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An interview with King-Cat

John Porcellino

Interviewed by Chris Auman

Published January 5, 2012

John Porcellino

Indy comics maven and distro champion, John Porcellino has been publishing comics for, oh I'd say about thirty years or so. With his long-running, autobiographical King-Cat Comics currently on its seventy-second issue, Porcellino shows no sign of slowing down any time soon. The Reglar Wiglar caught up with Spit & a Half proprietor between zine & comics fest jaunts and asked him a few questions.

I was reading the “Comic Confidential” post on your blog and the parallels to my own discovery of things like MAD Magazine, Cerebus, and Dragon Magazine are eerily similar. It’s a generational thing obviously, but these were things that, back then, you had to discover piecemeal. With the internet do you think that kind of discovery still exists? Back in the olden days, if you discovered a band that had released a ton of records or an artist who'd published a ton of comics, it might take you years to track them all down and now, not so much...

Well, it's probably similar to some extent. You're young, you're discovering your identity, you're finding pieces that fit together, that feel right. Obviously it's easier to track down information now, but it still takes some effort, and some passion. I remember hunting in used book stores for years for my favorite childhood book (The Hodgepodge Book by Duncan Emrich). When I finally found it, I actually started weeping. Now you can Google it and buy a copy for a nickel in seconds.

What do you think the kids are geeking over now, is it just video games? Is there hope for the future?

I have no idea. Lady Gaga? Twitter?

You were introduced to MAD Magazine by a nun of all people! Do you think she was secretly cool or just naive?

The nun was cool. She was one of those probably pretty liberal nuns. She played acoustic guitar at church, probably into folk music, et cetera. She also restrung my first guitar and gave me a collection of picks, so yes, she was cool.  

Judging from your blog, seems like you’re doing a lot of traveling. Are you trying to hit up every small press expo and comic fest in the country?

Well, that would be nice. One of the big reasons I moved back to the Midwest was so that traveling to shows would be easier. Having lived in Denver for years, where the nearest "big" city is 500 miles in any direction, it's great now to be able to get to places like Minneapolis, Chicago, Pittsburgh, easily.

Is that self-supporting—is your distro, (Spit and a Half) able to foot the bill for these excursions?

Yes, Spit and a Half and my income from my comics/art pays my bills. Sometimes just barely, but I've managed to get by for the last five or so years without a "day job." Part of the reason I do Spit and a Half is that it's hard to make a living as a cartoonist alone. I figure if I have to have a day job, it might as well be selling comics that I love.

Seems like you have a fascination for dying cities, judging from your love of the old Denver and your pictures of Cairo in Southern Illinois. True? I do love history, and places, so it's fascinating for me to be somewhere I can explore that. I have a soft spot for forgotten things.

While we're on the subject, Does blogging help?

I suppose.

The first issue of King-Cat was published in 1989, do you think you'll publish KC indefinitely or is there a goal you want to reach, 100 issues or 25 years, or something?

Ah, my hope is to keep doing it as long as I physically can. I'm stubborn. Once I start something I want to finish it. And King-Cat won't be finished ‘til I expire.

What’s the process behind King-Cat, do you keep a journal and draw the comics at a later date?

I kept an actual journal only once, during the years I was living in Elgin (1998-2002). Otherwise, I have notebooks lying around where I jot down ideas, little turns of phrase, memories, et cetera. Sometimes they're just on the backs of receipts on the nightstand. That way I can go back and look at these things later. Sometimes an idea won't seems feasible until somewhere down the line. That happens a lot. I'll come across some kernal of an idea I had three years earlier, and suddenly it comes together. I always try to keep King-Cat, my art, as "natural" as possible. That is, I try not to force things. I try to let them be what they want to be, and I trust that. So I'll be keeping these notebooks, and it all seems incoherent. I'll start to despair "Maybe I'm washed up! Maybe it's all over for me!" and then somehow these previously incoherent ideas start to gel in my mind, and I can "see" what the next King-Cat's gonna be. Then I start to work in earnest on it, planning things, fleshing out ideas, writing a lot, editing a lot. Then the last step is just putting it all into a physical, reproducible form. And that's the new King-Cat.

