Monday, August 25, 2014

Chicago Week: King-Cat #74

John Porcellino's long-running and influential minicomics series King Cat hit its 25th year of publication in 2014, and the upcoming KC #75's release should come at around the same time his all-new book, The Hospital Suite, is due to debut in the fall. Porcellino will go on tour with those books as well as Root Hog Or Die, the documentary that Dan Stafford made about him. I did want to discuss King Cat #74 before all of this hoopla kicks off, in part because there's a gentle, more centered and even playful quality to this issue that's been absent in some of the heavier issues that dealt more directly with depression, illness and turmoil in his life. I chose this comic to kick off a week's worth of Chicago-related comics; even if he's not technically living within city limits, I regard his work as having that distinct Midwestern feel.

"B.O." is a good example of this. It relates an anecdote regarding his giving up deodorants as a young adult because of the aluminum in them. This is a hilarious story about his later sweaty humiliation at a high school where he gave a lecture about cartooning, made funnier by his trademark minimalist style. When John writes gags in his comics, it's not unlike a more serious Matt Feazell in terms of the way he still manages to incorporate body language as part of his cartooning. The promise at the end of the story after he bought some organic deodorant ("So now if you meet me, I'll smell like springtime and roses!") just added to the squirm quality of the situation.

"Batty Batty Batty" is a life update comic, talking about moving into his girlfriend's apartment after his small place started to flood but miraculously spared all of his comics stock. When a bat is encountered, it spawns a complicated chain of events that involves them driving out to a couple that essentially fosters bats. It's the kind of weird John P. meeting that he seeks out, in part because of his enormous empathy for animals and indeed all living things.

"F For Fear", "Insomnia" and "Tennessee" are more along the lines of his comics-as-poetry that has been an important part of his work for some time. Porcellino makes the first two strips especially unsettling in the way they express his anxieties while trying to sleep. On the other hand, "Bridges of South Beloit" displays Porcellino's natural curiosity about his surroundings and how deep he's willing to go with regard to finding out as much as possible about a particular subject. With regard to that story, he's fascinated by the workmanship, utility and aesthetics of the various bridges. He wonders about and researches why some bridges fall out of use and why others get refurbished. More than anything, John Porcellino looks, really looks, at his environment. His ability and willingness to truly observe and distill the essence of his environment is what makes Porcellino such a fine cartoonist.

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