The Collected Prairie Pothole
Oof, alternative weekly newspapers. So spectacularly important in my formative years, and so rare to even see out in the wild any more. Sure, that was pre-internet, but their general cohesiveness (despite sometimes being all over the place in terms of politics) is just about impossible to describe. That was my first time discovering Dan Savage, Tom Tomorrow, Life in Hell (Matt Groening’s early work before Simpsons, although he kept it up for awhile during that run), Sonic Youth, Fugazi, political views that ran lefter than left… all from those newspapers. Why am I strolling down memory lane? This is a collection of John’s weekly strips that ran in The Reader, a Chicago alt paper, in 2019. He has a lovely introduction in this describing his own journey with that paper, and how much of a dream come true it was for him to get the gig. He also, sadly, went into it knowing that comics were always the first things to get the axe in those papers, so he wasn’t surprised when the strip itself only lasted four months. But it turned out that he loved using that format, so he kept it going for awhile and behold! A new comic from him, even if you do live near Chicago and read the first half of these as they came out. These are all four panel strips, but full page, not the usual cramped version. This is where I usually run into that brick wall in my head that doesn’t want me to spoil a thing from a new John Porcellino book, but I figure the least I can do is list a few of the topics covered to give you some sense of what it’s all about. There’s an absolutely horrifying prank on his sister (assuming you feel the same way about earwigs that most humans do, i.e. complete terror and revulsion), an album review of a recording of 92 different frog sounds, skunk encounters, trying to figure out the deal with Meat Loaf before the internet was around for reference, seeing Frank Sinatra live, a decidedly odd breaking news alert (just the fact that local programming would be interrupted for such a thing), and him sending his dad to buy his Black Flag records back in the day. Also a whole lot more, but I already gave away more than intended, as this is a game that I just cannot win. I guess the only drama here, since you already know that I’m going to recommend every issue of King Cat when it comes out, is whether or not this new book is a shocking stinker. And… no! No, it is not. It’s more great work from a guy who should be mandatory reading whenever anybody is arrested for hate crimes, as I don’t see how you could read his stuff and stay angry at anything. Yay, I solved racism! $6
It’s a new issue of King Cat, which means most of this review is going to be me fighting with myself not to leave the review with that simple fact. What, you want more information other than the fact that there’s a new King Cat in the world? I mean, OK, but you and I both know that I’m never going to give a bad review to this man, unless his brain snaps and he goes full Trumper. And since he’s damned near the last person on Earth who that would ever happen to, there are no worries here. So what’s this particular issue about? There’s John’s intro, and life has gotten him down this time around, which I don’t like to see. I get it, what with [gestures arms wildly at the world in general], but John has a seemingly effortless ability to find joy and beauty in the little things, so I hope that’s getting him through. Stories in here deal with a few of those quiet, joyful moments, finding the beauty in his medicine cabinet of all things, some of the landmark groundhogs he found driving around in 2020, a few more simple moments, an absolutely adorable strip called “Where’s Miss Moo” in which we all try to spot his cat, and how sparrows handle rain. Among a few other things, because as always I’m not going to tell you every story. A couple of the highlights are the piece about how Saturdays have evolved for him over the years (starting as the best day of the week, to just another day once he entered retail work, and finally drifting back to the best day of the week) and a brief but hilarious history of his eyebrows. John’s in his early 50’s, and anybody around there will be able to relate with how eyebrows get absolutely ridiculously out of hand as you age. There’s also the usual text highlights of his comics: a list with brief descriptions of some of his more notable dreams, his top 40 list (that, as always, is as many actual numbers as he wants, which may or may not be 40) and his reader letters. It’s still one of the more complete mini comics around, he’s still putting them out, all these years later. Get it, think about life, and enjoy. $5
King Cat #80
