Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Tuesday Night in Williamsburg: John Porcellino and "Map of My Heart" at Desert Island Comics

On our way home from work tonight we stopped off at Desert Island, Williamsburg's wonderful store filled with comics, graphic novels and related stuff, for an event featuring John Porcellino, whom Entertainment Weekly has correctly called "a master at miniature poignance."

His new full-length book, Map of My Heart, celebrates the twentieth anniversary of John's seminal and influential comics zine, King Cat Comics, which he started self-publishing in 1989. As the Drawn and Quarterly website states:
In this collection, while Porcellino is living in isolation and experiencing the pain of divorce he crafts a melancholic, tender graphic ballad of heartbreak and reflection. Known for his sad, quiet honesty rendered in his signature deceptively minimalist style, Porcellino has a command of graphic storytelling as sophisticated as the medium's more visually intricate masters. Few other artists are able to so expertly contemplate the sadness, beauty, and wonder of life in so few lines.

We find his work low-key, sweet and melancholy and were not surprised to learn during the slide show and talk that began around 8 p.m. that most of his comics begin as poetry. He captures the little moments of life, the profound small details that never make it (thankfully) into Facebook status updates but whose signifance is much less empheral and which may haunt us for years to come.

Desert Island was crowded with his fans and some of his friends, and when we got there, John was signing books - both Map of My Heart and some of the issues of King Cat and other books and zines.

He had a lot of trouble with the computer during the slide show. The technical difficulties, which necessitated starting over, let him talk without any visual presentation for a while about the events of his life that were the fodder for the new book, which covers the years from 1997 to 2002, or King Cat numbers 51 to 61.

It was a pretty dark time in John's life. He suffered from a hearing disorder, hyperacusis, an extreme sensitivity to sound which made everyday noises intolerably loud and painful: "God forbid I heard a fork on a plate."

Before this, John had played in a band and was an avid punk rock aficiando. Indeed, it was the DIY ethos of the punk scene which had inspired his zine and its deceptively simple, unadorned line drawings. The ear disorder forced him to stop playing and listening to music and to isolate himself somewhat to avoid harsh sounds.

Then he got even sicker, spending a long time in the hospital and losing a lot of weight. The crazy rock 'n' roll life he knew became a quiet, reflective existence. Previously agnostic, he became more spiritual and eventually a serious practitioner of Zen Buddhism, involved in meditation and yoga after, as he described it, he had a kind of mental breakdown (John said he "went crazy") after his physical health rapidly improved.

During these years John and his wife were forced to leave Denver and return to the Chicago area to stay with her family. Later, they got a divorce that was very painful to him.

A lot of his physical, emotional and spiritual changes are reflected in the work in the book: "Ghost Eyes," "The Weight of My Bones," and other pieces that started as poems or prose poems.

We especially loved some of the sequences like "Hsueh-feng's Spiritual Light."

It was really a pleasure to see John Porcellino and hear him discuss his work, the interaction between his life and his art, and to take questions from people who were obviously longtime fans. We look forward to reading Map of My Heart and are grateful to the fabulous Desert Island, as always, for being close by.

If you live in Williamsburg and haven't checked out the store, pay them a visit.

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