Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Best Life: King-Cat #78

John Porcellino keeps rolling on with his King-Cat Comics and Stories, and this issue has a lightness to it that's in line with recent issues. The beautiful cover is Porcellino's take on the unknown artist of the Flammarion wood engraving, drawing with a level of detail unusual for this comic. It's a "cover version" that's pure joy, both in terms of the original depiction of the atmosphere as well as the joy of drawing that comes through in his version. That joy is evident throughout the issue, as Porcellino in this stage of his career is as much a naturalist as he is a cartoonist, a modern-day Henry David Thoreau in terms of nature's importance to him. It's not all meditation and poetic observations, though as Porcellino takes delight in writing about his pets and the general ridiculousness of the human body.

Indeed, being embodied and thoroughly embracing that reality seem directly related to Porcellino's study of Zen Buddhism. There's a brief poem that opens up the issue, and anyone who's ever heard Porcellino do a reading of his work can hear the slightly somber, wistful tone of his voice as the words appear on the page. Later on, he revealed the "The Making Of" that poem, wherein he was sitting on the toilet, thinking about an image from his past. Hilariously, he yelled out to his girlfriend that he had written a poem on the toilet, and she replied "Are you going to share it with the class?". His cat Big Boy was in there with him, and his blinking as he read it meant that he approved. There is a sense of connection in this otherwise amusing strip that's indicative of the issue's overall tone.

Porcellino is always sincere in his observations. It's just that sometimes he's sincerely silly, like when he dropped a bunch of corny jokes as part of his illustrated Nature Notes. There's another making of strip, this time of another cat, Michi. In the original strip, Porcellino says to her, "You look like a possum". The cat replies, "Good, because I want to look like a possum", which is a very Zen and cat-like thing to say. The making of strip reveals Porcellino's imagination as he saw her eat. There's alsoa a goofy drawing of him, half-asleep, talking to his dogs as he wake up to feed them.

Picking up again on that theme of the joy of drawing, this issue is heavy with his nature illustrations. There's drawings of vegetation, birds and an elaborate series of drawings about the life cycle of the Monarch butterfly as part of a story he wrote about trying to breed them in his back yard. Porcellino, as always, embraces and loves the natural word but isn't separate from the concerns of the greater world, as in one strip about his dogs he pauses to pray for the salvation of the world. Furthering that idea of connection is his letters column, which was slightly dialed back in length but still furthered his idea of connecting with his readers and friends, and connecting them to each other on his letters page. There's a letter from Jeff Zenick, for example, and a long letter from raconteur Eduardo Bak Garcia, along with drawings from Jenny Zervakis and Megan Kelso.

The key story in this issue was its final one, "Lost And Found In The Woods". It's a classic Porcellino walking story, this time a slow hike in the woods where he comes across a random guy and birds, and reminisces about past times he had been through the same area. He writes poetic observations and above all else is present both in his observations and his memories. As a result, the reader is too. Indeed, while this is very a journal of his observations, this issue also feels like an open invitation to come and sit on the porch with him for a while and just listen to nature. Ending the issue with a single-page Zen master gag just recapitulates the experience of the issue itself: self-aware, funny and keenly observant.

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