Page 45 Review by Stephen
KING-CAT is such a kind comic.
It is clear, concise and enormously thoughtful.
It's also very brave and astonishingly intimate.
Yet it's not without its moments of comedy, especially where insight's involved.
"One day Diogenes was sorting through a pile of bones...
"Alexander the Great came along and asked him what he was doing...
"Diogenes said:"I'm searching for the bones of your father, but I can't tell them apart from those of a slave.""
Porcellino gives Diogenes a couple of tattoos: an anchor on his right arm, a love heart on his left. You may think that whimsical. I think it's perfect, both for Diogenes and for John.
Throughout these pure, direct and above all honest, mostly autobiographical short stories, John receives love from his wife Misun and his cat Maisie in a quiet, unfussy and far from cloying fashion, and he returns this adoration to Misun, Maisie and - with awe and appreciation - to the abundant wonder which he perceives all around him.
Light comes constantly under his appreciative gaze, during the day and at night and those hours of spectacle in between. The weather, as well: sunshine, wind, rain and snow. Sometimes he evokes them verbally, poetically; often he leaves his clean and precise pictures, already full of space, to do that instead. Breezes carry scents and he notes those too.
Foxes, skunks and squirrels are observed, sometimes sought after, and flora is cherished as much as fauna. He likes to list their Latin names. Sometimes he'll simply tell you about a tree.
Porcellino also lists his 'King-Cat Top 40's, scattered with more tiny hearts, as a positive way of acknowledging and publicly appreciating anyone and anything that has brought him joy in the making of each semi-annual KING-CAT comic or during their intervening months: friends, music, pictures, books, places, sensations, more light, more nature, more moments, and memories too.
John is as likely to recall memories from many moons ago as he is to tell you more recent tales. They're almost always dated, both the memories and their commitment to paper. Sometimes they're pivotal moments, like his history with drinking (it wasn't good; he stopped); sometimes they're reflections that have since taken on new meaning to him along his journey.
"I'm looking for those winter evenings
"I'm looking for those autumn nights
"That warm light inside that tells you it's safe
"I'm looking for that old feeling
"The going within
"The soft arms of fall"
Other times they're brand-new discoveries, and it is quite the journey, both spiritually and geographically as John uproots himself, his wife and his cat to move house such vast distances that they take five full days of self-driving.
And that's where the anchor comes in, because John needs anchors like Maisie and Misun and his Dad so desperately, and that's where the love comes back too: giving this love and appreciation is John's way of staying sane, of holding on hard to hope when the crushing adversity is so crippling at times that he cannot create.
You're going to witness remarkably little of that in his comics - which is as extraordinarily restrained as the comics are controlled - but it's ever so real as the notes in the back and the whole of his HOSPITAL SUITE make abundantly clear. Indeed, his very occasional allusions to his mental health within the body of KING-CAT itself cause him nothing but more grief and guilt. The one-page prologue, 'Hippie Girl', is highly unusual except in its retrospective self-recrimination at his anger after being ravaged by OCD (it was drawn last year, but occurred during this period circa 2006) emphasised by the love heart between "Hippie" and "Girl" and its direct, cut-through-the-bullshit, priority punchline:
"Brother," asks the Hippie Girl, innocently, "What happened to your smile??!"
Vilification met with genuine care and compassion.
Moving home is a double-edged sword for someone with John's OCD as he explains succinctly in the back of his move early on here to San Francisco:
"OCD is a disease of familiarity. New surroundings, while fear-inducing at first, often-times relieved my symptoms - everything was fresh and hadn't yet taken on a multi-layered patina of anxiety. So those early days in SF were open and free, and the creative spirit of the city inspired me."
John also does a lot of walking to stave off or alleviate those symptoms, by day and at night, popping down alleys purely because he's never done so before. I used to like to explore; so often I don't make the time anymore.
Unfortunately two of his most solid anchors disappear during the course of this retrospective work, and there are eulogies of remembrance, of moments shared - yet more acknowledgement and appreciation - that are beautiful to behold.
As I say, KING-CAT is a very kind comic, very brave and very intimate. It's never maudlin, but it is at times inevitably sad all the same, with a huge sense of loss as John searches for somewhere once more to call home. It's not necessarily geographical, although that would help.
Anyway, I promised you comedy too, so let's bow out on 'Squirrel Acrobat'. Sorry I can't supply you with John's diagrams!
"SQUIRREL A is confronted by aggressive SQUIRREL B, on the power-line wire across the street.
"'B' threatens, stamps, chatters; 'A' steps back but doesn't want to give up ground. SQUIRREL B repeatedly charges SQUIRREL A, then retreats.
"Finally, both squirrels have had enough. They race toward each other at high speed, in what appears to be an inevitable head-on collision. I watch in disbelief as, just before the moment of impact, SQUIRREL A suddenly spins upside down on the wire, runs past SQUIRREL B underneath, and jumps into a nearby tree.
"SQUIRREL B puts on the brakes and looks visibly confused.
Collects KING-CAT COMICS #62-68 (2003-2007), one and a half dozen extra pages of comics and just under a dozen pages of highly Illuminating, contextual notes plus a delicious, only partially used alternative, landscape KING-CAT cover.