to love Porcellino’s folk art style, King-Cat Classix will be a treasure. Failing that, zine lovers, of which there are many, will feel right at home within the book’s vast pages.

Porcellino’s choice of subject matter in the comics draws from personal thoughts and experiences, often strange and somewhat lurid dreams, work, childhood memories, and made-up tales. To be sure there are plenty of cute cat drawings and related stories scattered throughout the book as well. A few highlights include “The Violent Garden” several daydream fantasy stories from the “Madonna ‘N Me” issue, and a touching true-story simply titled “Ed” about a kind retired truck driver. A multitude of personal stories about playing in a rock band, working various jobs and travel adventures are also riveting. Later on in the book, entertaining letters from readers are included as well, which provide commentary, questions and seemingly random tidbits of interest. A lengthy section of notes at the end of the book also provides more in-depth explanations of some of the curiosities within.

King-Cat Classix tracks the evolution of Porcellino’s work. The first dozen pages or so look like they were drawn during a bumpy car ride, perhaps composed in the back seat of a van en-route to a Black Flag show. Yet there’s something strangely familiar and soothing about the sketches. After a time the lines become a little less jagged and the stories a little more refined as he hones his work. Throughout the book he allows unflinching creativity to run rampant which results in a widely varied realm of content, but also makes for an incredibly interesting read.

One complaint about comics in general is it often takes a fairly brief amount of time to read from cover-to-cover. Not this one…King-Cat Classix will occupy several good evenings of solid reading. By the time the last page turns you might as well start from the beginning again as earlier strips will be fuzzy memories at best and they’re definitely worth the re-read. File this one under classic.
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John Porcellino

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King-Cat Classix

  Pop Candy reviews EXIT WOUNDS and KING-CAT CLASSIX

Updated June 18, 2007

Pop Candy
By Whitney Matheson
June 14, 2007

Exit Wounds by Rutu Modan (Drawn & Quarterly, $19.95). This Tel-Aviv-set mystery comes from the award-winning female Israeli cartoonist, and I inhaled it in one sitting. Without giving too much away, it follows a guy who believes his estranged father may have been killed in a suicide bombing. He meets a woman who claims to have ties to his dad and tries to piece together what really happened.

King-Cat Classix by John Porcellino (Drawn & Quarterly, $29.95). If you're a fan of 'zines and minicomics, then you've probably come across Porcellino's King-Cat Comics and Stories, which he has been self-publishing since 1989. This thick volume collects his greatest hits from the early years, many involving sex, dreams, cats and any combination of the three. The crudely drawn comix may not serve as a master class in drawing, but that's not the point; they swell with passion and heart.
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John Porcellino
Rutu Modan

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King-Cat Classix
Exit Wounds


Updated June 18, 2007

Art imitating life imitating ... well, you get the idea
Gertrude Stein and Pablo Picasso, God and golem, doodled cats and suicide bombers
June 9, 2007

Exploring the darker side of the supernatural, from acts of blind faith and men driven insane by guilt, James Sturm's America: God, Gold, and Golems (Drawn & Quarterly, 190 pages, $27.95) brings together the cartoonist's American trilogy, previously unavailable in its entirety in book form. Sturm chooses a drawing style unique to each story's period and setting. First, he looks heavenward in The Revival, imagining thousands of pioneer settlers attending an impromptu gospel meeting in Cane Ridge, Ky., in 1801, with finely detailed line work that evokes various illustration styles of early American broadsheets.

Turning to a heavier use of black, Sturm moves underground with Hundreds of Feet Below Daylight for the tale of a 19th-century mining town and the greed that only gold can breed, playing with darkness and contrast on the page.

Then, as he moves into the 20th century for the final and strongest novella, The Golem's Mighty Swing, he employs a more simplified and modern cartooning style. A barnstorming Jewish baseball team called the Stars of David travels through Depression-era middle America and exploits the public's interest in the supernatural - specifically, the golem legend. They use their giant baseball player, who happens to be black (a "member of the lost tribe"), to draw a crowd in the stands, until at one game, faced with extreme anti-Semitism, they only narrowly escape a bloodthirsty mob: "It's no surprise things got out of hand. That is the nature of the golem."
In stark contrast, John Porcellino's King-Cat Classix (D&Q, 383 pages, $33.95) is a collection of his self-published, photocopied and folded comic zines (1989-1996). Even assembled in a slick hardcover format, the stories retain the folksy, DIY charm of the original.

Porcellino's short stories and observations about his life and the nature around him are simple and spare, but manage to capture his awe at the world, and this sensibility is echoed in his minimalist drawing style: a haiku or Zen parable told in the cartoon shorthand of artful doodles. They have the deceptively simple allure of a Ron Sexsmith song.

Another long-time comics insider, the pathetic, self-deprecating Joe Matt, finds himself exhausted financially, sexually and creatively in Spent (D&Q, 120 pages, $22.95), the latest instalment in his series of ever-more-confessional autobiographical comics. The infamous cartoon onanist is a mix of Harvey Pekar and Larry David (if they peed in a jar, watched porn all day, obsessed over past injustices, girlfriends and money, and then watched more porn), and Matt's style does what classical American cartooning is supposed to do: tell the story without drawing attention to itself.

But the marrying of tone, content and drawing style is perhaps most elegantly accomplished in Exit Wounds (D&Q, 172 pages, $21.95), the first long work by Israeli cartoonist Rutu Modan (a member of the publishing collective Actus Tragicus, a dominant force in Israeli comics). After a young man learns that his estranged father may be the unidentified victim of a suicide bombing, a female soldier drags him on her search for answers. But it is not the outcome that matters. The political conflict and the tension of everyday life in Israel introduced by the bombing contribute to the tone of the story like any other background detail, but are not part of the puzzle. Instead, Modan uses the situation to create relationships between characters and then explore them, without any trace of sentimentality. Her main characters are fallible, at times unappealing, selfish or duplicitous, but these flaws are mundane rather than crucial.

Modan's art, too, is dispassionate. Using largely flat, watercolour hues and a consistent clear line, she creates an effect that is subdued and subtle. Elements of her style echo Hergé, but she eschews his right angles - people are realistically lumpy, not geometric - and her panels more tightly frame the characters. In the end, that's where the real story lies: There is no resolution, only the banal, sometimes petty, powerfully understated elements of human relationships.
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Featured artists

James Sturm
Joe Matt
John Porcellino

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King-Cat Classix
Exit Wounds
James Sturm's America: God, Gold, and Golems

  KING-CAT CLASSIX in Booklist

Updated June 18, 2007

Porcellino, John. King-Cat Classix: The Best of King-Cat Comics and Stories
Ray Olson

For 18 years, Porcellino has self-published King-Cat Comix. Two books of extracts, Perfect Example (1999), about his stressful eighteenth year, and Diary of a Mosquito Abatement Man (2005), about a summer gig during college, vaulted him into the front ranks of autobiographical comics creators. Now here’s a heaping helping of the rest of King-Cat, with 15 pages of annotations (including more comics) appended to make the book as impressively self-reflexive as Andrew Boyd and Ryan Yount’s Scurvy Dogs (2005––hard to beat those notes). The book contains many more of Porcellino’s dream stories, some of the most dreamlike in all comics (Rick Veitch develops his dreams much more elaborately––see Crypto Zoo, 2004––but they’re much more diffuse). Porcellino started King-Cat intending never to censor himself or record things unimportant to him. He is as unabashedly unzipped as James Kochalka (American Elf, 2004), though not as often. Some stories are fictional, such as the adventures of Racky Raccoon, and all are drawn with a bold line and lots of white, like Peanuts drained of detail.

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John Porcellino

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King-Cat Classix


Updated June 1, 2007

King-Cat Classix: The Best of King-Cat Comics and Stories
Written & Illustrated by John Porcellino
Published by Drawn + Quarterly
Reviewed by Michael C Lorah

"The book’s greatest strength lies in the diversity of material – autobiographical tales, cute pet stories, silly gags, dada meanderings, self-indulgent existentialism, readers’ letters, and oddball half-ass fiction. Porcellino doesn’t hold back any crazy idea that creeps into his mind, and the book is much stronger for that... The unflinching integrity of Porcellino’s work, the unabashed depiction of a place in everyone’s life, is what draws you into King-Cat Classix."
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John Porcellino

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  KING-CAT CLASSIX in Las Vegas Weekly

Updated May 29, 2007

Autobio comics are all the rage
by J. Caleb Mozzocco
King-Cat Classix
Tuesday, May 29, 2007

The first time I encountered one of cartoonist John Porcellino’s self-published King-Cat zines at a small press show, I remember busting on its childlike drawings and diary-like scripting with my friends: “Jeez, I could do that ... left-handed ... while drunk,” I scoffed. Now that I’m older (and a little wiser), I’ve gained a much greater appreciation for Porcellino’s skills.

This massive, 380-page, heavily annotated tome should offer everybody a chance to similarly reevaluate and appreciate Porcellino’s work.

