Bookgasm reviews MAP OF MY HEART

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

Bookgasm    |    Rod Lott    |    February 2, 2010

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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