“From a narrative viewpoint, real life doesn’t always have a punchline. It doesn’t always have a nicely crafted ending. I’m interested in the way life unfolds in this kind of beautiful way.”
King-Cat Comics and Stories is a mini-comic drawn by John Porcellino. They run somewhere between 16 to 40 pages each, and each page is 51/2 by 8 1/2 inches— which is, not coincidentally, the size of a sheet of plain white paper folded in half. Hand-copied from drawings done with a ballpoint pen, hand-stapled, and priced at two dollars a piece, King-Cat Comics and Stories is a humble enterprise, but it is a purposefully humble one.
“There is some kind of intangible quality about something that’s handmade, where the artist is involved with every step of the process.... I like the physicality of it, the feeling of holding onto something and turning the pages."
The pictures look, at first glance, very childish. Houses are squares with rectangles for doors and windows, streets are two perpendicular lines, eyes are dots and noses, triangles. Many people who I’ve shown King-Cat to just can’t get past the artwork, or what they discern as a lack thereof. But those who do get past it discover that the longer you look at an issue of King-Cat, the more artistic it seems to be, until the sense of I could do better than that shrivels up all sad-like in the corner and finally just sulks away down the hall.
These pictures are perfect, you start to realize. Everything that needs to be there is there, and not one line more. I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone capable of conveying so much depth, so much soul and life, in so few, shaky lines. These are the haiku of comix.
King-Cat’s stories are autobiographical. They are scenes from Porcellino’s childhood, adolescence, and present life. Most have no real beginnings or ends: they are slice-of-life stories, sometimes happy, sometimes sad, sometimes funny. He plays football and goes trick-or-treating with his sister at age twelve; by high school it’s the mid-80’s and he’s a gentle and socially-awkward punk, going camping with his friends. As of right now he’s working various jobs: in one story, he goes out into the junky field behind the store where he works, during his lunch break, and watches a possum “sniffing here, digging there, and chewing on things.” The story is called "Just Possum." Interspersed among the stories are bits of writing, letters from his friends, and Zen parables. At the beginning of some stories he instructs his readers to “read slowly.” How slowly? “I think the rate of reading them should be one breath per panel,” he says. “Breathe in for the first panel; breathe out for the second panel.”
These stories have a wrenchingly tangible quality to them. I still don’t quite understand how he can make his life seem so real to me with such a simple, unassuming little pamphlet. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that I know John Porcellino personally copied, stapled, and mailed these little beauties to me (three issue subscription: $6 in the US). That he made no money on this, but simply did it to share a bit of his world with someone out there. Or maybe it’s that I can understand his world so well myself: we’re both quiet, artistic Midwesterners; we both wander around fields alone on chilly March afternoons. We’re introverts and punks; we’re trying to find the simple and ordinary beauty in what might otherwise be a meaningless existence. I can sit down with an issue of King-Cat and literally smell the world it describes, because I’m sitting in it.
King-Cat is on #62—it’s been going strong since 1989, when Porcellino was attending Northern Illinois University. The first print run was twenty copies; I don’t have any current statistics, but by 1992 circulation was up to 800 to 1,200 copies per issue. King-Cat is successful and acclaimed enough that it doesn’t have to be a mini-comic anymore. Traditionally, mini-comics have been sort of stepping stones, for beginning artists who, if they are successful, go on to bigger things, proffessionally published things. But such is not the case with King-Cat. For John Porcellino, the aesthetic of the mini-comic-- simple, handmade all the way, with none of the profit or the sleekness of a commercial production-- is the manifestation of a life-philosophy.
The official King-Cat websight (www.king-cat.net) has short descriptions of recent issues:
#60 (12/01) Nature: Ticks, trees, wind, sun; Prairies, possums, Mental Illness; Nebraska. Plus: letters, Top-40 and more. Not so sad. 32 pages, $2.00.
#59 (4/01) Dreams and Reality: love, snow, swans, potato chips; more. 32 pgs,
John Porcellino quotes taken from Serious Funnies: John Porcellino Returns with a New Life and Newfound Acclaim for his King-Cat Comics by Jason Heller, Denver Westword, October 2, 2002.
For information on getting your hands on an issue of King-Cat Comics and Stories, go to the website at www.king-cat.net. C’mon, at $2 a piece, you can afford to give it a try.