It’s a new King Cat! I’m still tempted to just leave that up as the review for one of these comics. What more needs to be said? I was curious to see how John was weathering the pandemic; I had the hunch that he’d be more OK than most, as it would leave him ample time to observe nature and spend quiet time contemplating. I don’t know all of the details of his current life by any stretch, but the mentions of the pandemic that he did put in here made me think I was at least close to accurate in my guess. He also put something new in here (unless my memory is garbage and he’s done this before; always a possibility): four pages of his dreams. Not comics about his dreams, and not long paragraphs or pages of the same dream where you lose all interest, but quick sentences of short paragraphs of his dreams. And they are an absolute delight, so you’ll get no further details from me. Other stories in this edition deal with his recent marriage (if congratulations can be appropriately given in a review, then congrats!), quiet morning walks, an absolutely heartbreaking obituary of his dog (that he can’t even bring himself to draw because he’s still in too much pain over a year later), the story of how they found their new dog, various observations on nature and the varmints he’s seen, a few letters, another top 40 list (that’s actually almost 40 this time), and his time birdfeeding during the quarantine and his routine. He also got me to laugh out loud with the final panel of his strip about going to bed with cold feet, so kudos on that. Look, it’s still King Cat, it’s still consistently amazing in a number of ways, and you should still give it a shot, even and especially if you’ve never read an issue before. Why not start with #80? $5
I’m probably going to be rambling about this for awhile, so strap in, but there are only two facts to consider in whether or not you want to give this a shot. 1. Take a look at that list of tags under the review. If you can look at that list of names and not want to buy this immediately, the only other thing I have to say is 2. It’s only $8. And it’s roughly 150 pages. So now that you’ve placed your order with Spit and a Half, what exactly do you have to look forward to? Well, I should have been more honest about one thing before you placed your order: this one is occasionally rough to get through, especially if you have older pets that are noticeably slowing down. Like, for example, me, with a 19 and a half year old cat who mostly sleeps these days and is losing her most adorable habits one by one. Don’t get me started, I’m perfectly content here in the land of denial. So are you in for a giant comic full of stories of pets dying? No, nothing so grim as all that. There are all sorts of types of pet stories in here. There’s Ben Snakepit with the heartwrenching tale of Buster (who died trying to get back to his house after his family had to give the dog up), Mark Campos with his cat’s reaction when she finally got the freedom she seemed to want, Cara Bean’s story of a dog that was found in the wilderness and how it became a constant traveling companion, MariNaomi and the angriest chameleon I’ve ever heard of, Ayun Halliday and the snake who was born again, Andrew Goldfarb and the guinea pig who could keep time to his music, Jenny Gonzalez-Blitz and how her rats eventually got along with her boyfriend’s cats, and T. Motley with his recollection of what mice sound like when they’re utterly defeated by a cat and sobbing. And that’s not even the first half of the book, which leaves you plenty of surprises. It really is impressive how is covers so much ground. Some of these people were indifferent to pets and eventually warmed up to them, some stayed indifferent, some used pets as a jumping off point for the larger story they wanted to tell, or told the story of their first pets. And, of course, there were the people who told the stories of how their pets died. That was the part where I had to take a few breaks while reading this to pet my cat, because sure, I can see the writing on the wall there, but she’s still here now, and I intend to enjoy that right up to the point where she’s no longer enjoying life. Now if only there was a manual of some sort to tell me exactly when that was… Anyway! It’s not about me or my great cat. This is a thoroughly enoyable book, somehow both something an animal lover would find a lot to relate to and a book that’s sometimes hard to take with the deaths and all. Still, I’d just like to repeat: that list of talented artists and that price. Give it a shot, if you haven’t already! $8