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King-Cat is autobiographical, ever publish something you wish you hadn't?

Sure, a few things. But not too much. Again, I like to keep things as organic as possible. So, looking back, I can see things I wish I had said differently or not said at all, but I trust the process. If something was true to me, I trust that enough to just let it be and move on.

I think I’m out of the loop, how did you end up in Gainesville, FLA (King Cat #71)?

My second marriage was breaking up, and I had met a great gal down in Gainesville while on tour. Plus, one of my old friends was starting a comics school down there, so it seemed serendipitous.

But you’re in South Beloit, IL now, correct? How did that all transpire?

Well, after a couple months the gal in Gainesville broke up with me out of the blue. I was broke, had no place to live, and decided to come back up to Illinois (where my family lives) for the winter. One thing led to another, and I had to find a place to rent really fast. I found a cheap little apartment in South Beloit, and have been there for a year or so now. It was a rough couple months early on. It was hard adapting to life in a tiny little town. Once spring rolled around though things started to feel a little better. It's cheap, it's close to my family, and Chicago, and there's a lotta nature around. So it's okay.

There is a documentary in the works about you, can you talk about that or is there any news on that front?

All the footage is shot. Dan (the filmmaker) was gonna be spending 2011 editing it, but I don't know how much progress was made. Basically, Dan (the filmmaker) interviewed a bunch of people, and followed me around a lot in 2010, around Denver, and out on tour. And he came out to South Beloit last winter to document that stage of things. Last I heard he's going through many, many hours of tape, fixing up sound et cetera, and beginning the editing process.

How did The Next Day come about, did someone approach you to illustrate it?

Alex Jansen, the editor at Pop Sandbox had read Perfect Example and thought I would be a good match for his next project, which was creating a graphic novel based on interviews done with these four people who had attempted suicide, but survived. The whole thing with Pop Sandbox is putting together creative people from different pursuits and seeing what happens. So it started off as a straight documentary film, then they added the book aspect to it. As things went on the doc became an interactive web-based thing, using animation based on my drawings. So the book is just one part of it. It was written by Paul Peterson, who did the original filming and interviews, and Jason Gilmore. All the text is direct quotations from the filmed interviews, so it's really these four people telling their story.

Seems like many comics artists are also musicians. Who or what are the Felt Pilotes?

I've been playing in bands since I was a teenager. The Felt Pilotes were the band I began in 1991 or so, my last band. At some point my ears went bad and live, loud rock music was no longer an option for me. It was at that point I really began to focus more directly on my comics.

Any other musical collaborations in the works?

My music playing life consists of pulling out my acoustic about once a year and sitting on my bed and strumming some old tunes. When I was in Denver I used to put on all-acoustic shows at Wax Trax, and sometimes I would play at those, but there's really no outlet for that sort of thing out here. Anyhow, I'm happy doing comics.

Any other non-musical projects in the works?

I'm working on a bunch of stuff for 2012: an all-new book for D+Q called The Hospital Suite, about my health issues; a book of tour stories with my friend Noah Van Sciver called Hot Lovin' Every Nite; and the new King-Cat. I also have some other ideas up my sleeve, but it's too early to talk about them. I try to keep busy.


Hospital Suite Porcellino John Porcellino From Lone Mountain

From Lone Mountain—A King-Cat anthology full of stories, observations, lists of beloved things, and of course the zen-like poetry of his drawings

Hospital Suite—A collection of short stories detailing his ongoing health problems.

King-Cat #72—John recovers from the end of his second marriage, moves to Florida and starts a new relationship.

King-Cat #73—Another issue John's long-running King-Cat Comics and Stories as told from his new home town of South Beloit, IL.

Read more comics artist interviews:

Jesse Reklaw
Hans Rickheit
Mimi Pond
Tom Neely
Ed Piskor
Derf Backderf
Andrew Maclean
Jef Czekaj
Jeffrey Brown
Box Brown
Simon Gane
Corinne Halbert
Ben Snakepit


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