Comic Book Review | Ao Meng | September 16, 2010
The Daily Texan gives JOHN PORCELLINO’s 71st issue of KING-CAT a grade A
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.