Zine Scene: The mundane treasures of John Porcellino’s King-Cat

At 20 years old, John Porcellino’s hand-drawn comic zine King-Cat is a veritable dinosaur of the industry.

When publication began in 1989, King-Cat was doubtlessly viewed as just another perzine. Over the years, the scope has increased, and, perhaps remarkably, each issue still has something new to say. By the time he released King-Cat Classix, a collection, in 2007, the zine had officially become a phenomenon.

Its long life on independent-bookstore shelves and its continuing popularity with fans of all ages are a testament to the creative talents of Porcellino, who started making photocopy booklets and an underground newspaper in high school.

The stories included in the comic can be memories of 1995 or the present day, imaginary scenarios, speculation on the lives of Zen masters, or simply a top-forty list of the author’s favorites for that month. King-Cat never lacks for variety.

This isn’t a comic book as most people understand them, with capes, tights, and ka-booms, but King-Cat has its own low-key charm. Reading Porcellino’s zines is like hearing a funny story from a friend and then having it visualized in a cartoony style. The eclectic story pieces are grounded and linked by the clean, simple pen illustration that he uses on every story.

In King-Cat #70, Porcellino tells a story from his high-school days, in which an inspirational comic strip about the jobless “Pete Duncan,” who later finds miraculous success with correspondence school, jams his friend’s copier and forces the boys to break into his friend’s father’s shop at night.

They get busted by a security guard and lose their free copying privileges, but an “epilogue” shows the group writing a song about “Pete Duncan,” including the refrain “Come on, ev’rybody! / Do the Pete Duncan!!”

The sweet touches to a mundane story, like Porcellino’s ever-present footnotes and written sound effects, make it an entertaining and relatable slice of memory. Also, in typical King-Cat style, the following story is a short retelling of a parable, starring Diogenes and Plato.

Whether it’s parodies of newspaper comics like Marmaduke, only starring Porcellino’s cat, or haiku-like description of sitting on “Ruby Hill,” this zine is chock full of short missives that stick in your head, making you wonder and go “oh” in recognition because such experiences have surely happened to you too.

“I work on these bits and pieces until they take on a certain life, and I begin to see the connections between them,” Porcellino says of his writing process. “Each new issue is the current stage of my life. My zine is autobiographical, and oftentimes focuses on the more mundane aspects of life, which I find beautiful — with a certain intrinsic, mysterious power to them.”

This crucial aspect – the power of beauty in the ordinary – assures that John Porcellino’s zines will have a long life in the future as well.

– Mallory Gevaert

Zine Scene is a biweekly column about writers’ and artists’ adventures in the world of independent publishing.

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