So I noticed recently that I never got around to reviewing King Cat #74 (it’s July 2020 right now, this book came out in 2013). How does this happen? Who knows? And is it worth it for me to remind the readers that this book came out in 2013? Eh, if it reminds anybody to get caught up on their King Cats, it’s worth it. This one actually recounts his life at the time in a three page essay, which is rare for these books, so the whole story of his move from a small, grim town in Illinois to just over the border in Wisconsin is in here. Later it’s also one of the comic stories, but with something he didn’t mention in the essay: they found a bat soon after he moved in, and since it was too cold to release it into the wild, they had to quickly come up with a plan to save it. Other stuff in here includes several short poems of his thoughts while lying in bed, a series of pictures of local bridges, letters, his top 40 list (as I’ve said, it’s from a different time, and actually reminded me of a few more books that I missed), and an obituary for his girlfriend’s dog. The main story highlight for me was his tale of how he gave up on deodorant nearly 20 years earlier (at the behest of his 1994 girlfriend who thought it caused Alzheimer’s) and lived his life without it until one fateful day. He had no time to shower, had to spend the day at a convention where he was working closely with people, and his usual methods to control the smell weren’t working. As somebody who’s run into John at several cons now I can honestly say that I never thought he stunk, for whatever tiny bit that’s worth. Bottom line is that this is another issue of King Cat and, as such, well worth picking up. And now I can rest easy knowing that I’ve had at least something to say on King Cat #61-79, with several other odds and ends included… $4
King Cat #79
30 years! This is the 30th anniversary of King Cat, and it’s yet another great issue. It’s packed with nostalgia, exactly as a 30th anniversary issue should be, and a fair chunk of it is relevant to me on a personal level, so I’ll most likely do my best to keep myself out of it and fail completely. Anyway! I put John’s comic origin story as the sample page, for those of you who are curious. I went to Record Service (in Champaign Illinois) dozens of times myself, but my comics origin story was at a different location… dammit. Didn’t take long to mention my own stuff, did it? Maybe I should stick to saying what the comic is about. Stories in this one deal with his time camping with the cub scouts (and the inevitability of his getting the worst burger when it was his turn), several stories about his time in school with the science club and their many field trips, a few illustrated poems, his patented (but not really) top 40 list, letters from readers, the story of his tamed squirrel and her kids, an old story about the kindness of his grandfather, and the mystery of the gravity hill. Look it up, it’s damned odd! Other bits in here include a story about John from Gabrielle Bell (who you already know if you know anything about comics) and an epilogue to his comics origin story that was somehow both inevitable and shocking. I know, I didn’t think it was possible for a thing to be both either! John also mentioned a couple of times that he’s planning on retiring in the near future. I really, REALLY hope he’s just talking about Spit and a Half and not King Cat as well, but 30 years is a long time to do anything. Speaking of his comics distro service, I just placed a big old order with them in case he closes up shop suddenly (and because I got a raise recently, and what else would I spend that money on but comics?), and I’d highly recommend that y’all do that too. A number of items were sold out, so get what you can while you can. As far as recommendations go, of course you should read it! It’s an issue of King Cat. Always get the new King Cat! $5
King Cat #78
So I just glanced through older King Cat reviews and realized that I somehow never got a copy of #74. Just so you know, it’s taking all my willpower to write this review instead of tearing through all my old comics to see if I have a copy somewhere that fell through the cracks. That being said, it’s time for a new issue of King Cat! For lots of you, that’ll be all you need to read; I understand completely. For the rest of you, I’m running out of ways to convince you that King Cat is required reading. I’ve mentioned that there almost certainly wouldn’t be a website without John and the inspiration of his Spit and a Half distro, I’ve talked about the influence he’s had on a whole generation of comics artists, I’ve mentioned the feeling of calm that comes over me whenever I read one of his comics… I know! I can talk about this particular comic. If the rest of the arguments didn’t grab you it’s a long shot, but it’s all that’s left for me to do. This time around stories deal with his two dogs and two cats (and their interactions with each other and him), nature facts that he’s learned recently, how the smell of mothballs make his nostalgic and the terrifying warning label he found on an old box of them, and a walk in the woods. There’s also his top 40 list (which has quite possibly never been exactly 40 things) and the best letters page in comics. As always, this is my simplistic synopsis of what’s contained in this comic and, as always, you’d get a whole lot more out of it if you read it for yourself. This issue right here, #78? Give it a shot. $5
