The Artist In the Office Interview: John Porcellino
John Porcellino is the creator of the celebrated self-published series King-Cat Comics, which began in 1989, and has inspired a generation of cartoonists. He is the author of several books including King-Cat Classix and his most recent book, Map of My Heart.
What are some of the jobs you’ve had? What was the worst?
I’ve had so many jobs, from Mosquito Man to ice cream scooper to warehouse guy. Someday I want to write a book about all of them! There were a lot of great things about the Mosquito job, but looking back maybe you’d have to say that was the worst one, because it had such negative effects on my health.
You’ve been creating and publishing King-Cat for twenty years and for a good deal of that time you held down jobs. When did you have time to create and distribute your zine?
I was like any other obsessed artist. I drew at night and on the weekends, I drew on my lunch breaks. If I had a sick day, I made sure to spend the day being productive, art-wise. I just plugged away at it any moment I had.
Were there ways you felt divided as a creative person with a day job and if so, were there ways you snuck in your creative life within the work day?
Sure. It gets hard sometimes. Especially if the job is particularly demeaning or vacuous. You always think: “These are hours I will never get back again. Hours I could be spending drawing.” Sometimes in my gloomiest moments I’d think I was wasting my life. Then again, I realized at some point, is getting money so you can pay your bills and stay alive really a waste of time? You’ve got to find a balance.
Again, like any obsessed artist, yeah, I would try to be creative wherever I was. I’d do little sketches on every packing slip as I processed it, I’d be creative in my relationships with co-workers, I’d accept any offer from my job that meant I could somehow escape the normal routine for awhile. Being a creative person is a way of life. You can bring that creativity to any situation.
I know you are currently making a living full-time as an artist. Are there times you miss having a regular job? If not, why not? If so, what do you miss?
Well, I miss having a steady paycheck. And one nice thing about a job is it puts you in situations you’d never otherwise be in, with people you’d never otherwise encounter, and that can be helpful as an artist. Being a cartoonist is such a solitary thing. You work away at your drawing table for hours and days and weeks and months, alone. It’s just the way it is. I can become prone to tunnel vision doing that. Your whole world becomes this little drawing. There were times when I looked forward to going to my day job, because it meant getting away from my creative problems for a bit, giving that part of my mind a break.
But honestly, I cherish my freedom at this point. It has come at a price, to be sure. But I’m one of those artists that relies on his muse, and you can’t always predict where or when she’s gonna give you the nod. So having that flexibility in my life is helpful.
What do you struggle with the most as a ‘freelancer’? What is your favorite part?
Just the insecurity of never knowing exactly when and how much money is gonna be coming in. My favorite part, aside from what I said above, is just that it feels right. I’ve known since I was a little kid that this is what I wanted to do, so to have the ability to do that, to the extent that I have, is very gratifying.
Twenty years is a long time at anything. It’s longer than most marriages! Were there times you wanted to quit making King-Cat, and if so, what kept you going?
Sure. I never had a lot of self-confidence, and I had a lot of psychological struggles with my art. There was a period where each new issue of King-cat I put out, I’d wonder if that was gonna be the last one. Because it was just so gut-wrenching to go through that process again and again for me. But, you know, things get better. And this is what I feel I was born to do. So you go on no matter what. Also, I’m a really stubborn person. Once I start something I want to finish it. With King-Cat, that means I need to keep going as long as it’s physically possible. So I just go on.
What are you working on now?
I’m working on a bunch of commissioned artwork, the next couple King-Cats, and a new book that will be coming out from Drawn & Quarterly sometime next year.
Do you have any advice for creative types with jobs out there you care to share?
I always tell people 1. Do this because you LOVE to do it, because you can’t NOT do it. There might not be any greater rewards out there than just the satisfaction of doing your thing, so that has to be a big part of your motivation; 2. Try not to compare yourself to others too much. That’s a game no one can win. Find your own voice and work with that; and 3. Be patient.
Specifically for creative types with jobs, I guess I would say– try to find some way to make your working life motivate and inspire your creative life. And don’t give up!
Okay, totally self-indulgent question: One of the things I love in King-Cat is your Top 40 list, which reads as a shorthand for things that make you happy. What is one thing that makes you happy right now or has recently made you happy?
Lately, it would be re-reading old Marvel monster comics, which are my favorite comics of all time. Learning about them, the history of them, and exploring that world from a older perspective. I can’t get enough! I want to be a Marvel Monster Comics scholar!
Thank you, John P!