He’s been writing, drawing and publishing King-Cat since 1989, which amounts to over 65 issues at this point. His work definitely fits into both the folk artist/outsider art and punk rock aesthetics, particularly his early efforts, but you can’t do anything for almost 20 years without getting increasingly proficient at it.

Reading through this collection, you can see the rough, edgy energy and occasionally crude drawings evolve into an elegant, well-regulated crudity before your eyes, becoming a highly refined minimalism. By the end of this collection, the stories resemble the beautiful, insightful work of Porcellino’s recent graphic novels, Diary of a Mosquito Abatement Man and Perfect Example.

Many of the stories herein are day-in-the-life anecdotes about his childhood and crappy day jobs, pet biographies and adaptations of his dreams. Reading them all in 2007, it’s striking how far ahead of his time Porcellino was. Autobio comics are all the rage now, and blogs and webcomics are filling the roles once occupied by zines and minicomics, making it a lot easier for a lot more people to follow in Porcellino’s footsteps.
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John Porcellino

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Updated May 24, 2007

June 2007
click here to download the PDF (450.46 KB)

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John Porcellino
Rutu Modan

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King-Cat Classix
Exit Wounds

  John Porcellino in The Comics Journal

Updated May 9, 2007

King-Cat Classix
Written by Dirk Deppey
Tuesday, 08 May 2007
King-Cat Classix
John Porcellino

John Porcellino was the Ramones of the 1990s minicomics movement — not many people read his photocopied, handmade comics, but seemingly everyone who did started making their own minicomics, and his influence as an artist thus exceeded his circulation as a publisher by a considerable amount. Porcellino's series King-Cat Comics and Stories affected readers through its sincerity, simplicity and utter lack of self-consciousness. Other autobiographical cartoonists struck poses, invited their readers to puerile voyeurism or otherwise strained to make themselves interesting; Porcellino just wrote about his life, sent the results off into the postal system and went onto the next comic. He wanted to communicate, to discuss his life, but he wasn't after fame or notoriety. He just wanted to talk to you.

King-Cat Classix is the third collection of John Porcellino's work. The first two, Perfect Example and Diary of a Mosquito Abatement Man, were self-contained works that focused upon extended themes that made for cohesive works. By contrast, Classix is a grand tour through the raw source material from which the other two books were culled, collecting generous excerpts from the first fifty issues of King-Cat Comics and Stories. At first glance, therefore, cohesiveness would seem to have taken a back seat in this volume. It's only when you start pouring through it that you begin to see the big picture.

Actually, "little picture" would probably be more accurate. By standard graphic-novel standards, Porcellino's work is noticeable for the absence of Big Themes And Ideas — there are dream comics, stories about parties and work and playing in bands, as well as the occasional flight of fancy, but at no point does the artist want to lay some big pearl of wisdom upon you. King-Cat Classix is an extended 11PM phone call from an out-of-town friend, where you just sit down and discuss the first things that pop into your heads, then the second and so on, until you run out of things to say and decide to hang up for the night. A few weeks later, another phone call, and then another, and the aggregate of all this conversation is an informal picture of someone's life.

This is a Big Theme all by itself. It may not revolve around a discrete set of novelistic talking points, but when does life ever really do that? Certainly there's progression and growth involved. In these pages you'll see Porcellino grow from an introspective young man with an affection for punk rock and vaguely MaximumRocknRoll-ish politics (when he thinks about politics at all) into an introspective adult with a taste for savoring life's small moments. Reconciling oneself to contentment may not be the most fashionable theme for a modern graphic novel — or indeed the novel in general — but it's one of the most necessary elements to a stable and satisfying life. Any fool can build a narrative around conflict; how many can dedicate extended works to its absence? I can think of a few (Eddie Campbell and Hitoshi Ashinano come to mind) but it seems to be either a difficult trick to pull off or an unpopular one. Or both, come to think of it.

This growth, from the confused disaffection of youth to the stable equilibrium of adulthood, is reflected in the art as well. Early King-Cat stories are scribbled shapes and jagged lines, unsure of themselves, questing for meaning. As the collection progresses, these forms discover their state of zen and simplify into coherence, at peace with the world they create and inhabit. It's like a journey from wild fits of prose to calm haiku, a grand settling down that invites you to share in a quiet, perfectly composed moment. The journey toward such moments and the peace one finds when they arrive: That's when life comes together. Like King-Cat Classix, it's simplicity itself.
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John Porcellino

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John Porcellino interviewed by the Onion AV

Updated May 4, 2007

John Porcellino
Interviewed by Jason Heller
May 3rd, 2007

There's a Zen-like serenity to John Porcellino's self-published King-Cat Comics—but in 1989, you never would have seen it coming. When Porcellino founded the Xeroxed zine 18 years ago, he was an Illinois college kid bursting with self-doubt, anger, and punk-fueled sarcasm, all of which spilled onto the pages of King-Cat. It's almost funny then that his new book—a richly annotated, 384-page hardcover called King-Cat Classix, published by the high-profile Drawn & Quarterly—compiles the lion's share of the scratchy first seven years of the zine. While there are hints, especially toward the book's end, of Porcellino's emerging maturity, his early autobiographical sketches revel in crude surrealism and wise-ass humor—all while maintaining a profound sweetness that would come to dominate King-Cat.

Porcellino's work has been the subject of previous reprint collections, most recently the acclaimed Diary Of A Mosquito Abatement Man (published by La Mano an imprint owned by former Low bassist Zak Sally) and the high-school memoir Perfect Example (first released by the defunct Highwater before being picked up by D&Q). But Classix is by far his biggest book, and one that might prove a strange point of entry to new fans. Porcellino is also working on several new graphic novels, including Thoreau At Walden for Hyperion—all while photocopying and personally mailing each new issue of King-Cat Comics to his hundreds of subscribers. Now settled down and living the quiet life in Denver, Porcellino spoke with The A.V. Club and shared his thoughts about punk, art, brain chemistry, and his newfound "positive mental attitude."

The A.V. Club: When you sat down to start working on King-Cat Classix, what was your biggest worry?

John Porcellino: I don't know. I had so many. [Laughs.] Basically, I hadn't looked at some of these comics in almost 18 years. In my weird world I think these are good comics, but I was kind of worried: There's a certain amount of people out there who have only seen my recent stuff. I think the Mosquito book helps give people and idea of what to expect, because it shows that transition. But personally, it was weird going back. I'm a very different person now than I was when I was 20 years old. You can't help but wonder what people are going to think about this old stuff. It's like King-Cat in general; if you read one of the early comics, you might be like, "What?" But hopefully people will get a sense of how it progresses and changes if they actually sit down and read through the whole thing.

AVC: When you started doing King-Cat, did you have any sense that it was something worth saving? Did you consider that it would eventually take up so much of your life?

JP: I'm not saying that I ever thought, "These are the greatest comics in the world," but I always liked them. [Laughs.] Plus, I love history. Even back then, I knew that this was going to be the way that I documented my life. But I never imagined that there would ever be a book like [King-Cat Classix]. When I was done with an issue, I just put it in a box and started on the next one.

AVC: What did you leave out of Classix? When you were going through all your old comics, did you run across anything and say, "There's no freaking way this is going in the book?"

JP: There were a few things that I left out. I was pretty rash about my comics back then; I didn't edit or second-guess myself. My current self was like, "If I was this person who got depicted in this comic, would I be pretty bummed out if I saw it?"

AVC: You mean, friends of yours who were depicted in King-Cat?

JP: Yeah, just people I knew or met. There were a few comics where I used people's names or specific stuff like that. Maybe someday those will come out, but at the time I was putting the new book together, it just didn't feel right to me.

AVC: Has anyone ever gotten mad at you for how they were portrayed in King-Cat? Did you ever venture into Joe Matt territory?

JP: Not really. With my friends, it was always essentially true stories. That's how I always felt about doing King-Cat: This is something that really happened, whether it makes me look good or bad, or someone else look good or bad. This is what happened, and it's my job in life to write it down. Nowadays, I'm a lot more conscientious about it. I'm not out to attack somebody in print.

AVC: The whole tenor of King-Cat has changed. Were there any stories you excluded from the book because they were just too dark or bitter compared to what you do now?

JP: Not really, but there are definitely comics in there that I thought twice about.

AVC: Can you think of an example?

JP: This one comic, people got mad at me for. I wrote, "I live in shit, a house of racist, sexist, violent men." Of course, all the people I lived with read King-Cat, so… [Laughs.] I think I write about that in the notes of the book: One of my roommates confronted me over that. All of my psychological garbage was in King-Cat. My dream comics are, like, the epitome of Freudian dream analysis. It was kind of hard putting the book together for other reasons, too. I really pay attention to whether a comic starts on the left page or the right page, the way it might read differently. Some comics have to begin or end on certain pages to be more effective. It's like sequencing an album. Honestly, some stuff got left out for that reason. And when I say that I left a few of them out, I mean, maybe two or three comics. And then there was a ton of stuff I left out just because it was no good. [Laughs.]

AVC: You've put your relatives in a lot of stories over the years. What's the relationship between King-Cat and your family?