King Cat #77
You know what the clearest sign would be that I had somehow become the leader of the free world? If every new issue of King Cat became a national holiday. Why not? It would give everybody the day to go to their favorite coffee shop or park, read the book and contemplate what they just read. There I go again, dreaming of a better world. As always, this review is not going to be particularly objective, because I doubt very much that this website would exist without King Cat. For this title I have no cynicism. This time around John talks briefly about his recent health and family problems, various interactions he’s had with neighborhood animals (he even includes footnotes if you wonder where he got some of his research), his latest top 40 (which, as always, is not exactly 40 things), and includes another lengthy and thought provoking letters page. But wait, there are also comics! It’s actually mostly comics, as always. Those stories include the time that his dogs caught a possum (and how he ended up saving it), the other time his dogs cornered a possum and caused it to play dead (which led to him googling how long “playing dead” took; it’s about 40 minutes to 4 hours if you’re curious), his toad Vincent from when he was a kid, that time when he took a caterpillar home as a kid and how it became a butterfly, the frogs that he kept a kid, how he kept spotting big cats in Illinois and how the authorities were oddly hesitant to admit that there was a problem, and his other time spotting a big cat in Wisconsin. Yep, a lot of nature this time around, as he’s clearly been doing some exploring. OK, what are you waiting for? There’s a new King Cat out, go buy it! $5
King Cat #76
IMAGES WERE TAKEN FROM JOHN’S WEBSITE DUE TO MY BROKEN SCANNER. Sorry about the shouting, but I wanted to make that perfectly clear. In the future there will probably be some way to ID him just through the picture of his hand, which is one of the many reasons I don’t want it to look like I’m trying to pull one over on the guy. That and my 20+ years of the utmost respect for his work. OK, maybe it’s mostly that one. Anyway, look everybody, it’s a new issue of King Cat! I always feel like I should end the reviews there, because what else do you need to know, but that would be cheating. This comes out at a time after when John was dealing with a few serious health issues and had to cancel a few conventions to give himself a chance to heal up a bit. Fun trivia fact for just about nobody: if John had gone to SPACE this year, I would have been his table neighbor, as I was there registering voters for the local Board of Elections. Which would have been a ton of fun on my end, but I’ll take him getting healthy and making comics for another few decades over that any time. Going along with his mood and troubles, this issue is maybe even more contemplative than most, which is saying a lot. Subjects include sketching while waiting for car repairs, seeing an old couple eating from his car, memories of his old and constantly freezing apartment, and several short pieces that are his trademark illustrated poems. There are also quite a few letters, with several familiar names checking in (just in case you’ve been reading comics for as long as I have and wonder what people like Jeff Zenick, Ariel Bordeaux and Jenny Zervakis are up to). He also got a few responses to his Maisie tribute issue in #75, so if you thought you had no more tears left after reading that one, trust me, you’ll find a few more after reading some of these letters. I just reminded my 15 year old cat that she’s immortal, so I’ll stay in denial about that one for as long as is humanly possible. So yeah, obviously you should get this issue. You should get every issue of King Cat. That’s clear by now, right? If nothing else comes from 15 years of this website, I hope that sticks. John is also hurting a bit for money and has set up a Patreon page to try to help with his monthly expenses. Looks like he’s up to 224 people as of this writing, so why not help him out? You can even think of it selfishly if that helps, as if you donate over $6 a month that gets you physical copies of any comics/zines he makes. Help the guy out! Screw giving him just enough to get by every month, we should try to make him filthy rich. $5
