John Porcellino is an artist and writer. He has produced zines, minicomics and graphic novels for twenty-five years; he is best known as the creator of King-Cat, a series of comics and stories he has published himself since 1989. Collections of John Porcellino's work include: Perfect Example (2005), Diary of a Mosquito Abatement Man (2005), King-Cat Classix (2007), and Thoreau at Walden (2008). His work is simple, beautiful and honest. We are excited to reproduce our Q&A with John Porcellino below. Conducted September 2009.
JSE: First of all, congratulations on twenty years of King-Cat! You're about to go on tour to promote Map of my Heart, a new collection of King-Cat comics from 1996 to 2001. Are you feeling reflective upon reaching this milestone?
JP: Thanks... usually these kinds of anniversaries are just another day to me, but this one seemed a little bigger-- it's half my life. And I feel like I'm just getting going.
JSE: Your comics have this rare quality of evoking so much with so little--the lines are beautifully simple, the writing is concise. How would you describe your editing process? How do you decide, for example, what to include in drawing a place, and what to leave out?
JP: I don't really think about it too much, consciously. It's usually a matter of finding what feels right for the purpose the drawing holds, and that's kind of hard to explain. It's like groping in the dark sometimes. You work and work, and yet there's something not right. Finally you fall into the right place and the drawing is complete. In my writing, there's a lot of editing. I edit a lot out. I've had to learn to not be afraid to pull back.
JSE: Your work is so intimate; you're candid about even your most difficult experiences. Has doing this gotten any easier? Are there things you wouldn't talk about now that you might have in earlier days, or vice versa?
JP: Well, there's probably a lot of life experience I don't approach in my comics. I'm conscious of the fact that writing autobiographical stories means writing about other people in a way that readers sometimes view as "the Truth." So I'm careful about what I say about people, and how I say it. Some things are more private, and that's OK.
There are plenty of things I used to write about that I would feel awkward putting down on paper now-- putting the King-Cat Classix book together was real interesting. I couldn't really believe how unrestrained I was in the early days. At the same time, there are things I can write about now that I just didn't have the life experience to comfortably approach earlier... so that has changed too.
JSE: One thing I love about you as an artist is how openly you cite your influences, the things you love. For example, you regularly compose "Top-40" lists of things that are inspiring you at the moment. What led you to start making the lists?
JP: I think at some point I just realized-- this world is pretty awesome, so why not celebrate those things about it? Sometimes people are reluctant to let on that they really love something. I wanted to stand up for the other side of that feeling.
JSE: It seems that movies and comics might share something in common; there are some great films in the list of favorites on your site. Do you ever think about film in the composition of your drawing?
JP: Very occasionally I think in filmic terms. Maybe a few times here and there in my comics that was a conscious approach. Mostly I just think of comics as comics. But I've definitely been influenced by some films in terms of storytelling-- things like Fellini, the Italian Neo-Realists.
JSE: You started making and distributing your work in the pre-internet days. How has the internet changed things for you? Are you susceptible to the internet yourself?
JP: Yeah, it's changed a lot. The ability to get the word out about things, and connect with people worldwide is so much easier now. I actually do love things like Facebook, YouTube. As a person who's very curious, I think it's pretty amazing to be able to gain access to so much so easily. That said, I like paper... zines, ink, books. The internet is great for a lot of things, but for me it will never replace something you hold.
JSE: Have you ever been approached about animating King-Cat? How do you feel about animation in general?
JP: No, never really thought about animating King-Cat too much. Not that I'm opposed to it, it just never really came into my mind. But I do like animation. I remember when the remastered Popeye DVDs came out a few years ago-- that was like a dream come true to me.
JSE: Last year you released Thoreau at Walden, an impression of Thoreau's time at Walden Pond pairing your illustrations and Thoreau's writings. How was the experience of working from his words? Are there other adaptations or collaborative projects you'd like to work on in the future?
JP: Speaking of dreams come true, Thoreau at Walden really was like that for me. That man is one of my biggest heroes, and influences-- as an artist, a thinker, a curious, expressive human being. Thoreau is one of very few things I've encountered in my life that seem so RIGHT to me personally... to be able to work with his words and create something like that was a real honor. If Thoreau at Walden ever led a reader to explore his works directly, that would be a big accomplishment for me.
As for other adaptations-- the only similar thing I have considered is a comics biography of the Japanese poet Kobayashi Issa. That's a project I'd really like to tackle someday.
JSE: Your work has now been published by larger companies, but you still produce individual issues of King-Cat yourself, just as you did twenty years ago. It's an inspiration! Any words of advice for artists who are trying to make it on their own?
JP: The advice I always give people is 1) do something because you love it-- because that might be your only payoff; 2) don't excessively compare yourself to others-- that's a game you'll never win; and 3) be patient.
JSE: Finally, your cats have always made their way into your work, which, as a cat lover, I've always appreciated. May I ask how Liz and Charlie are doing?
JP: They're doing good. It took them (Liz) awhile to get used to each other (Charlie is a total bumbling lover), but now they sleep together, give each other baths, and chase each other around the house like stampeding cattle. So they're doing good!
ARTIST WEBSITE: http://king-cat.net/
**THIS IS THE FIRST IN A NEW SERIES OF TOUCH TOUCH INTERVIEWS**