JP: For most of that time, my parents never saw an issue of King-Cat. Then I got to a certain point, around 6 or 7 years into it, where I realized I wanted to share this with my family.

AVC: You didn't keep it a secret from them, did you?

JP: No, I just didn't talk about it. They knew that I did King-Cat, but honestly my mom didn't want to see a lot of it. She would tell me, "I don't want to know any of what's really going on." [Laughs.] Nowadays, when I put out a new issue, my mom will say, "Is there anything in there that will make me upset?" So I have to sit down and screen it.

AVC: Did the old stories upset her?

JP: Yeah. Man, there's sex stuff in there, drinking. I was always drunk, and there were all these four-letter words. My mom doesn't want to read that stuff. [Laughs.]

AVC: What about the more emotional stories where you're talking about how unhappy you were as a kid?

JP: I think my parents understood. People go through that kind of stuff. Everyone already knew what happened, and it's probably pretty typical for kids growing up to have points where their parents are yelling at them to get a haircut or whatever.

AVC: Did you ever reach a point where you started to become conscious of the way your readers perceived you?

JP: Yeah, totally. I can tell you exactly when it was: King Cat 44. In '94, me and Zak [Sally] and Mr. Mike [Haeg] went on a road trip up the West Coast, and we went to Seattle. Seattle at the time was where all the cartoonists were. We met all these guys and hung out and talked comics, and it was like, "Wow, these people kind of take this thing seriously."

AVC: Which cartoonists?

JP: Tom Hart, David Lasky, Ed Brubaker, Megan Kelso. I met Julie Doucet there for the first time. A lot of them I had been writing to for a while, but there was a real different vibe there. These people lived comics. The way I grew up, I had a lot of personal issues with art. It's an individual thing, but I also think it's kind of Midwestern: You do your thing, but you don't talk about it. You make sure it's not such a big deal, and keep it very low-key. Not that the people in Seattle were jumping up and down, but they got together every week to draw and critique each other's work. Outside of art school, I never did that. There was a community there. When I came back from that trip and sat down to do King-Cat 44—it was probably the "Chicken Lady" or the "Shovel Lady" story—I had a physical, palpable sense of being self-conscious. It was the first time out of all these pages of comics I'd drawn where I was like, "Holy cow, people are going to read this. They're going to like it, or they might not like it. Maybe I really should make my drawings a little more solid, or really think about what I'm doing. Maybe this shouldn't be so sloppy."

AVC: Obviously Drawn & Quarterly believed in doing Classix, but did you ever doubt whether your early material should be released again at all?

JP: Oh, definitely. [Laughs.] That's one of the things I'm working on with my new positive mental attitude—my own self-worth or whatever. That sounds extreme, but it's kind of true. But there's a big part of me that thought, "Who's gonna want to read this?"

AVC: Was there any point in the process where you said to yourself, "I've got to call Drawn & Quarterly and tell them I can't do this"?

JP: Mostly what I was afraid of was that they were going to call me and say that. "You know what? We took a look at the actual artwork, and, you know, maybe we need to think about something else." [Laughs.] But actually, I do believe in my art, as self-effacing as I am. This is just what I do, and it's okay

AVC: You mentioned your "positive mental attitude." That's like "PMA" from the Bad Brains song "Attitude."

JP: Yeah.

AVC: Have you seen the documentary American Hardcore? As someone who grew up listening to Bad Brains, was it strange to watch the film and learn that the band got "PMA" from some believe-and-achieve, self-help book?

JP: Yeah. But through my life and my experience, I believe it's true. Your brain has certain pathways in it, and if you feed those pathways with certain types of thoughts, the blood goes to those neurons and nourishes them, and they grow and develop. That's how you build habits. Physically, I think that's how your brain works. If you have certain habits that are negative and causing you problems that you want to change them, you can actually change the blood flow and stuff in your brain by thinking a different way.

AVC: That's pretty punk.

JP: Yeah. [Laughs.] It's totally hardcore. It's DIY.

AVC: Hardcore is usually stereotyped as a negative reaction to society, but some of the best hardcore songs are totally triumphant and positive, like "Attitude" or Black Flag's "Rise Above."

JP: Punk rock was the first thing I found in my life that made me feel acceptable. The thing that got me into punk rock was the idea, "You're fine just the way you are." It sounds kind of dorky, and the bands wouldn't have put it like that, but you don't have to make excuses for who you are or what you do. I was probably kind of a weirdo. I felt isolated, like, "Wow, there must be something terribly wrong with me." When you find something like punk rock, not only is it okay to feel that way—you should embrace that. Embrace your weirdness. The world is totally messed up, and punk rock was a way to see that and work with it without candy-coating it or sweeping it under the rug. It was saying, "Yeah, the world is this way, but you can still do something about it. Take energy from that."

AVC: Even if punk seems negative, making music is an inherently positive, creative act.

JP: When you watch American Hardcore, you see that there were a lot of things about the original hardcore scene that weren't great. But in essence, for me, it was a massively positive thing. It gave me energy. In the '80s in suburban Chicago, I wasn't part of any scene. To a certain extent, I didn't even fit in with the punk rockers. But it didn't matter. The whole point was just to be yourself, no matter what that was. You didn't have to fit into a certain punk-rock cliché. Create whatever your compelled to create. People were putting out their own records, and it just seemed natural to put out my own magazine. When I was really young, I started making magazines and little books, just folded-over pieces of typing paper, so when I discovered punk rock, it really blew my mind. I played in bands and stuff, but making my own zines seemed like an inherent part of that scene.

Another great thing about punk was this: Not only was bad okay, bad sometimes was better. Look at Flipper, one of the major influences on my whole life. The early issues of King-Cat were really influenced by Flipper and Butthole Surfers. Those are the bands I really got excited about. The Minutemen would play these hardcore shows, and people would get mad because they played guitar solos. Mike Watt would say, "I thought you guys wanted no rules. Well, this is what 'no rules' looks like. You can do whatever you want."

AVC: Being so entrenched in self-publishing for so many years, what was it like to work on a huge book with a prominent publisher like Drawn & Quarterly?

JP: I won't lie: I've done it myself for so many years, it was tricky for me to relinquish some of that grip. Drawn & Quarterly essentially let me do whatever I wanted to do. It wasn't like there were people telling me, "Hey, you can't do this and you can't do that." They made suggestions and comments, but that's it. Still, it's tough. I don't know how to make a book like this, so I trusted that they're good people, and they are. I just took that trust and went from there. I could never have made a book like this without Drawn & Quarterly. I've been so freaked out about it. It's just amazing that it exists now.

AVC: Did you ever feel like you were on the clock while you were making Classix?

JP: Yeah, the whole time. [Laughs.] I'm really not used to doing that. When I'm doing a regular issue of King-Cat and I come across some dilemma or decision I have to make, I can just put it aside and wait a week, come back to it with a fresh mind. Usually at that point, the answer just presents itself. With the book, it was like, "You've got to make this decision, and you've got till 4." [Laughs.] It was stressful for me, but I feel like this particular book just had so many details that I wanted to get right. But I'm happy with it. It was a learning experience.

AVC: You're also working on more books for outside publishers. Do you think you're getting more comfortable with the process? Do you think it's a necessary next step as a cartoonist trying to make a living?

JP: The way I look at it is this: King-Cat is what I do. The other stuff is part of it, but King-Cat will always be my focus, because that's where the new work is. Whatever's going on in my life at any given time is what's feeding that issue. The books are good because they put my stuff in a format with wider distribution. Those individual issues of King-Cat aren't going to be in print forever, and the books are chunks of that history done tastefully, so I'm comfortable with that.

AVC: Besides the changes in your writing style, your artwork has undergone a refinement over the years. You were studying art in college when you started King-Cat—were your early comics a reaction against that training?

JP: There were certain things about the fine-arts world that I didn't like, but I loved painting. As an expressive medium, it was great, but I did my comics at the same time. My paintings were all autobiographical, and the comics were just another layer, along with the music I was playing at the time. At some point, I realized there was something about the fine-arts world I was uncomfortable with. It just occurred to me that comics were the best thing I could do. It's not this unique object that somebody gets to have, like a painting. What I liked about comics is that I could make 50 copies or 1000 copies or however I needed to make. Anybody who wanted one could have it. It was very accessible. I could do one of these old comics and give them to the people I worked with at the warehouse. It wasn't like, "Hey, here's a flyer for a show I'm having at a gallery downtown." A lot of people don't feel comfortable going to a gallery.

AVC: Is that really what you used to do? Hand out copies of King-Cat to your coworkers at a warehouse?

JP: Yeah. It was at a warehouse that made country-craft things that would say, like, "A house is not a home without a meow." I'd bring my comics in to work and say, "Hey, you're in the new King-Cat, here's a copy." [Laughs.] That was the thing: You could give it to anybody. There are some people who don't get comics, but for the most part, if you give someone a comic, they know what to do with it. They just sit down and read it. It's just a story with pictures, whatever. That's what felt really good; it was this direct communication. It was unpretentious and accessible to anybody. I was selling them for 50 cents.

AVC: What are you up to now, $2.50?