Hey kids, or anybody who has started reading comics in the last few years? Are you interested in the history of mini comics, why they’re such a source of passion for so many people? Well, maybe not in numbers, but in level of interest and dedication in following certain artists? Your answer is this volume. If you have no interest in the history, away with you! This one can be for the old timers. This is a collection of the best of the “Not My Small Diary” anthology, and if you read small press comics in the 90’s and 00’s, you will recognize plenty of these names. In fact, good luck not getting lost in a Google hole or trying to figure out what so many of these people are up to these days. Notable names include (but are not limited to) Jeff Zenick, Dan Zettwoch, Patrick Dean, Raina Telgemeier, Jesse Reklaw, Carrie McNinch, Sam Spina, Roberta Gregory, Kurt Wolfgang… you know what, there are just too damned many names, and they’re all in the tags, so check that part out. If any of those names made you say “hey, I wonder what they’re up to these days” then this book is for you. These are mostly snippets of stories, but they’re all complete by themselves. Sometimes the stories follow a theme, like notable dates or moments in their lives, but really they’re all over the place. If it seems like I’m avoiding getting into specifics, that is entirely the case. If you were around for all these artists when they first started, you’re going to get lost in this instantly. If not, this is an excellent way for you to figure out what the big deal was about these people all along. I guess it’s possible that it’s the nostalgia talking and that people might not connect to these stories now, but screw that. These are tales of human weakness (and occasionally triumph), and those stories are universal and timeless. Most of the original issues of this series are out of print, so this is your best option all around. The book itself is $7.50 if you see Delaine at a convention, but if not $10 should be enough to cover the shipping, and I really can’t recommend this enough. It’s rare for any anthology not to have a weak story or two, but these are all golden.
King Cat #75
I had quite an introduction for this review ready in my head. This comic marks the 25th anniversary of King Cat (I’ve been along for the ride for roughly 20 of those years), and I was planning to talk about his impressive body of work, the influence John has had on independent artists throughout the years, all that stuff. Then I read the comic, and all that flew right out the window. This might well be the best single issue of King Cat that John has done. I’m not going to claim that definitively without going back and reading the previous 74 issues again, but if it’s not the best single issue, it’s in the top 2 or 3. The entirety of this comic is the life story of his former cat, Maisie Kukoc. Maisie is instantly familiar to fans who have read his book for years, and what was also known to me was that Maisie had died a few years back. She popped up in stories from time to time, had several about her specifically, and she was basically just a constant presence throughout the series. And, honestly, I thought I had shed all the tears I was going to shed about the death of this cat that I had never met, but I was very wrong on that. Full disclosure: during busy times at work, I sometimes read a comic during my lunch, then write the review on the same break, putting the whole thing together for the website when I get home. Well, today I had to stop reading this comic three different times to keep myself from bursting into tears (as opposed to some manly dribbling of tears that I was denying), and even then it was all I could do to keep from sobbing by the time I got to the inevitable end. This could have easily been a tale about John’s life throughout those years, and he does provide the relevant context as her story progresses, but this is purely about Maisie and the life they had together. There are too many adorable little touches for me to mention them all, but that panel with Maisie stretching her little arms out towards John when he goes to pick her up from the vet after she suffered an illness just about broke my heart. As did him learning from a girlfriend that Maisie sat by the door five minutes before he came home every day to greet him as he came in. They had a great life together (well, she had a great life and John lived a regular human life, full of ups and downs) and she lived to a ripe old age for a cat, so I know the logical thing is to leave it there. But as Harlan Ellison once said, fuck death. There’s no doubt in my mind that some of these tears came from knowing that my cat is currently the same age as Maisie when she died, and although my cat seems healthy, things can change in a hurry, and I have a lot of trouble picturing a life without her. This comic might just break your heart a little, especially if you have pets, but I still can’t recommend it highly enough. Every pet owner is going to have to deal with this eventually, and seeing all the good times mixed in with the ending at least lessened the blow a bit. He also included a few pages of the games she loved to play at the end to try to lighten the mood a bit, but then there was his message on the back cover about how he still finds her hairs occasionally when opening a book, and it was right back to the waterworks for me. All I know is that my cat is getting some serious attention when I get home today. $5
