John Porcellino is one of the most influential cartoonists that most readers have never heard of. Like the old saying about the Velvet Underground—not many people listened to them at the time but everyone who did started their own band—Porcellino has influenced a whole generation of mini-comic and zine creators with his autobiographical series King-Cat. Started in 1989, it is the longest running mini-comic of its kind and Porcellino has used it to share some very personal aspects of his life. His new graphic novel, The Hospital Suite (published by Drawn & Quarterly), collects a group of his most harrowing and personal stories yet.
In 1997, Porcellino began suffering from stomach pains that doctors couldn’t explain. Repeat appointments eventually led to the discovery of a tumor in his intestines. But this is just the beginning of his troubles. From tumors to warts to debilitating cases of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and depression, Porcellino’s life began to fall apart for the next few years. He lost almost everything—even, for a time, his ability to make comics.
This would be a tough book for those prone to health anxieties, but I think it will strike a chord with people who have suffered from illnesses that have upended their lives. The chapters where he recounts his OCD are especially affecting and upsetting in their sheer extremity. There’s a scene where he finds a Godzilla movie at the library that he’s been craving to see again since he was a kid, but he gets it in his head that watching the film may possibly conjure up the monsters in reality and he returns it, unwatched. It's a scene that is heartbreaking the way Porcellino tells it.
Porcellino’s cartooning style almost seems amateurish at a glance. Its simple pen lines do what they need to do in conveying his story but nothing more. The book itself is even printed with a stark white, no frills cover, much like his mini-comics.