JP: Three bucks. Hey, man, times are tough. [Laughs.] I always think about bags of pretzels. A bag of pretzels is three bucks. Is this chunk of my creative life worth a bag of pretzels? Eh, okay. It probably is.
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John Porcellino

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  John Porcellino in Colorado Springs Independent

Updated April 26, 2007

Seven Days
Drawing parallels
Cartoonist's personal evolution mirrors that of comic world
by Christina A. Roller

John Porcellino is a cartoonist who creates mini-comics, though the techniques he uses to produce his virtual artwork have consistently remained unique to him.
"When most people think of comics, they think of newspaper comics or comic strips, but my work is different from that," the 38-year-old says. "It has changed over the years, but it's always been simple and understated; I typically write autobiographical material focused on day-to-day life."

His new book, King-Cat Classix, is a large collection of material from the first 50 issues of King-Cat Comics, and shows the shift and evolution of his work from 1989 to 1996.

Porcellino self-published his first issue of King-Cat Comics as a "zine," or a small-press independent magazine, as a punk rock-inspired 20-year-old in 1989.

"When I started out, I would come home and write about an experience from my day; it was very diary-like and spontaneous," he says. "I didn't edit or second-guess myself, which correlates a lot to punk rock."

But during the early 1990s, Porcellino began to experience health problems, including hyperacusis, which is caused by prolonged exposure to loud music.

"I couldn't really go on living life the way I had been, so I had to find a more quiet space," he says. "This is when you start to see more reflective, meditative work."

The evolution of his work, now 67 issues deep, reflects an evolution in comics in general.

"There is a direction in comics over the past few years where comics are relying less on sarcasm or comedy," he says, "more of an honest expression of emotion, rather than one that's caged in an ironic stance."

Drawn and Quarterly presents: A Q&A, Slide Show and Signing with John Porcellino featuring King-Cat Classix

Colorado College's Tutt Library, 1021 N. Cascade Ave.
Thursday, April 26, 7 p.m.
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John Porcellino interviewed by Publishers Weekly

Updated April 13, 2007

Porcellino Goes Back to the '90s
April 10, 2007
by Kate Culkin
PW Comics Week -- Publishers Weekly

John Porcellino began chronicling his experiences in the self-published King-Cat Comics and Stories in 1989, when he was a 20-year-old college student. On April 12, Drawn and Quarterly will release King-Cat Classix, a beautifully produced collection of excerpts from the comic's first 50 issues, which covered the years 1989-1996. The volume provides an intimate record of seven years of the artist's life, cataloging his dreams, fantasies, relationships, memories and fears, as well as, of course, his cats (and dogs). Readers see him mature as a person and an artist, while maintaining his dedication to a punk-rock-inspired aesthetic of simplicity and accessibility. Porcellino discussed what it was like to revisit his younger self, the evolution of his work and his future projects with PW Comics Week.

PW Comics Week: How did King-Cat Classix come about?

John Porcellino: I have been doing King-Cat for a long time, and I had been thinking about doing a collection for several years. I had done a book—Perfect Example—with Tom Devlin when he had his own publishing house, Highwater, and we had talked about it then; he is now at Drawn & Quarterly. It was his suggestion to do it now, but I had wanted to do the collection for a long time.

PWCW: What was the selection process for material for the collection? Were there certain narratives or themes that you wanted to emphasize?

JP: I obviously wanted to give an overview of the different types of material I had used over the years. In some ways it was a best of, and I just liked the way some were drawn. But some things I put in to give a broader view. In King-Cat, I give little snapshots of particular moments, but the more exposure you get to the stories, the deeper they become. So I included some comics because they referred to a comic that would appear later in the book. I wanted people to get the sense that it was this one life, this one experience.

PWCW: What was it like to look back over the entire body of work? Did you find things that surprised you?

JP: It was an interesting process. I started doing King-Cat in '89, when I was 20. That was 18 years ago, and I am a very different person. I was really afraid that the early work would seem too long ago, and, in some ways, it was hard to reconcile who I was then with who I am now. I was surprised looking back at how spontaneous the work was. It was like a diary for me. I would go out and live my life and come home in the evening and make a comic. I never went back and tried to tinker with it. In my current work, there is more reflection between the event and the telling of it. I edit myself a lot more about what I want to say and how I want to say it. It is more like a memoir.

PWCW: In your story "Well Drawn Funnies," from 1990, you note the influence of punk rock and underground comics on your work, writing that it is more important to you "to make art that is an honest expression of my life than it is to make pictures people think are well drawn." How has the philosophy influenced your work? Has it changed over the past 17 years?

JP: My drawing style has changed or evolved or been refined over the years. It has gotten tighter and some of the extraneous stuff has been removed. I try to be as essential as possible with what I draw. But I think my basic attitude has remained the same. My approach to it has always been that I want the drawing to relay the story to the reader in an unpretentious way. One of the reasons I focused on comics as an artist is because comics have the ability to level the playing field. I was trained as a fine artist, and I love that stuff. But comics are a populist medium. I think that one of the reasons I draw the way I do is because it is universally readable. I am trying to break down the artistic walls between the reader and writer. I want it to feel very personal and direct, as if we are having a conversation—so someone can see it and understand it immediately.

PWCW: The collection concludes with Snapdragons, from 1996. Why did you decide to end the volume with that piece?

JP: This book covers the first 50 issues of King-Cat, which seemed like a good round number. About issue 50, in addition, the way I approached things changed a little, so, creatively and artistically, it seemed like a good way to end the collection. That particular strip seemed to give a sense of what was coming next—a more reflective, poetic, understated way of writing comics.

PWCW: Will there be a second volume?

JP: Hopefully, there will be one that will continue where this one left off.

PWCW: How did Thoreau at Walden, your forthcoming contribution to the series of young adult graphic novels put out by Hyperion and the Center for Cartoon Studies, come about?

JP: James Sturm, the director of the center and editor of the series, gave me a call—he was trying to plan out this series of books. I was flattered. Thoreau is probably one of my biggest heroes and to get to immerse myself in his work and find a way to present it to people today was thrilling.

All the text in the book is from Thoreau's published writing. I took the liberty of recontextualizing things—one panel might be from Walden, one from something he wrote at another time. I edited portions of his writing. There is a narrative there, but there is also an impression of his philosophy. I took the liberty of re-aligning things to tell this particular story.

PWCW: What are your next projects?

JP: I am doing another graphic novel, a story set in 1997, when I had a pretty serious experience healthwise. And I am always working on the new King-Cat. The next one should come out this summer.
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  KING-CAT CLASSIX gets a starred review in the Library Journal

Updated April 10, 2007

Porcellino, John. King-Cat Classix: The Best of King-Cat Comics and Stories. Drawn & Quarterly. May 2007

Since 1989, King-Cat Comics and Stories has been an anchor in the self-published comics community. Porcellino has faithfully published his little magazine—not necessarily regularly, not necessarily on time—but always faithfully and honestly. This weighty collection gathers the best of the first 50 issues of King-Cat with selections of ephemera (reproductions of letters, essay, reviews, and stories) that make each issue singular. While not exhaustive, King-Cat Classix manages to display the gradual evolution of an artist, from early punk rock scratchings and disjointed ramblings through the reserved simplicity of Porcellino's later drawings. Readers will grasp the development of both a man and the practitioner of a craft. The publisher attempted to maintain the feel of the original publications by keeping the dimensions of the book roughly the same as a standard sheet of paper folded in two instead of opting for a coffeetable-type retrospective. But a retrospective it is—a comprehensive introduction to the work of a great living artist as well as a tribute to the foundational efforts of an icon. Because of the explicit nature of some of the work, King-Cat Classix is suitable for adult collections. Highly recommended.—Ruthanne Price, Vaughan Pub. Libs., Ont.
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D+Q at APE

Updated April 5, 2007

Alternative Press Expo 2007

Saturday, April 21st 11:00AM - 7:00PM
Sunday, April 22nd 11:00AM - 6:00PM

620 7th Street
San Francisco, CA

This year Kevin Huizenga is a special guest at APE! Check out his events and stop by the D+Q booth to meet him in person. Also, Anders Nilsen will be there Saturday only.


12:30 - 2:30 Anders Nilsen signing at the D+Q booth
2:30 - 4:30 Kevin Huizenga signing at the D+Q booth

5:00 - 5:55 Spotlight on Kevin Huizenga


12:30 - 1:40 Panel with Kevin Huizenga: "Graphic Novels Now"
2:00 - 4:00 Kevin Huizenga signing at the D+Q booth


John Porcellino's King-Cat Classix debuts at APE 2007! And don't miss Adrian Tomine's Optic Nerve #11

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Anders Nilsen
John Porcellino

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Big Questions #9: The Lost and Found

  ARTBLOG reviews Perfect Example by John Porcellino

Updated August 4, 2006

Thursday, 27 July 2006

Perfect Example

I'm about five weeks older than John Porcellino. Thus I can vouch for the veracity of his memoir of life after high school, stories that appeared in King-Cat collected into a volume entitled Perfect Example and published by Drawn & Quarterly. He captures details of the time that might qualify as emblematic: listening to Camper Van Beethoven and R.E.M. (the title is a Hüsker Dü lyric), flannel shirts tied around waists, skateboarding, girlfriends with spiky hair and Cure shirts. He also carefully renders the psychological miasma of adolescence, the kind that prompts one to lie face down into a pillow and wonder what it all means. I can vouch for the veracity of that too, because I experienced it well into my mid 20s. Teenage angst is so pathetic in its shallowness and banality that I can see real danger in trying to turn it into viable storytelling, but Porcellino makes it work beautifully. His lightness of style saves it from becoming melodramatic, and he works it into a larger framework that includes bewilderment about girls, friends suddenly acting differently, listening to music, arguing about which band is better, sitting around at night talking and drinking booze bought with a fake ID, pulling away from parents, and wondering about college.

