The Comics Reporter | Tom Spurgeon | March 17, 2010
MAP OF MY HEART reviewed by the Comics Reporter
I'd put off reading Map Of My Heart for a long while, which makes no sense at all as I'm a fiend for John Porcellino's work. While I'm not the first person to suggest his importance within the art form, I'm happy to extol his virtues with as much force as anyone out there. Porcellino employs an unadorned art style that suggests a picture of our world with as much clarity as any highly-rendered chops-having traditional master of the comics form might muster. He has a fine, intuitive skill set when it comes to work with prose as well. His best comics provide graceful evocations of moments that only Porcellino might have thought worth exploring in the first place. Beyond the comics with its pages, a regular, self-published issue of King-Cat Comics and Stories is one of comics' perfect marriages of form and function. The surge of joy I feel when I come across a new one is hard to explain. I subliminally ascribe a specific color to the white of the copy paper Porcellino uses to make his minis, which is nuts. They make an impression on me above what seems physically possible.
I realized a couple of things plowing into this anniversary-themed collection. The first is that more than any other comics series I can't tie my consumption of King-Cat into any one way of buying it or even any one general kind of purchase. I've received the minis each and every way a comics fan might get their hands on a comic book: freebies, comic shops, convention sales, mail-order, trades, area bookstores -- which makes my relationship to the work feel a lot more like the ones I have with prose authors or even creative friends with whom I trade letters, phone calls and e-mails. The second is that my reading of Porcellino's work has been greatly shaped by the autobiographically-tinged works I first encountered when I started paying focused attention to his work. Some of those comics make up the early parts of this collection, but they don't dominate; that realization was a key to grasping this volume's unique value.
The great thing that Map Of My Heart does is shake the reader out of preconceptions shaped by Porcellino's long career -- for instance, in my case, that King-Cat is about sublimely well-observed autobiography more than it is about the work where Porcellino encounters nature more than it is about the Buddhist strips more than it is about the letters pages and single drawings. It may take time and effort for many to delve into this new book with all of that material re-presented. I fought an urge to put the book down for not getting to the essential stories quickly enough, and even tried skipping over the letters. If you manage to persevere, I think you'll find the work newly rewarding. Because it's a collection rather than a run of comics, Porcellino is able to provide a few lines long-after-the-fact text commentary in a way that pushes forward yet another way to see the work (his feelings about his marriages, for one, I thought touching and raw). The cumulative effect is remarkably different than the stand-alone. The autobiographical strips read much less like a confident artist holding forth than a man struggling with a certain kind of memory; the Buddhist strips have a yearning quality I didn't see before; the nature strips can be seen in part as a retreat by the artist from a modern world that causes him spiritual and, through an ear sensitivity, actual physical pain. You can even see all the component parts, buttressed by the occasional story moment where he talks about work on King-Cat, as signs of creative restlessness or even doubt. Without the months in-between new issues, Map Of My Heart may provide a greater appreciation for Porcellino as an artist not only reporting on his world but actively reshaping it in an equivalent manner to way he whispers through so many of his comics narrative. I'm grateful for that second look. I did not imagine one existed.