Short Interview with John Porcellino

You started out self publishing comic zines, what has the transition to working with publishers and in the book form been like?

Well, it has taken some adjustment on my part, mainly from having done all the work, both creatively and business-wise, on King-Cat for so long.  But, you know, I love books--  that's what got me started in zines in the first place, my desire to make books of some sort, so I'm very happy that this material is available in that form.  And working with a publisher like D+Q--  it's a good fit--  they understand where I'm coming from.

I think one of the distinctive things in your work is the line quality, the sparseness of it as well as the playfulness. Is it a conscious style decision or something that developed organically? What does it help you achieve in terms of content? Whose work do you look at in terms of that?

Mostly I think it was just an organic, natural evolution.  It was kind of a continuation of the way I drew comics as a kid.  Of course it's a lot more refined than what I drew as a kid, but I do see it as a progression that's been going on for most of my life.

This was never really a conscious intention on my part, but I think the sparseness of the comics lends a kind of universality to them, as well as putting people at ease when they encounter them.  Which are both objectives of mine.

As far as what work I look at, I read all kinds of comics and look at all kinds of art.  I can appreciate it all.  I wouldn't want to limit myself to only being exposed to certain types of work.  It all comes together in my head, and I draw inspiration from a lot of disparate sources.

Do you enjoy book tours? How does it relate or contrast compared to touring with a band?

The tours are great--  it's cool seeing new cities, and traveling, meeting new people and seeing friends I haven't seen in a long time.  It can be a little grueling, but that's a small price to pay for all the awesomeness...  Books tours are very similar to band tours, at least the way I do them, except that with book tours I'm usually on my own, or with a different artist.  I loved playing in bands because of the interaction between the members of the group, but at the same time I appreciate the "solo gig" kind of mentality of comics--  it's just me up there sinking or swimming.

Thoreau at Walden has been very well received - how has that changed your practice? Do you plan on doing more adaptations or sticking to your own material?

I don't know that it's changed what I do at all...  but it was a great experience.  The only similar thing I have in my head at this point is to do a comics biography of the Japanese poet Kobayashi Issa.  That's a story that I'd love to tackle some day.

Map of my Heart is a new collection featuring work in your zine from 96-02. Was it strange getting reacquainted with your work from that time in your life? What are some of the themes you see? How does it fit in with your body of work? Etc?

It wasn't "strange" looking back at it--  but it was interesting, and it helps me learn a bit about myself to look back on the old work occasionally.  Thematically, what I see in Map of My Heart is a question about where the line between dream and reality lies.  Maybe also the nature of suffering, and how to live with it, and appreciate it.

If there's been one continuous thread throughout my adult life, it's been King-Cat.  So I see this work as a constantly evolving expression, where all the parts fit in where they belong naturally.  That said, the work in this book is kind of of a piece--  it was a time when things were shifting for me, and my approach changed a little--  the poetry and comics really merged for me at this point, and the book documents that shift.  Plus the return to Nature, my growing interest in Zen Buddhism, etc.

Tangential question: How do you view the relation of comics to punk rock/DIY?

Well, for me, they're part and parcel, at least in my approach to them.  When I was coming up in punk, and the truly independent music scene of the 1980's, self-publishing was just a natural extension of the music, and the scene.  It was the same thing as being in a band.  My immersion in punk/DIY was completely life-changing, and I've viewed everything since then through that lens.  It's a way of life.

Time Magazine on John

John's Website

This is the shitty story I turned the interview into:

John Porcellino makes comic books that Time Magazine has called some of the most thoughtful, intelligent, sympathetic, and beautiful in America. This Monday his cross-country book tour makes a stop at the do-it-yourself boutique Wholly Craft in Clintonville.

Porcellino will be signing books as well as reading from his latest, “Map of my Heart,” which he says is about “the nature of suffering and how to live with it and appreciate it.”

Its publication on Drawn and Quarterly marks the Twentieth anniversary of Porcellino’s independently published zine, “King-Cat Comics and Stories.” “Map of my Heart” collects material originally seen in King-Cat from 1996 to 2002.

It was an important period for Porcellino; “It was a time when things were shifting for me, and my approach changed a little. The poetry and comics really merged for me at this point.”

It was also a personally challenging time for Porcellino as he dealt with the pain of divorce and depression that is at the heart of this autobiographical book.

It is not all melancholy though.

There is the soothing sense of poetry in his work, through either his subtle, paced narration or minimal line drawing. His stories often leave the reader thinking by acting more like an epigram or a koan than the stereotypical comic book.

Porcellino believes “the sparseness of the comics lends a kind of universality to them” that helps in “putting people at ease when they encounter them.”

This is especially evident in last year’s “Thoreau at Walden” where Porcellino’s calm, expansive style found its perfect match in Henry David Thoreau’s transcendentalist philosophy.

His books before “Thoreau” include “Diary of a Mosquito Abatement Man,” which won Porcellino an Ignatz award in 2005 for Outstanding Collection, and “Perfect Example,” a dreamy coming of age story crisscrossed by skateboarding and mental illness.

His initial zines concerned subjects like playing in punk bands and the special bond people have with pets. He often included satirical stories about pop-culture targets like Madonna or the comic strip “Mark Trail.”

In recent years he has incorporated into his work ideas from Zen philosophy and a pronounced reverence for nature.

Porcellino’s books and zines have been translated in over six languages and included in dozens of anthologies since he first began to publish King-Cat in 1989.

Joining Porcellino on his book tour is a musician from Portland, Oregon named Patrick Porter. Porter will play songs from his new album, “A Swan at Smiley’s.” His low-key experimental folk songs are well suited to both the tone of Porcellino’s comics and Wholly Craft’s intimate setting.

The event will start at 7pm at Wholly Craft on Monday, October 12th. Wholly Craft is located at 3169 N.High Street. Admission is free.

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