Porcellino illustrates the everyday with such tenderness that it becomes important in spite of itself. Henry Miller once said, "The moment one gives close attention to anything, even a blade of grass, it becomes a mysterious, awesome, indescribably magnificent world in itself." Nothing about Porcellino's subject or style is extraordinary, but close attention and pure strength of heart make both ring with palpable truth.
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PERFECT EXAMPLE reviewed by Publishers Weekly

Updated July 19, 2006

Perfect Example
Porcellino, John (Author)

ISBN: 1896597750
Drawn & Quarterly
Published 2005-10
Hardcover, $24.95 (144p)
Comics & Graphic Novels | Graphic Novels - General

Reviewed 2005-08-29

Porcellino, the longtime and, one imagines, long-suffering publisher of the zine King-Cat Comics and Stories , has come out with an autobiography covering his final days of high school and the following summer in Hoffman Estates, a Chicago suburb. Porcellino has a deliberately simple style of drawing. His childish images are emotional almost without effort. It's 1986, and Porcellino is a severely depressed teen who doesn't know what to do with his life. He hangs out with friends, chases two girls, goes out to the lake and finally falls into suicidal thoughts: the world feels bland and dead. The story suffers when Porcellino abandons the sweet, meandering plot to discuss his state of mind. These interior episodes feel tacked on: "I was a little boy. Now I'm grown. People--places... things come and go. But they're no more real than shadows on a wall." With the work of Dan Clowes, Harvey Pekar and French artist David B., the graphic novel is proving to be an excellent venue for describing the 20th-century everyman. Porcellino's work is a minor, flawed but still worthy example of this rising genre. (Oct.)

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  Baltimore City Paper Spotlights I Never Liked You & Perfect Example!

Updated July 19, 2006

Comics Feature
by Tim Kreider

October 2005.


If you’re reading City Paper, you probably already know about cartoonists like R. Crumb, Harvey Pekar, and Dan Clowes because you saw Crumb or American Splendor or Ghost World at the Charles; you may have heard of Alan Moore as the author or co-author of books adapted for the films From Hell, League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, and the upcoming V for Vendetta. You may know the names Art Spiegelman (the Maus guy) or Chris Ware from their New Yorker covers. We won’t be talking about them here because 1) they’ve gotten enough publicity already, and 2) frankly, with the exception of Moore, none of them really floats my boat. Whether they like it or not, many of these artists are still too mired in the insular, self-referential subculture of comics (reacting against something doesn’t mean you’re free of it) to have much crossover appeal to mainstream readers. I want to recommend some books that you’ll like if you’re the kind of reader I described above—someone whose reading life is as integral to their personality and sanity as their dream lives or sex lives. This list takes something of a shotgun approach, partly because I don’t know you and your tastes, and also, I’m afraid, because there are so few truly good comics being drawn that any list of the best ones will unavoidably be eclectic. However, I can promise you that in none of these books will you see even one man in tights.

I Never Liked You (Drawn and Quarterly Publications, 1994) and Ed the Happy Clown (Vortex, 1989) by Chester Brown
I Never Liked You, about the author’s adolescence, is an understated and dispassionate recollection of his first bungled, hurtful flirtations with girls and his mother’s gradual dissolution into schizophrenia. It’s generally considered the best of the glut of autobiographical comics, which, like the memoir in mainstream literature, is currently suffering from an oversupply of quantity and an emergency-level shortage of quality. Me, though, I prefer Ed the Happy Clown, collecting stories that appeared in Brown’s comic Yummy Fur in the ‘80s. The plot, such as it is, follows the increasingly bizarre and humiliating misadventures of Ed, a hapless innocent, involving vampires, vampire hunters, pygmies, Frankenstein’s monster, cattle-mutilating aliens, and angels, culminating in the head of an alternate-universe Ronald Reagan being transplanted onto the end of Ed’s penis via a transdimensional waste-disposal duct. There is a strain of something distinctly unfunny underlying all this absurdity, a cruel morality that was reinforced by the straightforward, unironic adaptations of the gospels that originally backed every episode of Ed in Yummy Fur. Government scientists turn out to be hysterical homophobes with concealed handguns; the brutal, porcine police wear domino masks; doctors smoke cigarettes over their surgeries and beat patients with pipes in bare cinder-block rooms in hospitals that look like Central American prisons. Even divine justice turns out to be as arbitrary, unfair, and indifferent as any MVA bureaucrat.

Perfect Example (Highwater Books, 2000) and Diary of a Mosquito Abatement Man (La Mano, 2005) by John Porcellino
Punk rock was a revelation to the young John Porcellino, showing him that anyone could make art without formal education or technical virtuosity. However, unlike many people who have taken this lesson to heart, Porcellino is a born artist, someone whose nerve endings seem more sensitive to both the pain and the mystery at the center of this existence. Anyone who was ever moved to tears by “the loveliest saddest landscape in the world” as drawn by Antoine de Saint-Exupery in The Little Prince will understand the quiet power of Porcellino’s deceptively childlike drawings. Perfect Example is one of the best novels ever written about adolescence—yes, up there with The Catcher in the Rye. I hesitate to describe it as a story about a depressed teenager, because I know this sounds like the last thing in the world you’d want to read. Even though it clearly evokes what it was like to grow up in suburban Illinois circa 1985, it also, unlike most bildungsromans, transcends those incidentals and grapples with ageless problems that adults still have to contend with: figuring out how to be a person in the world, how to love and let yourself be loved by others. A second collection, Diary of a Mosquito Abatement Man, is a more episodic chronicle of Porcellino’s days as an exterminator that documents his growing reverence for the natural world. It includes some passages that make the hairs rise on your arms and the air around you seem to stand still; like Denis Johnson’s stories in Jesus’ Son, whose subjects are often mundane or tawdry, they always point beyond themselves to something ineffable.

Doubtlessly connoisseurs of comics will despise this list for its prejudices and omissions. Fuck them. These are people who think Craig Thompson’s Blankets is a good graphic novel because it was well drawn and very, very long. Really good graphic novels are still too few, but superb new work is being written and drawn all the time. I’m still waiting for the second volume of Jason Lutes’ complex and ambitious historical novel Berlin, and I’m told the new book Epileptic, by one David B., is extremely good.

It’s not yet clear where comics are in their history—whether the current spate of serious, literary comics is just the autumnal blaze of an obsolete medium in its decadence, or the spazzy, pretentious, and gorgeous adolescence of a new, unexplored art form. The difference may depend on the ambitions and talents of a handful of individual creators—and on the adventurousness, curiosity, and discernment of you, the reader.
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I Never Liked You: The New Definitive Edition
Perfect Example

Newsarama interviews John Porcellino!

Updated July 19, 2006

September 2005.


by Daniel Robert Epstein

John Porcellino has been creating and self-publishing his autobiographical comic book, King-Cat Comics and Stories, since 1989. its only been in the past few years that he made the decision to collect one of the stories into a trade paperback. That book, Perfect Example, has just been released by Drawn & Quarterly and puts Porcellino into the company of creators like Seth, Joe Matt and Chester Brown.

Perfect Example is about Porcellino’s high schools years and specifically tackles his pivotal summer before college. John, at 17 years old, lives in Illinois and is trying to figure out how relationships with girls and even friends at work while also dealing with his chronic depression.

Newsarama caught up with Porcellino to discuss his books past, present and future.

Newsarama: So John, what are you up to today?

John Porcellino: I was at work and then I’ve been dealing with the printers that I’m using to print my comics.

NRAMA: What’s your day job?

JP: I work in a health food store and I’m actually doing nutritional consulting and things like that.

NRAMA: Are you trying to become a nutritionist?

JP: When I graduate in a few months; I’ll be a certified nutritionist.

NRAMA: How did Perfect Example get to Drawn and Quarterly?

JP: Perfect Example was originally released by Highwater Books in 2000 and Highwater is gone now. I believe it was one of the first books that they did. I’d been self-publishing for so many years and Tom had always been supportive of me, so when he started Highwater, it seemed like that it would be a good fit. Perfect Example was something I thought that might work as a book so I approached Tom about that in 1998 and we finally got it out in the spring of 2000. I’m still self-publishing, I just finished the new issue of King Cat and it should be out any day. But I’m definitely hoping to work with other people.

