John Porcellino interviewed by Publishers Weekly

“Porcellino Goes Back to the '90s” / Publishers Weekly / Kate Culkin / April 10, 2007

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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