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Finding relief in comic books

Fall 2009 at IU was kind of a rough patch for me. I was having trouble adjusting to being on my own and making new friends. It was very lonely and alienating as I constantly failed to make connections with people.

One night, I attended a reading by comic author John Porcellino, and suddenly, I didn’t feel so alone.

Porcellino was incredibly humble and shy. He didn’t act like someone who was proud of the wonderful work he has accomplished with his autobiographical “King-Cat Comics” series. He is just a simple guy who likes to make comics about the things he sees and does. He seemed very awkward about having even a group of about 20 people coming to see him, but it made him happy.

I instantly made a connection with him based on just the way he was acting around people. When he actually gave his presentation about his comics, it felt even stronger.
Porcellino’s comics are drawn in a very simple style. They look like doodles you might find in a class notebook: dots for eyes, bodies consisting of just a few lines and little to no shading.

The simple drawings actually improve the quality of the writing. His stories can consist of any variety of human emotions, from happiness to rage, but since they are all done in this simple style, they instantly seem poetic. It almost feels like looking at his journal in comic form.

None of his work seemed more personable and relatable than “Perfect Example,” a short chronicle of his experiences with depression as a teenager. His feelings of isolation, despite having good friends, were something I instantly related to. As he talked and showed more of his work, it felt like my experiences had been distilled into comics.

Porcellino’s work isn’t just great when he is talking about emotions, though. His sense of humor is also excellent. Most of Porcellino’s work is released in a series of independently published comics called “King-Cat Comics.” Each issue contains some short stories about his life, some fiction and even top-40 lists of some of his favorite things.

The most amusing of these lists is one about his local cats. He gives each cat a name, a description of its habits and a small sketch of what it looks like. It’s a great example of how much he cares for animals, something I felt connected with, as well.

When he concluded his talk, I had a book signed and thanked him for showing me I wasn’t so alone. He shook my hand and said that really meant a lot to him, and he thanked me for me my honesty. The experience stuck with me for the next year, and an idea popped in my head.

Everything about Porcellino’s work just struck a chord with me, from the emotions he felt to his love of cats. I thought I should do something to immortalize this feeling, so the next summer, I got a tattoo of his “King-Cat Comics” logo, a cat with a crown, scepter and a king’s robe, on my back shoulder.

I sent Porcellino a letter with a picture of the tattoo and a list of my own neighborhood cats. It took months, but one day, he finally wrote me back. Written on a hotel’s stationery, the note said he had been going through some rough times but that my letter had brightened up everything. It was a great feeling, knowing that in our own ways, we had both made otherwise rough experiences feel a little bit better.

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