I am loath to speak of John in the third person, which always makes a review of KING-CAT so damn hard, as the comic feels like an open letter which I feel more inclined to respond to rather than critique. But then a mere synopsis and a mention never does his work justice, just as these are not mere illustrated diary entries, recollections of the humdrum or candid confessionals. So excuse me while I trip over my own words trying to give this a write-up well earned.
John went through some kind of hellish upheaval during the writing of the issues collected here: Hyperacusis, mysterious sickness, operations, divorce, and mental health issues associated with it all, which led him down some dark paths. Despite his experiences it's clear when faced with the years of work collected here that his immediate reflections upon those times are melancholic yet defiant and optimistic. The nuance in falling autumn leaves or an encounter with a possum become little triumphs which, over time, win out over the intrusive elements of his health and personal life. Instead of filling KING-CAT with angst-ridden diatribes, which would have been so easy, John translates authentic experience, stripped down to its bare bones, into rewarding comic vignettes on life and, of course, cats. In particular his cat at the time, Maisie Kukoc, who appears in some way in most of the pages, and this collection also includes the sketchbook mini-mini-comic included with KING-CAT #61 devoted entirely to her. And that's the joy of KING-CAT: there's always more than you think in them.
As well as collecting six years of the mini-comic, John includes a detailed and lengthy appendix, contributions to anthologies, as well as never-before printed outtakes from #61 and journal entries. As well as all the letters this collection also reprints the literally epic "MR DUSTY" letter from his friend Mr. Mike and his insane rafting trip with Zak Sally (LIKE A DOG, and the band Low). Who is some sort of He-Man in my head now, shouting abuse in a canoe and insisting Mike call him "Mr Dusty". Even the Snornose and Top Ten entries all make it in, charting John's tastes, influences and inspirations over these six years, with forays into jazz, country, Satie, Thoreau, Sinatra, Coltrane, and Nat King Cole. All fantastic stuff which rewards the inquisitive willing to remember and dig a little. But more than anything I've ever read, KING-CAT makes me want to get out of the house. John's excursions and adventures in his own back yard show an appreciation for nature that I'm ashamed to say I haven't had since I were a child. This is essential never-leave-my-bag reading.