Map Of My Heart – minimalist beauty through heartbreak……
by John Porcellino
Drawn & Quarterly
This was my first exposure to John Pocellino, after years of hearing about his work and the profound impact it has upon his dedicated readers. However, after reading this collection, I can guarantee that it will not be my last (the previous volume King Cat Classix is something I’ll be picking up very, very soon).
Map Of My Heart contains material from issues 51-61 of Porcellino’s King Cat Comix series. King Cat Comix are homemade zines that include Porcellino’s comics, text pieces and letters, and they’re wonderful things, full of simple artwork and gentle stories delivered with a melancholic tone. But beneath the melancholy and the simplicity there’s a staggering emotional intensity that builds and builds as you read on.
(Porcellino explains the genesis of the title to this collection. From Map Of My Heart, by John Porcellino, published by Drawn & Quarterly)
Map Of My Heart is a wonderful book, incredible in it’s simplicity. Indeed the phrase deceptively simple seems made to describe Porcellino’s work. His voice, style and his chosen religion of Buddhism all lend it a near dreamlike quality, a light, disconnected effect that’s just beautiful to read.
His style, a construction of the minimal amount of lines required to tell his simple little tales, whether it be recounting childhood anecdotes, meditations on nature, or retelling Buddhist parables is so delicate and simple, but it unfailingly proves to be honest, stark, unforgiving and staggeringly effective, beautiful in it’s intensity and purity of thought and line.
But the feeling on reading his work in this collection is almost unsettling. Not in the comix in and of themselves, but in the openess of Porcellino’s expression, his absolute, almost brutal candour that lays his life and his deepest feelings open to his readership.
During these issues, Porcellino’s life is turned upside down and he goes through more than many of us do in the course of our lives; house moves, marriage, divorce, debilitating illnesses. He’s living alone and in terrible mental and physical pain but still manages to recount his tales, sometimes leaving the reader with the distinct impression that these are the only things keeping him the right side of sane.
(“I called out your name” – you can feel Porcellino’s heart nearly breaking. From Map Of My Heart, by John Porcellino, published by Drawn & Quarterly)
Much of the sheer desperation of his life during the course of creating the strips in Map Of My Heart is only revealed in the text pieces of the comix and in Porcellino’s extensive notes at the end of the book. But once you”re aware of the turbulence in Porcellino’s life you can look back and find countless moments where it becomes obvious just how difficult it all was.
There are moments in the book, such as “Last Night The River Froze” (artwork above) where an initial reading just reveals a delicate, melancholic longing and a gorgeous sketch of a moment in the life of the landscape. But when you’re aware of the background to the book’s creation it becomes near heart-breaking in it’s sorrow and loss.
Map Of My Heart can almost be seen as a silent scream, the artist desperately attempting to cling onto something whilst everything falls apart – the nostalgic reflections on childhood, the memories of happier times in his marriage, even the recounting of simple Buddhist parables – they all take on the role of freeing Porcelllino from his terrible reality.
(Porcellino’s ability to find joy and happiness in the slightest wonder of nature comes out all through Map Of The Heart – “the air felt good” being a perfect example. From Map Of The Heart published by Drawn & Quarterly)
But even though you can feel the sadness and despair in the pages, I wouldn’t want you to go away believing Map Of My Heart is a depressing read. It’s emotionally raw, yet such is Porcellino’s skill and his obvious inner strength that, even in his darkest moments, there’s still a light there, some moment, some fleeting thing or other that lifts his spirits (and ours). In the end, after finishing Map Of The Heart you’ll realise you’ve shared a traumatic experience, but like the artist, you’ll emerge hopeful, sometimes joyful and just glad to be able to enjoy whatever the world can show you in all it’s beauty.
Porcellino may not be for everyone, his art can be a huge turn off, with people dismissing it out of hand as childish and overly simplistic. But that ignores the style and craft he puts into every page, every panel, practically every line. As a storyteller, as a comic artist he’s very, very good, with a sophistication that many finer comic artists would be hard pressed to match.
It’s a magnificent, poignant work mixing incredible delicacy and a huge emotional intensity. Melancholic yet uplifting, simple yet sophisticated, Map Of My Heart is a wonderful mix of contradictions that works beautifully.