Friday, March 12, 2010

Book-A-Day 2010 # 37 (3/12) -- Map of My Heart by John Porcellino

John Porcellino is one of comics' great minimalists; his zine King-Cat Comics and Stories has been charting the minor details of his everyday life (both past and present) for more than twenty years and seventy issues, in a clean, simplified art style that's somewhere between a child's clear eye and the quick sketch of a cartoonist. Map of My Heart is the second major collection of the King-Cat strips from Drawn & Quarterly, after 2007's King-Cat Classix -- the first book had some of the best stories from the first fifty issues, while Map of My Heart takes a closer look at issues #51-61, originally published between 1996 and 2002. (Which means that there's easily enough material for a third book, to cover the ten issues from the last decade.)

Porcellino's subject matter and his artistic style are both deceptively simple, and combine to make a package that feigns artlessness. But Porcellino is not a naive artist; his work is carefully constructed and focused -- which can be most easily seen in his many wordless pages and their evocations of nature. These stories are not life as it happened -- they're moments that Porcellino wants to isolate and call to attention, whether they be incidents from his childhood, thoughts while walking through his neighborhood, retellings of stories of Zen masters, or, particularly, quiet experiences of nature. That last is closest to the core of Porcellino's view of the world; his only major work outside of King-Cat was a biographical story about Thoreau, and his view of the world is simple and reserved in Thoreau's manner.

I probably read Map of My Heart too quickly; Porcellino's work is all in a similar emotional register, so three hundred and fifty pages of his work is too much all at once. I imagine an issue of King-Cat, once a year or slightly more often, would be a better package for Porcellino comics, thoughts, and poems. Map of My Heart is organized by the issues of King-Cat that it collects -- though it doesn't collect everything from those issues -- which would allow a smarter reader than me to dip into it over a longer period, possibly reading the stories from #51 this Sunday and the coming back for #52 next Thursday.

In the world of North American comics, where bigger is better by definition, Porcellino's work is a welcome counterweight -- it's always smaller, simpler, and more precise than anything else out there. It might not be what any of us would want for a full meal, but it refreshes the palette and brings balance and clarity back to the world: John Porcellino is thus the sherbet of comics, and should be celebrated as such.

Book-A-Day 2010: The Epic Index
Listening to: Kites - Easy Now
via FoxyTunes

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