NRAMA: So you’re open to doing issues with a company?

JP: Honestly, I thought about it because it’s a lot of work. But for whatever reason, I feel comfortable self-publishing. I grew up in a do it yourself kind of thing, so having that kind of handle on things is pretty important to me. But working with the business end of things is also kind of enjoyable to me and also just practical. By publishing King Cat myself, I’ve probably earned a little bit better living that I would have it was published by an outside publisher.

The last time I thought about going with a publisher was last night when I was dealing with the printer. But at this point it just seems right to me to keep doing what I do.

NRAMA: Did you change or fix anything for the Drawn & Quarterly edition of the book

JP: No, I can’t say that I did. I think the cover design’s a little bit nicer and there’s an updated biography in the back of the book but otherwise it should be pretty similar to the Highwater version, just hopefully get a little bit better distribution. I really wanted the book to stay in print so I’m happy that Drawn and Quarterly was willing to do it.

NRAMA: Did you meet [Drawn and Quarterly publisher] Chris Oliveros at a convention?

JP: Yeah, I actually did approach him the first time about it in 2004. Perfect Example had just gone out of print I knew Tom was having difficulties with Highwater so it seemed like it would make sense to go with somebody else.

NRAMA: I read at one point you didn’t want to read other autobiographical comics.

JP: I was talking about specifically about American Splendor and when I first started doing King Cat, which was in 1989, there weren’t that many people doing autobiographical stuff. So a lot of people would inevitably say “Oh, have you read American Splendor, you should really read Harvey Pekar. You’d really like it, it’s kind of similar,” or whatever. I had my own thing going on and I kind of wanted to make sure it was my own thing and it didn’t get influenced by somebody else. But after a certain point, there are so many people doing autobiographical comics and now I read and love a lot of them.

NRAMA: You and Harvey are radically different from each other, don’t you think?

JP: Yeah it’s definitely two different things. Maybe I can see more of a similarity with my earlier autobiographical stuff but now it’s evolved over the years to what it is now. I like American Splendor a lot but it’s a different approach for sure.

NRAMA: Do you like the other Drawn and Quarterly guys?

JP: You can’t go wrong with the people that they do work with. I was a little bit hesitant when I first approached Chris because I didn’t know if he would like my stuff but I guess he does.

NRAMA: How would you describe Perfect Example?

JP: It’s the story of the summer after I graduate high school, before I went to college and that particular point in my life was crucial for me. I think that a lot of my personality developed at that point, a lot of my individuality and it was a pretty difficult time for me, and I think it was a difficult time for a lot of people, whatever generation you are in. So I had this true story which I thought was pretty good and I also felt that it was a universal thing where a lot of people could relate to my experiences and that was kind of my motivation for doing that book.

NRAMA: Is it a “Perfect Example” of who you are?

JP: Yeah and “Perfect Example” is the title of a song by a band called Husker Du. They called it post-punk at the time. They were a big influential band on my life at that time in particular. The story itself was “Perfect Example” of the things that people go through at that point and how they deal with it. But also when I was working on the story I really didn’t know what it was going to be called and that particular song was always kind of poignant for me. When it came on and I got the song stuck in my head, “Perfect Example is all the things it’s done for me, I think I might lose my mind but not my memory.” As soon as I heard those lines again, I was like “that’s what I should call it”.

NRAMA: How true is the book in terms of real life?

JP: Well it’s interesting. I actually contacted a lot of the people who are in the story and there were a number of them who I had not spoken to in about ten years. I basically interviewed a lot of people about specific instances I was writing about in the book and asked for their take on things. Then I took pretty copious notes on what everybody wrote. I was kind of surprised that a lot people remember things completely differently than me. They would remember the same events but would have a different perspective or a different take on it. They would emphasize some detail of the event that I kind of glossed over or forgotten. That’s a long way of saying that it’s true that these events really happened but it’s also my individual perspective on those events. Everybody involved could have written a different book with the same events and that’s just the nature of writing your life. I don’t know that you could be completely objective. In the process of telling a story too, I try to be truthful and be accurate but I also realize I owe myself a certain creative flexibility with how am I going to tell this story and deemphasizing or emphasizing certain elements of it to make a larger point or things. I could say it’s true up to a point but what that the point is, I’m not sure.

NRAMA: What made you decide to go that route of asking people, did you want to get it accurate?

JP: Part of it was that this was a true story. I’m an autobiographical cartoonist and when you’re interacting with me you run the risk of becoming a character in King Cat. In this case it was a pretty big story and there were parts to it where I thought maybe I want to approach people and give them the option of having me use a pseudonym for them. It was just out of respect for the people who are involved and that’s probably the only time I’ve ever really done that and that’s what prompted me to hunt those people down after all those years.

NRAMA: Did going over this depressing time, depress you?

JP: No because no matter how rough the moment is, my experience is when you get to a certain point, it’s not exactly nostalgia or looking at it through rose colored glasses or glossing over the negative parts. But you can kind of see things with a little bit less of the emotional kind of thinking and see the bigger picture of how these things relate to all these other events in your life. So although at that point in my life I was struggling a great deal with depression and confusion but it was a turning point to deal with those parts of my life and another impulse for me to do the book is that I felt Perfect Example had a happy ending. You ultimately grow or change for the better and that’s kind of what the point of the book is.

NRAMA: I spoke to Jeffrey Brown not too long ago and he purposely draws in this crude style, can you draw better than you draw in this?

JP: It’s a common reaction for people to see my artwork as intentionally crude or childish. I’m fine with the word child-like but not childish it does have a certain simplicity to it. To a certain extent, the way I draw now is just a natural progression. It’s like a content refinement of the way I DREw when I was eight years old. These roundheads with a simplified nose and a couple dots for eyes and of course after doing it for 30 years or whatever, you can’t help but get better at it. So to a certain extent it’s just naturally the way I draw. On the other hand I can also say that I’ve always been attracted to things that were simple and graceful and kind of understated in art, whether it’s music, drawing, painting, film or whatever kind of creative expression. I’ve always been drawn to that kind of simple, distilled, essential expression, so I think it’s only kind of natural that my own artwork is that way. Whether or not I can draw better, I don’t know how to answer that question. I just try to do what comes natural.

NRAMA: Does King Cat still come as Xeroxed paper then stapled?

JP: Yeah, I still Xerox it although I’m getting to the point where it might be more cost-effective to have it offset printed but for now I’m still Xeroxing it. I like Xeroxes; I like the quality of a good photocopy so for now that’s what I’m still doing. I feel like King Cat is a ‘zine. It’s comics but it’s also rooted in that do it yourself self-publishing world, and I just love it.

NRAMA: Do you still have the record label?

JP: No, I gave that up. That’s a tough nut to crack, the record business. But probably about eight or nine years ago I decided to focus on my comics. I always had a lot of things on the stove. I had a record label, I would play music in bands, I was doing a distribution company, a mail order catalogue, I was doing my own comics which was great for a while but at some point I thought I want to do one thing and focus on that.

NRAMA: What made you call it King Cat?

JP: You know, I can’t say there’s any real reason except it sounded good. Somehow the idea popped into my head when I was started my new magazine.

NRAMA: Is the book therapy at all for you?

JP: For sure. I mean my background is in fine arts. I studied art for years and years. I started seriously looking at art and thinking about art probably in junior high or so that’s kind of my background and for sure when I was a painter of things, it’s very cathartic. Art is the way I process my life and try to make meaning out of my experiences. That’s always what it was whether it was music or painting or comics so in that way it’s definitely therapeutic.

NRAMA: This next issue of King Cat seems like it’s going to be one of the most therapeutic. A lot of other comic artists would wait a little while to tackle father stories, especially since he recently passed away. What’s making you jump right in there and do it?

JP: In some ways that a little surprising to me even because historically I let some time go past and I’d let things settle a little bit before I’d write about them. In this case I was working on other stories when my dad passed but I wanted to express this in this way now. In a lot of ways the issue is about my dad’s passing but it’s about a lot of aspects of that experience. I don’t think it’s so focused on trying to be a certain thing or trying to make a certain statement or trying to be the final statement on my dad’s passing. What it is this is what happened and this is how I feel right now basically. You know, my dad died at the beginning of April so it’s pretty fresh. But I’m sure it’s not going to be the final word from me. I’m sure this is something that I’ll deal with and that will affect my life and my art. But all I can say is that it felt right at the time and I wanted to follow that impulse wherever it led me.

Perfect Example is 120 pages and priced at $16.95
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Updated May 16, 2006

Sorrow Floats

Periodically buoyant, Perfect Example is a tender little yelp of a book

Thursday, May 4, 2006 - 3:00 pm

W.H. Auden once dubbed the 20th century the Age of Anxiety, but it’s beginning to look as if a lot of people may not be up anymore to the sustained psychological tension that’s the hallmark of anxiety (you’re anxious because you’re afraid of something you can’t quite name, but at least you’re fighting it), and that we’ve descended into the Age of Depression, where the active tensions of anxiety dissolve into passive darkness and bleak affectlessness, and Prozac begins to take Valium’s pride of place in Dr. Feelgood’s bag of magical tricks.

