Portland Recap, Pt. 2 // John Porcellino's "Map of My Heart"


On Friday, I posted an overview of my trip to the Conference on College Composition and Communication in Portland, Oregon, and then offered up a few reviews of the music I brought home. Before I return to my usual flow of Half-Gifts output, here's one last look at my souvenir haul and my first attempt at a proper book review:


John Porcellino - Map Of My Heart
(2009, Drawn and Quarterly)

Though best consumed issue by issue in their Xerox-copied form, John Porcellino's King Cat Comics translate as naturally to the form of a print anthology as the oversized collections of Doonesbury and For Better or for Worse that - as a child - I'd scan in my lap while waiting for a LaRosa's family-sized pizza to arrive at the table, or on short minivan rides to church. A single 32-page volume of King Cat snatched from a record store 'zine rack is a voyeuristic peek into the life of the hermetical romantic who inked it: a fragmented series of pen-doodled vignettes fished from scattered periods in his life. Like an existentialist's take on Archie's Double Digest, Porcellino's pages catalog neighborhood walks, Halloweens, and backyard wildlife with the defiant sentimentality of a desktop Ziggy calendar. In the context of a hefty "best-of" collection, they more resemble portions of a memoir, each mundane discovery or transient memory woven into King Cat's overarching profession of faith in silence and sincerity,

Compiling classic King Cat stories released from 1996 to 2009, Map of My Heart is a meditative read. Crisp narration and a sparse visual shorthand recount brushes with nature from a perspective decidedly less scenic than that of their biggest influencers: Thoreau and Hsueh-feng. Porcellino's Walden is the woodchuck in the tall grass behind the strip-mall parking lot; a stray cat cutting through the suburban landscape. He treads the strange overlaps between the natural and man-made worlds, finding beauty in their mismatching. 

"Camping in the [Catalina] state park," Porcellino recalls in an all-text interlude. "Winnebagos parked in makeshift cul-de-sacs, complete with Astroturf lawns, striped canopies and satellite TV".

"We tear down the places where birds live, and put up places where people live," he sighs in another. "To a bird there is no tearing down."

As effortlessly profound as Map of My Heart's prose can be, its primitive twee drawings are what prompt constant re-reading throughout the day. The figures that make up each panel are unabashedly amateur, their clean outlines forming expressions true-to-life in their extemporaneity. Charles Schulz-esque squiggles form hairlines. Flimsy bodies twist like Matisse prints. Geometric faces mold to the expressionist shape of their surroundings, a la Mob Psycho 100. Shakily scribbled shapes form desktops and Golden Arches - earthworms and desklamps.

These Rorschach lines are catalysts for imagination. Porcellino provides the context and sentiment: the reader colors them with their own textures and emotion. Though I don't plan on taking a crayon to its black-and-white pages, Map of My Heart is a capitalized Coloring Book in the Chance the Rapper sense. Keep your mental pallette of RoseArt watercolors at the ready.