KING-CAT CLASSIX reviewed by The Montreal Mirror

“Drawing badly well” / The Montreal Mirror / Juliet Waters / August 23, 2007

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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