Has the theme of falling on your face/ass/other ever been the subject of a comics anthology before? I can’t think of one, but it’s such a natural fit. This naturally made me think of various falls in my life, and I kept coming back to one what wasn’t really a fall and also wasn’t me. I was walking with a couple of friends on an icy road years ago. One of these friends is 6’6”, and my other friend and I noticed him start to slide. This is one of those moments when time slows down, but after the fact we would both swear that he had fallen far enough backwards for the back of his head to slide on the ground, but he somehow more or less kept his balance and never did completely fall. Not sure even today if that’s a good story or a “you had to be there” story, but it’s notable that I still remember it maybe 15 years later. Anyway! The point of that story is that it’s impossible to read this comic without thinking of pratfalls you know and love, and Rob has assembled quite a talented bunch here to tell their stories. There’s Carrie McNinch’s story of getting her thumb slammed in the door (and her mother driving away with said thumb stuck in the door), Becky Hawkins and her amazing collection of bruises and cuts (not the mention her ridiculously unlucky landing spot), Aron Nels Steinke almost knocking his eye out, Tessa Brunton’s spectacular rolling fall, John Porcellino’s skateboarding mess, Jason Viola’s trip to Russia and the impression he must have left with some of those people, Noah Van Sciver and his preventative precautions taken to prevent ever being hurt again, Cara Bean’s skiing “mishap”, MariNaomi’s bowling injury (yes, it is possible), the cat of Gabrielle Gamboa taking her eyebrow, Tony Breed getting away with one, Max Clotfelter getting seriously punched, and the causes of Rob Kirby’s various scars from waiting tables. With a list of talent like that I doubt that I have to do much convincing, so just do yourself a favor and pick this up. Then, if you haven’t already, work your way back through the older comics of these folks. You deserve it! $5
Comic conventions! Maybe you’re one of the people who only go to conventions to buy comics and don’t create them yourself, but have you ever wondered about life on the other side of the table? Not really? Well, you really should try putting yourself in their shoes for a few minutes. This anthology has all kinds of stories from conventions, good and bad, from some of the champions of small press comics (if the industry had formal champions, which they should maybe think about doing). Stories in here include Max Clotfelter’s first time working a table when he was a kid, Cara Bean and Sara Carson’s long road to a triumphant show, Kelly Froh’s two worst shows (I hope), Carrie McNinch’s problem with shyness, Rob Kirby’s mostly bad day (but with plenty of good things in it, like the progressive redneck parents), Mark Campos’ ingenious trick to selling original art, Aron Nels Steinke dealing with a friend getting a tv deal while having a slow day himself (along with dealing with an annoying kid), Gabrielle Gamboa’s hilariously illustrated conversations among cartoonists, Justin Hall’s description of finally getting the sale after talking a guy into it for 20 minutes, Tony Breed dealing with putting a book together and the reality of the show, Matt Moses and Jeff Worby narrowly avoiding a beating/murder, Zine Crush trying to get a copy of their zine to the object of their crush without being obvious about it, Rick Worley learning the truth about Dash Shaw, Jason Martin showing the good and the bad and John Porcellino showing us the weather paradox at cons. Oh, and a bonus piece by Kelly Froh (I’m almost positive) showing us the moment at a con when her spirit leaves her body. I’ve seen plenty of comics about convention horror stories in my years of reviewing these things, so I was a little nervous about a whole anthology on the subject, but that was silly of me. This whole thing is full of goodness, and should probably be handed out to obvious first-timers as they walk into cons as a public service. $4
King Cat #73
Sure, you probably think that I give all issues of King Cat glowing reviews and that there’s no point in even reading this one, so I’ll start you off with something new: the first strip didn’t do a whole lot for me. There, criticism! Even if it is vague, as humor is subjective, and the thought of a bear sneaking in two cats to watch a slightly risque movie didn’t get a chuckle out of me. Of course, the rest of the issue is still fantastic, and that first strip is only two pages (that, again, you might enjoy just fine), so forget I mentioned it. The bulk of the book is John on the hunt for a cuckoo that he may or may not have seen, and we get a history of his various possible sightings of that bird over the years. Hey, that sounds boring. Bring on the killer