John Porcellino has a remarkable thing with his ongoing self-published zine, “King-Cat Comics and Stories.” This is a zine, and mini-comic, that has been around for 25 years. King-Cat dates back to 1989 and, in all that time, John P has shared his life with his readers. For his new book, “The Hospital Suite,” published by Drawn and Quarterly, he focuses on one aspect of his life and turns his personal journey into a universal one.
Keep in mind that in the pages of King-Cat, anything is up for grabs regarding content. This is one person’s life and welcome to it. John P can speak to everything from the quiet solitude of walks in the woods to the pop culture significance of Madonna. In Hospital Suite, he places you front and center in one person’s existential crisis and the path to wellness. He keeps the focus on an honest level by remaining true to himself and his art. For those of you just walking in, let me recap a bit by saying that John P is from my generation, Generation X and he holds to, and is a great exemplar of, the ethos of Do-It-Yourself. And that means authenticity is everything. It means that you don’t wait around to be discovered or wonder if you’ll appeal to a certain demographic. You don’t worry about what you say if you speak the truth. You just say it.
John P elevates the conversation of authenticity in a most natural way. The point is that he’s just a human being, like all the rest of us. He has his goals, his ambitions, his whole way of life. He’s an artist and he expresses himself, talks about his life. Here he talks about the decline of his health, both physically and mentally, and what he’s done about it. This did not happen overnight, of course. The signs were there of what might lay for the future. And, with hindsight, John P connects the dots. The jolt that set him on a path of self-discovery came with strange medical issues he had to confront. Before all that, he had a band and dreams of pursuing a life in art. After the medical issues, it pushed him beyond his ordinary limits.
In a steady narrative, John P details the obstacles he had to overcome in the late 1990s, starting with a hospital stay in 1997. As if out of the blue, he suddenly had these strange abdominal pains. We are given a fuller picture than we can get from just one single issue of King-Cat in this 250-page book of new material. In greater detail, we come to understand the ongoing turmoil that John P has had to face with obsessive compulsive disorder and depression.
By providing honest depictions of his struggles, like his fear of door knobs, he opens a window into our own universal fear. Sure, he will sometimes not worry about a door knob having germs and, at other times, it’s a struggle. In the outside world, we are bombarded by ads encouraging us to fear germs and wipe and swipe them away with this or that product. We also have everyone from celebrities to bloggers speaking freely about being germaphobes. Opening up a discussion is good. The further along we stray from our natural state, the worse off we are as humans, both physically, mentally, and spiritually. One book that helped me when I was growing up was “The Naked Ape,” by Desmond Morris. It’s out of print but still available, like here. We’re meant to run naked and eat what we want and live how we want. We’re the ones who place ourselves in cages.
For John P, he finds answers within Zen Buddhism. He shares his insights into meditation that have gone a long way, along with the right nutrition and medication, to help make his life work. Life is, after all, a humbling and inspiring experience or so it can be. With this book, John P both humbles and inspires. The more one thinks of it, the more one appreciates how powerful this book is in it own honest and gentle way. We lose ourselves in everything from John P’s recollections of sandwiches from childhood to visits to the post office. John P seeks simplicity and clarity. We are all better for following his journey.
Be sure to visit John Porcellino here and his zine and comix distribution service, Spit and a Half, here. If you’re in Seattle, you’ll be able to catch him on part of his HOSPITAL SUITE – ROOT HOG OR DIE – 25TH ANNIVERSARY TOUR as guest of honor at the Short Run Comix and Arts Festival. Check out the Short Run schedule with related events which includes a screening of the new documentary about John P, “Root Hog or Die,” with him attendance as well as the director, Dan Stafford.