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King-Cat Classix

Written and illustrated by John Porcellino
Drawn & Quarterly
384 pages, $29.95
ISBN-10: 1894937910
ISBN-13: 9781894937917


Page from King-Cat Classix, ©1992 John Porcellino.


John Porcellino was the Velvet Underground of the 1990s minicomics movement — not many people read his photocopied, handmade comics, but seemingly everyone who did started making their own minicomics, and his influence as an artist thus exceeded his circulation as a publisher by a considerable amount. King-Cat Comics and Stories, Porcellino's series, affected his readers through its sincerity, simplicity and utter lack of self-consciousness. Other autobio cartoonists affected poses, invited their readers to puerile voyeurism or otherwise strained to make themselves interesting; Porcellino just wrote about his life, sent the results off into the postal system and went onto the next comic. He wanted to communicate, to discuss his life, but he wasn't after fame or notoriety. He just wanted to talk to you.

King-Cat Classix is the third collection of John Porcellino's work. The first two, Perfect Example and Diary of a Mosquito Abatement Man, were self-contained works focusing upon extended themes that made for cohesive works. By contrast, Classix is a grand tour through the raw source material from which the other two books were culled, collecting generous excerpts from the first fifty issues of King-Cat Comics and Stories. At first glance, therefore, cohesiveness would seem to have taken a back seat in this volume. It's only when you start pouring through it that you begin to see the big picture.


Another page from King-Cat Classix, ©1992 John Porcellino.


Actually, "little picture" would probably be more accurate. By the usual graphic-novel standards, Porcellino's work is noticeable for the absence of Big Themes And Ideas — there are dream comics, stories about parties and work and playing in bands, as well as the occasional flight of fancy, but at no point does the artist want to lay some big pearl of wisdom upon you. King-Cat Classix is an extended 11PM phone call from an out-of-town friend, where you just sit down and discuss the first things that pop into your heads, then the second and so on, until you run out of things to say and decide to hang up for the night. A few weeks later, another phone call, and then another, and the aggregate of all this conversation is an informal picture of someone's life.

This is a Big Theme all by itself. It may not revolve around a discrete set of novelistic talking points, but when does life ever really do that? Certainly there's progression and growth involved. In these pages you'll see Porcellino grow from an introspective young man with an affection for punk rock and vaguely MaximumRocknRoll-ish politics (when he thinks about politics at all) into an introspective adult with a taste for savoring life's small moments. Reconciling oneself to contentment may not be the most fashionable theme for a modern graphic novel — or indeed the novel in general — but it's one of the most necessary elements to a stable and satisfying life. Any fool can build a narrative around conflict; how many can dedicate extended works to its absence? I can think of a few (Eddie Campbell and Hitoshi Ashinano come to mind) but it seems to be either a difficult trick to pull off or an unpopular one. Or both, come to think of it.

This growth, from the confused disaffection of youth to the stable equilibrium of adulthood, is reflected in the art as well. Early King-Cat stories are scribbled shapes and jagged lines, unsure of themselves, questing for meaning. As the collection progresses, these forms settle down; shapes and lines find their state of zen and simplify into coherence, at peace with the world they create and inhabit. It's like a journey from wild fits of prose to calm haiku, a grand settling down that invites you to share in a quiet, perfectly composed moment. The journey toward such moments and the peace one finds when they arrive: That's when life comes together. Like King-Cat Classix, it's simplicity itself.


This essay appeared on the then-website of The Comics Journal sometime between 2006 and 2008.


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