robots! OK, granted, John does not have any killer robots in this at all, and if that’s what you’re looking for I’d advise you to start in a comic called something other than “King Cat.” This one, for new readers, is all about the quiet moments and the constant search for clues about life and everything. Just in case you’ve been reading small press comics for years and have never picked up a copy of King Cat, you poser you. The rest of the comic has his usual “top 40” list (that is rarely if ever actually 40 things), a few letters, John’s dream about being a monk and his ethical dilemma in it, some facts about a certain type of squirrel and a cat on shoelace patrol. Yes, John still puts out a fantastic comic on a regular basis and yes, you should still buy it. $3
King Cat #72
I know I’ve said this before in these reviews, but why in the world isn’t John Porcellino rich and famous? Granted, you could say that very few people from this business end up rich and famous, and even those people are only famous in an underground kind of way (there’s Robert Crumb, Dan Clowes, and…), but it’s a fucking shame. I mention this because John talks about his recent divorce, his moving to Florida for another relationship and then having that fall apart too, ending up with him in a small town on the Illinois/Wisconsin border. At every step of the way there are money concerns, ending up with him living with his mother for a while, and it’s just maddening to me. I know that nobody is owed anything in this world, but quality like this should get some tangible rewards. So what did I think of the comic? You’re kidding, right? This is #72Â of the series, my love for this thing is well established by now. This issue starts off with John with a shattered heart, follows him along a walk with a conclusion that makes you ache for the guy, before eventually ending up with him in his new home. He does a few pages of three panel journal strips (which may or may not be the first time he’s done this, my memory is too lousy to be sure) that show his life slowly getting better, then a big ending story about a bat that wandered into his house, how his cats reacted and how the situation was ended. There’s also a story about a very young John on LSD and how he asks a sister of a friend to marry him. That goes about as well as you’d expect. Every time I think he must have already mined all of the great stories from his youth, I realize that he still has plenty more to go. Another solid issue, and seriously, if there is even one rich person reading this with money to burn on the holidays: just give him a pile of money, OK? For the rest of you, buy his comics. He just finished illustrating a book called The Next Day (which involves interviews with four suicide survivors) and has another book coming out from Drawn & Quarterly next year, one of which would make an excellent holiday gift, and the other (when it comes out) will make an excellent Easter gift. If it’s out by then, of course, if not it’ll make a good whatever day it comes out gift.
King Cat #71
I’ve long resisted implementing any kind of a grading scale for reviews.Â No “8 out of 10” for anything, no “5 stars!”, none of that crap.Â It’s not because what I have to say in the body of a review is all that important, it’s mostly just because such a simplistic way of doing things really belittles something that took an artist weeks, months or even years to accomplish. That and it often makes little sense; I can’t tell you how many times I’ve read a review on CHUD.com tearing a movie to pieces, explaining in excruciating detail how every little thing about the film is terrible… and then they give it a “4 out of 10” grade.Â It’s gibberish, I tells ya!Â So why bring this up?Â Even with my feelings against such a system, I’m starting to think I could grade King Cat comics on a “wistfulness” scale.Â It would still be simplistic and cheap, but it might be handy for the folks out there who can’t wait for each issue.Â This issue is more wistful than most, as John moved to Gainesville, FL at some point during the making of the comic and has apparently ended up there without his cats, which is mildly baffling to me, but he doesn’t get into it (or I read the last story of the book and assumed that that’s still his situation, which is probably wrong).Â Stories in here include a pearl of wisdom from Jesus (the guy had a lot of nice things to say, too bad he’s depicted now as a dude who wants poor people to suffer), a daydream about a missed personal connection, a genuine white trash moment, another one that isn’t labeled as such, a visual aid to all the new forms of life John is seeing in Florida, a drunken lighter request, some lingering silence, and a really fantastic essay detailing Denver before everything became profoundly commercialized.Â Of all the comics in the world, I hope I can say “more of the same” with this one and have the reader understand what a unique and tremendous thing that is.Â I also love John’s willingness to just get up and go when he thinks that life is pushing him in a specific direction; if only everybody had that kind of courage.Â In conclusion: of course you should get it.Â If there was an issue that disappointed you, I’m going to resist the urge to say it was your fault and just say that this issue in particular really moved me, for whatever that is worth…$3
