I made a lucky find in a used bookstore some years back – a good-as-new copy of McSweeney’s Quarterly Concern, Issue Number 13 -the literary periodical founded by Dave Eggers. This special issue was devoted entirely to “art comics” and the guest editor was none other than graphics genius and the brilliant cartoonist, Chris Ware. (Pssst! Check out the link! Used copies on Amazon start at only $2.40 and it’s chock-full of great stuff!
Editor Ware himself designed the dust jacket for the issue which featured a pocket in front which holds two mini-comics. I knew nothing from mini-comics at the time, but both are precious gems. One is by Ronald J. Regé Jr. and is based on a transcription of an interrogation by Israelis of a would-be suicide bomber. The other is a special issue of “King-Cat Comics & Stories,” by John Porcellino.
As I’ve mentioned numerous times before (sometimes rather crossly), many art comics are dark. Some are “slit-your-throat, why bother living” dark. The black and white King Cat Comic was a delightful breath of clean sweet air. I liked the way the title rolled off the tongue and some of the deliberately simple line drawings conveyed a direct, nonverbal beauty.
They didn’t exactly start out that way in 1989, when Porcellino was 21. (He’s 50 now, twenty years younger than I.) His comics are chiefly autobiographical and his life has had difficulties that might compare to the Bibical book of Job. Drawn & Quarterly, the Montreal Publishing Company that specializes in art comics, has published some hard-bound anthologies of his mini-comics that are available for borrowing in the Free Library of Philadelphia‘s collection.
King-Cat Classics (2007) collects some of the earlier comics; Map of My Heart (2009) details the physical and mental difficulties that contributed to the break-up of his marriage and won an Eisner award; The Hospital Suite (2014) delves deeper into his suffering. Just as his physical illness begins to abate he is afflicted with an intense Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder that nearly makes his life unbearable.
In the mid-nineties he found his way to Soto Zen Buddhism and studied with Susan Myoyu Andersen, Roshi. He describes how the practice helped his health and his art in an article in Lion’s Roar by Lauria Galbraith, “Buddhism Includes Everything -Even Comic Books.”
The OCD has abated, but has influenced his art as well. Throughout his struggles, he continued doing comics. He also has resumed running a mail-order “Zine and Comix Distribution Service” called Spit and a Half, that features hard-to-find art comics.
Earlier I mentioned being cross, getting irritated at art comics. Sometimes the autobiographical theme has brought up “just get over yourself?”-type thoughts. But after reading Porcellino’s comics (sometimes feeling like I was wading through muck in hip boots), I’ve developed a great deal of empathy almost in spite of myself for Porcellino. His love for nature is one shining light that comes through with power. (One of the exceptions to his autobiographical works is Thoreau at Walden, which conveys a concise slice of the beauty of Henry David Thoreau’s great classic and might generate some interest in the original for unaquainted readers.)
I’ve just used my PayPal account to pay for a 4-issue subscription to King Cat Comics and look forward to learning more about John Porcellino and the sublime moments he can convey. As he says in the Lion’s Roar article:
When I discovered Zen, it was like stepping out onto a well-worn path through the woods. So even before my work was Buddhist, it was Buddhist. Luckily, Buddhism includes everything, like punk rock, groundhogs, and comic books. So it wasn’t too big of a jump for me.
Next time: An unusual foray (for me) into political satire and a nod to our current inexplicable POTUS as “Revenge of the Renegade Refrigerator” concludes with its last five pages.