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King-Cat #65: Places by John Porcellino

King-Cat #65: Places by John Porcellino. Spit and a Half, Oct 2005. $3.

A new issue of King-Cat is always a cause for celebration. John Porcellino’s stories are filled with a sense of wonder in the everyday. His comics are composed with a beautiful simplicity that is either very carefully considered or the product of a natural talent. Drawing with such simplicity is never as easy as one would think from looking at the few lines involved. Porcellino’s comics are a refined simplicity of unvarying lines and the iconic of representations.

This issue focuses on places Porcellino has lived or visited: a comic about his band playing in Iowa City, a story about his time living in Dekalb, IL, a comic about a trip to a national park in Kansas, and others.

One element of his comics that is rather unusual is his use of text within the panel. While he uses traditional narrative and balloons, he also uses text inside the panels not just for sound effects but also as representational supplements to his drawings.

Text as sound effect is nothing new in comics, but Porcellino goes beyond the normal onomatopoeic use (i.e. “thwup”, “crash”, etc.). Instead of trying to recreate the sound, he uses words to describe the sound. In the first story in this issue (about his band playing), one panel shows two figures, the one in the front is setting up drums. In the back, his back turned to us, we see the second figure holding a guitar. Above his head is written “Tune”. Through this simple addition to the panel and the participation of the reader’s experience, we can hear noodlings and repeated tones of a guitarist tuning his instrument. This would be extremely difficult to recreate with traditional sound effects.

On the next page, a panel shows the drummer banging on his cymbals. In the background are the vague forms of two figures (heads and shoulders) easily identified as the audience. Around these figures float words: “Whoo!”, “Noise”, “Blur”, and “Chaos”. While the panel would be identifiable without these words, they add atmosphere to the scene. It could be argued that if he wants to express these ideas, he should make the drawing represent these qualities, but as comics are already a mixture of words and pictures, these tactics fit perfectly. In a way, this is an even further mixture of words and pictures. If one recalls McCloud’s pyramid of drawings, Porcellino’s drawings often sit right on the line between the iconic image and words.

Another image I want to point out shows a car on a road with the sun in the sky. The text mentions “Pueblo” so the unadorned landscape brings to mind a desert. In the sky a few curved lines bring to mind the wind or whispy clouds. Out of the context of the surrounding panels it might be completely abstract, yet in its place on the page the images are immediately identifiable.

This is a great issue. I heartily recommend sending a couple bucks for it (and a few of the other issues).