Pop artists have, for a while now, been registering this shift as much as the pharmaceutical industry has (though they may not be reaping quite the profits): the alternative film movement of the 1980s and ’90s, kicked off by sex, lies, and videotape and the really depressed James Spader, gave rise to countless film portraits of befuddled melancholy (most played by Eric Stoltz, if you recall); ’90s grunge was basically musicians screaming their way out of black chasms of sadness (genuine or faked); and even a magazine called No Depression was founded to chart alt.-country bands like Uncle Tupelo and Wilco, whose leader, Jeff Tweedy, contracted a case of depression so bad that he needed to be hospitalized a couple of years ago.

That depression would infiltrate “comix,” or the graphic novel, if you will, is no surprise, given that so many of the new comix come from the ground zero of pop culture—that is, from suburban American high school kids who’ve graduated from doodling on their math folders to illustrating fanzines to writing full-length autobiographical narratives spelling out how strange and sad it feels just to be alive. Time was when this sort of abjection was the province of exhausted Russian cynics living underground, or Algerian nihilists killing Arabs on the beach for no reason at all, but the depression caused by existential alienation, unlike wealth, has dependably trickled down to the masses. And so the appearance of a graphic novel like John Porcellino’s Perfect Example gives us the chance not only to note the trickle-down, but to see how an American pop medium, in the right hands, can transform, democratize and enliven an old idea.

Perfect Example is so pretensionless that it feels odd to put it in such austere cultural company; in fact, the only cultural reference points that the book alludes to are ’80s bands like REM, the Cure and Soul Asylum, as well as the cabal of bands—like Hüsker Dü (one of whose songs supplies the book’s title)—that recorded for the SST label. That music, however, is pretty smart stuff. It provides a terrific soundtrack—replete as it is with perplexed misery and mystified longing—for Porcellino’s autobiographical narrative (called both a “graphic novel” and a “memoir” on the book jacket) of the spring and summer of 1986, when he applied to college, graduated from high school, went to parties and on road trips, fell into dangerous suicidal moods, and took some extraordinarily touching if timorous steps into the world of romantic intimacy.

The drawing in Perfect Example is so primitive and kindergarten-like that I sometimes couldn’t tell if Porcellino can’t draw—if he may as well sit on the school steps and draw “ligers” with Napoleon Dynamite—or if he’s doing an extraordinarily accurate rendering of a little kid’s sketching. Whatever the case, the results are convincingly and heartbreakingly innocent: the 17-year-old John is often drawn as if he were maybe 10, which only reinforces the pathos involved in his initiation into the fearsome realms of adulthood. What further reinforces the pathos is that Porcellino recounts his almost embarrassingly timid fears with an absolutely vulnerable sincerity. The first chapter, for instance, details a trip John takes with his friends to a Soul Asylum concert, which they can’t get into because it’s a 21-and-over show. Not wanting to blow off the night, his friends decide to buy some booze and get drunk, but John is too afraid, and when he refuses the bottle—much to the what’s-the-big-deal consternation of his friends—he plunges into a depression so deep that he has an out-of-body experience (captured in images that recall the woodcut novels of German expressionist Franz Masereel). Almost the same thing happens whenever he approaches another precipice of adulthood: making out with a girl, he stops in the middle and trudges home, dark with sexual confusion. Even worse is the night he’s asked by a male friend to watch the July 4 fireworks: the friend ends up bringing along a girl—a girl John has a crush on—and making out with her while John looks on. John goes into a tailspin: “The next thing I knew I was standing on my front porch at home—I had decided to kill myself.”

The innocence of John’s emotions, the childlike drawings, the searing suicidal leanings: the combination makes for a reading experience that makes us feel protective, but not in a sentimental way. Porcellino is a pure folk artist—he genuinely, “honestly” wants to express his feelings, his free-floating sadness, his perplexity at being young and utterly at sea, without manipulating the reader or getting all fancy in the expression. The book’s bravery is in having the courage to be a wimp, and to not even make the implicit argument that he’s speaking for anyone other than himself. But it turns out he does. Perfect Example is a tender little yelp of a book, like some cry you hear echoing in the bedroom of a suburban house as you walk past. As John Irving once wrote, sorrow floats—everywhere.

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Perfect Example by JOHN PORCELLINO reviewed by New Hamphire's HippoPress

Updated March 27, 2006

Perfect Example, by John Porcellino (Raincoast Books, 2005)

Don’t let the simple cartoons fool you. Perfect Example is a pretty sophisticated book. Compiled from several years’ worth of the indie comic King-Cat Comic and Stories, Perfect Example is a peek inside 1980s adolescence — a place where I lived for several years.

Set in the Chicago suburbs, Perfect Example is somewhat biographical, touching on the lives of several recent high school graduates as they start to wonder “now what?” The stories and scenarios engender squirms and painful memories even as they generate nostalgia by reminding the appropriate-aged reader of the music and trends of these days.

Harvey Pekar, of American Splendor fame, recognized early on that there is certain universality in mundane experiences. We all wash dishes, get our hearts broken, fail in small ways and manage, despite it all, to carry on. Porcellino is from the same school of thought, showing, through his own story, that we all have a lot more in common than we might have believed.

The fact that Porcellino is able to do this with simple line drawings is a testament to his skill as a storyteller. Someone else might have gussied up the drawings and language to the point where the story was obscured. Porcellino recognized that sometimes the storyteller’s best move is to get out of the way and let the power of a simple tale do its work. A

— Robert Greene
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  Bookslut reviews PERFECT EXAMPLE by John Porcellino

Updated February 9, 2006

Perfect Example by John Porcellino

Depression is very hard to write about. It affects each person differently, it is woven into life's pattern so subtly it is hard to tell when the illness begins and ends. It is slippery, encompassing and subtle. Teenage depression is even harder to write about because feeling unstable and unsure is a part of most people's pasts and is often shrouded in other, more topical miseries.

John Porcellino tackles his own depressed teenagehood in Perfect Example. The book is set during the last summer before college. Like life, not much happens in this book, but also like life, everything that came next spiraled out from his summer of driving around, crushy romances and skateboarding. Porcellino shows not only what happened, but why and how it felt. He shows us his friends, his parents, his deadly boring neighborhood. He describes parties, shows and sad solo time. Every once and a while an adult Porcellino interjects to shows up to give us some "actual thoughts" from 1986, such as "I bet everyone in college listens to Husker Du!!" Those reflections are few, and provide some much needed interpretation of the mundane events that fuel this story.

As in Diary of a Mosquito Abatement Man, Porcellino is at his best when he tells other people's stories. On a trip with his sweet, bespectacled friend Mark, John meets Mark's grandparents. Mark's grandpa busts out an old lap-steel guitar and tells the story of hearing the weird, beautiful sounds that the instrument makes on the radio. The search to find one and what happens after are detailed in wordy, cute panels that last a little over a page. John is embarrassed by the old man's attention and the story ends there, after a nicely depicted moment of silence that follows most unexpected moments of closeness. This little story works in a way that the rest of the book doesn't. Breaks from his day-to-day routine (both in the comic and likely in his life) allow Porcellino to escape the necessarily vague language of a depressed life and tell a story.

The book itself is simple and beautiful. Each panel is drawn with clean lines and stark yet evocative tableaux. It is interesting to watch Porcellino experiment with his drawing, often leaving floating heads and awkwardly contorted bodies under the words, and in no way distracts from the story. These comics were drawn between 1994 and 1998, with the major chapters drawn between 1996 and 1998. In the ten years or so since these comics were written, did Porcellino have any new thoughts on that time of his life?

Perfect Example captures the confusion and pain of many people's teenage years very well. But this memoir lacks perspective and interpretation, without it, this story could be anyone's, making Perfect Example more like a static document than a good story. At the end of the book, Porcellino provides an extensive resume where the picture of a tumultuous and unique life emerges, as well as an ability to creatively describe life events. So why does Perfect Example feel so anonymous?

Perfect Example by John Porcellino
Drawn & Quarterly
ISBN: 1896597750
144 pages
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Pop Matters reviews PERFECT EXAMPLE

Updated January 4, 2006

by John Porcellino
Drawn & Quarterly
October 2005, 144 pages, $16.95

by Tim O'Neil
PopMatters Associate Music Editor

John Porcellino's King Cat Comics may not seem at first glance to be a cornerstone of the international comics scene. Any given issue will look roughly the same: a small booklet composed of regular printer paper folded in fourths and stapled at the spine. It appears to be the kind of minicomic or zine that could have been published at any point in the last twenty years -- small, cheap and disposable, with all the significance that such a description would imply.

But appearances can be deceiving. King Cat is no mere minicomic, it is probably the most famous and widely read minicomic of them all. Whereas many minicomics are conceived as either stepping stones for emerging and journeyman talent, or side projects for already-established cartoonists, King Cat is now exactly what it has always been. Established in 1989 and numbering somewhere in the 60s as of this writing (it's hard for many fans -- including myself -- to stay current with Porcellino's work as distribution is understandably spotty), King Cat is one of the purest and least affected artistic statements in the history of the medium. He could probably have jumped to a publisher like Fantagraphics at any point in the last decade, but has chosen to remain true to his initial vision of the book as the most perfectly personal outlet conceivable.

