With 77 issues since the late 1980s the importance and influence of John Porcellino’s King-Cat Comix + Stories to the world of autobio comics and zine-making cannot be over-emphasised. King-Cat has the singular distinction of feeling as much like a community hub – a venue where Porcellino enthusiasts can come together and celebrate this most vital of small press voices – as it does an ongoing series of slice-of-life vignettes.
Its letters page, in particular, embodies that aspect of the book with its conversational tone and digressional sidesteps. This is a publication that, like much great autobiographical work, feels like comics created for creation’s sake to capture those very personal moments it portrays. Simultaneously, though, it also seeks to invite its audience into Porcellino’s world and to see the highs and lows, the pivotal happenings and the minutiae of his life through his eyes.
King-Cat Comix + Stories #77 focuses on a selection of Porcellino’s animal encounters, jumping in time throughout as it revisits his childhood – a mid-‘70s summer of revelatory amphibian-keeping in ‘The Frogs’ – and juxtaposes it with contact with the natural world in adulthood, as in ‘Night of the Living Possums’ when a terrified possum in the garden causes anxious concern.
Through this very basic thematic link Porcellino is able to craft autobio stories that explore and embrace everything from awkward slapstick comedy (a most sensitive insect sting in ‘Bee/Bike Story’) to tales that invoke a sense of a rite of passage (the profoundly affecting loss of a pet in ‘Vincent Was a Toad’).
The power of Porcellino’s storytelling lies in his ability to ensure we lose ourselves in his memories. These short, rapid-fire recollections are fleeting and transitory and yet their charm is that we feel part of the artist’s life for their duration. Tiny dramas suddenly become all-important in scope as we immerse ourselves in the moment; that honest and open everyperson factor always such an important ingredient in Porcellino forging a bond with the readership.
Porcellino’s art is simple in presentation without ever being simplistic, and so expressive in communicating the emotional tone of his comics. It strips events back to a representational core, ensuring a more direct interaction with what is being depicted on-page. The cycle of life, first experiences with loss, and an awe-filled sense of discovery (from boyhood observation of the transition of caterpillar to butterfly through to tales of meetings with big cats in the countryside) are all explored in shorts that feel both relatable and familiar.
If you’re new to Porcellino’s output this issue is an excellent, accessible starting point. On a number of levels he’s one of the most significant figures in the history of the small press comics movement and King-Cat Comix + Stories is an essential read for any aficionado of autobiographical sequential art.
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