King Cat #70
20 years of King Cat!Â Holy crap.Â I’ll have to try and not think about the fact that a chunk of people reading this weren’t even alive 20 years ago.Â As an anniversary issue is the perfect time for nostalgia, if memory serves (and it often doesn’t) my first exposure to John was in King Cat #38, the issue where he talks about the life and death of his dog and the role it played in his life.Â I was hooked instantly and went back and got as many of the older issues as I could find which, sadly, wasn’t all that many.Â There still hasn’t been anything approaching a definitive collection of his work, probably because he’s ashamed of some of his older stuff, but I’m always all for putting a body of work out there, warts and all.Â Everybody reading this already knows all about King Cat, of course, and all of you have sent John money for his comics at least once by now.Â Hey, he’s even started Spit and a Half back up, and if you never heard of it and get nothing else out of this review, click on that link to see a wide selection of incredible minis that John somehow has the time to distribute himself.Â So how about what’s in the book, am I ever going to get to that?Â I kind of figured that a positive review was a given at this point, but since you insist, stories in here include how he’s given up drinking (but would like very much (at times) to give up the giving up), how maybe the pace of the suburbs is best for him after all, some adorable neighborhood animals, getting his wisdom teeth out because his insurance was about to run out, a dream and a bag of chips, Do the Pete Duncan, and a follow-up on Square Head John from issue #67.Â As usual, that’s not all, as there’s also his top 40 list (expanded this time around), some one panel strips dealing with cats and a few other stories that I didn’t mention to leave you some surprises for when you inevitably order this comic.Â You do like to be surprised, right?Â And you do like great comics?Â The man’s been doing this often thankless, poverty-inducing job for 20 years, send him some money out of love and gratitude, why don’t you?Â I can’t think of anybody who deserves it more.Â $3
It’s actually called Rosetta: A Comics Anthology, but you all get that, right? As for the book, it’s pretty much your average anthology, in that some of it is great (John Porcellino, Marc Bell, David Collier, Ron Rege), some of it is not so great (James Kochalka) and some of it is downright incomprehensible (M.S. Bastian, Renee French). Don’t get me wrong, I usually love James Kochalka’s stuff, it’s just that I really didn’t need to see the breakdown of one of his diary pages. Isn’t it self-explanatory enough as it is? Overall the whole thing is definitely worth a look, as more of the pieces are good than not and the production of this book was pretty amazing. It looks great. Unfortunately, that great look makes it $20, unless you go to Amazon quick and get it before they take the discount off. Another good thing about this is that there’s a lot of international talent, something we don’t see enough of in general. One problem I had was with Megan Kelso’s story. Don’t get me wrong, I loved it, it’s just that it was the length of a regular comic and it seemed sort of out of place in this setting. I say this fully knowing that I’m going to get her collected story when it comes out… Anyway, worth a look, but I’ve seen too many great anthologies this week already to get too excited over this.
King Cat #69 Now Available!Â $3
This has to be the cheeriest King Cat I’ve seen in ages.Â Don’t get me wrong, I don’t mean that as an insult, but it’s hard not to feel like you know John a little bit from reading his comics (probably stupid to think that, but it’s still hard not to) and it seemed like a lot of things were going poorly for him.Â A return to cheeriness means, to my addled brain, that maybe he’s doing better in his real life, and that’s always good news.Â Stories in this issue deal with John telling an origin story of sorts of his taste in music, John and his wife getting two new cats (and many shorter pieces detailing their adventures, John’s trademark (is it trademarked yet?Â The man should look into it) ability to see the beauty in the quiet moments, and the piece that made me laugh out loud, Comb-Over.Â As always with this man, checking out his latest work shouldn’t take prodding, it should be a requirement for any thinking person who likes these funny books.