As such, compilations of Porcellino's work by third-party publishers have a hard time staying in print. This is not the first printing of Perfect Example -- it was originally published in 2000 by Tom Devlin's late, lamented Highwater Press. In the wake of Highwater's unfortunate demise, Drawn & Quarterly stepped up to reprint the volume. Hopefully, the combined efforts of D&Q and their distributor Farrar, Strauss & Giroux will be able to present the book to a suitably wide audience.

To put it as plainly as possible, Perfect Example is one of the best examples of autobiographical cartooning ever published. The book is a compilation of stories taken from the pages of King Cat, focusing on the events of Porcellino's life during the summer after high school graduation and before college. On first glance Porcellino's style may seem primitive and simplistic, but it is deceptively sophisticated. Eschewing the modulated ink-line of the brush for the even, unvaried line-weight of a technical pen, Porcellino's drawings are unabashedly stark and hypnotically sparse: there are simply no extraneous or superfluous details. Absolutely everything that needs to be shown is shown, but not a single line more. The cumulative effect is quite powerful, the equivalent of an epic poem told in a series Zen koans: the enforced simplicity allows for a multitude of emotional responses to blossom in the space between the readers' perceptions.

There is something inexplicable in the sheer emotional power of these stories. Porcellino's experiences are not exceptional in and of themselves -- he experienced the same uncertainty and romantic tribulations as anyone else, albeit with maybe a shade more melancholy. It's the way he tells these stories that allows for such a sophisticated emotional response. Looking back with the privilege of hindsight, Porcellino is able to pinpoint the most important moments of his youth, selected passages of time cultivated for their special significance and combined in such a way that the narrative gains significance through successive interpolations of common thematic elements. Everyone will have experienced something in their life that reminds them of these events, but not everyone will have had the wherewithal to interpret the events in such an unstintingly profound manner. By the time the book draws to a close, Porcellino's stories have developed such a stable and unflagging rhythm that you find yourself drawn in to the point where the book's modest, emotional climax assumes awesome proportions.

There will probably always be something mysterious in Porcellino's work. The ability to craft such indelibly emotional narratives out of irreducibly simple ingredients is at once beguiling and intimidating. It may not look like much on first glance, but there are few cartoonists alive today with as much of an intuitive understanding of the emotional possibilities of the comics form. Perfect Example is a devastating book.
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  Nashville City Paper reviews new books by SETH and JOHN PORCELLINO!

Updated November 18, 2005


Web only column: Graphic Content
November 18, 2005

Diary of a Mosquito Abatement Man
By John Porcellino
(La Mano)

This is a collection of autobiographical comics from King-Cat Comics cartoonist John Porcellino, focusing specifically on his time as an exterminator.

The ruminations start off pretty rough (from his work as a 20-year-old in 1989) and end up with a more mature, observant quality (ending around age 30 in 1999), providing a fascinating look at a developing artist.

Porcellino spent most of his time as an exterminator alone, leading to all kinds of small observations and connections that people can only make when they’re by themselves.

Despite, or perhaps because of, his matter-of-fact approach, there’s something endearing about Porcellino’s recollection of the time he tried to help a bull get its head unstuck from a fence, or when he accidentally caught two ugly teenagers unashamedly having sex in a car on the beach.

The two closing stories, “Death of a Mosquito Abatement Man” and “The Owl,” reflect Porcellino’s growing discomfort with being an exterminator following an interest in Buddhism. So not only does the book document his growth as an artist, it reflects his growth as a person, too, giving this collection of anecdotes the gravitas it needs to be something more.

Wimbledon Green
By Seth
(Drawn & Quarterly)

Wimbledon Green uses the story format of a documentary, talking with a variety of people about one person, the titular Wimbledon Green, the self-described “greatest comic book collector in the world.”

It’s an amusing book that takes a tongue-in-cheek look at the world of diehard collectors. Green is a mysterious figure to many and his rival collectors are all on hand to relate information that pieces together his life. Did he used to be Don Green, driving around the country buying classic comic books from old farmers and yard sales? Where did he get all his money? And what exactly was Green’s involvement with the infamous Wilbur R. Webb collection anyway?

Master cartoonist Seth admits in his introduction that this started off as merely an exercise in his sketchbook, but it quickly snowballed into a larger tale. So the drawings may be a little simpler than Seth’s usual work, but the style fits with the book’s whimsical tone.

The fully realized world Seth has created in his “exercise” may be all-too-familiar to some, but manages to be truly enjoyable for all thanks to its quick pace and amusing story about the quirkiness of man.

By Wil Moss, wmoss@nashvillecitypaper.com
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Wimbledon Green


Updated November 15, 2005

1986: When alternative WAS alternative...

A graphic novel/comic book review of John Porcellino's Perfect Example

Life is not easy. It is harder when you are a teenager.

On second thought, maybe not. Life at that point is really easy.

Regardless of how difficult life can be when you are a teen, chances are good that you THINK that it is difficult!

Perfect Example is just that: a perfect example of how life can be seen when you are a teenager. Written by John Porcellino, Perfect Example is a collection of short stories that were originally published as part of the comic series titled King-Cat Comics. All of the stories are autobiographical works of non-fiction. With a first-person narrative, Mr. Porcellino is the central character.

The general focus of the stories is on how depressed he is in Illinois during 1986.

The Plots: 1) "Live-Evil": A very short "short-story" with the massive length of… one page. While sitting on bleachers during a high school gym class in spring 1986, Porcellino and Harold J. debate the important question: which is a better band: Husker Du or Venom?

2) "Belmont Harbor": Porcellino is getting to know Tina (a crush of his) better than before. Along with other people, they venture towards a concert only to be carded at the door. They then decide to go drinking at a nearby beach.

3) "Haircutting Time": Porcellino's parents dislike the length of his hair. He gets his sister to cut it for him.

4) "In-Between Days": Porcellino and friends are awakened to the fact that they do not have luck with women for one reason: they literally watch them walk by.

That important moment happened during a "giant annual outdoor concert and drunken mélée".

By the end of the story, Porcellino makes it to at least "third base" in the grand baseball diamond of his love life.

5) "The Forth of July": Porcellino suffers from problems with women.

6) "Celebrated Summer": Porcellino learns how to be a better guitar player. Also, he realizes that everything (good and bad) is neutral in life. What makes things bad is how a person reacts to what is presented to them.

7) "Escape To Wisconsin": Porcellino and two friends, John J. and John Lyons, decide to have a road trip to Wisconsin.

Skateboarding is their focus once they arrive.

The book is packed with pop-culture references, mostly related to the alternative rock movement of the 1980s.

Some of the bands mentioned in the book: The Beatles, R.E.M., Husker Du, Venom, The Scorpions, Camper Van Beethoven, Soul Asylum, Bob Dylan, Motley Crue, The Ramones, Van Morrison, Angry Samoans, etc.

The most amusing part of the book is an appearance by a drunk Chuck Berry, who is performing at a concert.

Chuck Berry: "Helllooo? I have come out…from backstage!!" Narrator: "The crowd went crazy…" Chuck Berry: "But now…I am going…to go backstage… again……and…then…I'll come out…in a little while…" Also, some of the story titles have a thin reference to pop-culture, too.

"In-Between Days" is an obvious reference to the Cure song of the same name. The song is, of course, from the same period as the setting of the book (mid-1980s).

"Escape To Wisconsin" is a play on the words in the title to a Disney Witch Mountain movie from the 1970s.

The tone of the book is depressing in that what-do-I-do-with-my-life way. At one point, the main character tries to kill himself but then changes his mind.

The artwork is very, very, very simple. Anyone could draw the images, even your pre-school daughter! That is not a bad thing: it's a unique thing.

In the related state of perspective and proportion, forget about it! All vehicles appear to have elastic bodies.

The cars look like snakes, too.

On a positive note, this book gives people hope. It demonstrates that if you have the determination and a message to express, you can do it.

D.I.Y.=Expression Marvel and DC would never publish this material.

The only thing that may upset parents in this monochrome book is the language used.

Publisher: Drawn & Quarterly 2/3

Bernard C. Cormier is, among other things, a freelance writer, broadcaster, and filmmaker. E-mail: Bernardccormier-gncb@hotmail.com

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Featured artist

John Porcellino

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Perfect Example


Updated September 8, 2005

Post-punk cartoonist John Porcellino applies his spare lines to a story of '80s suburban romance in the autobiographical graphic novel Perfect Example (Drawn & Quarterly), which covers his waning high-school career and subsequent summer of slacking. Porcellino accurately captures what it's like to be a self-absorbed, downhearted teen, getting off on sympathy. More importantly, he also captures the revelatory moment when a habitual mope realizes he can just as easily decide to be happy...
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Featured artist

John Porcellino

           Featured product

Perfect Example

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