The Hospital Suite
John Porcellino (Drawn & Quarterly)
John Porcellino is an alternative comics artist who has been drawing his signature series, King-Cat Comics & Stories for 74 issues across four decades and several US states. Since the late 1980s, Porcellino has performed in several bands, run a record label and produced numerous comics and zines. In addition to running his Spit & a Half Distribution company, comics have proven to be his one enduring passion. Porcellino, who recently took a nationwide victory lap to celebrate the 25th Anniversary of King-Cat, has also seen the publication of several collected works, (King-Cat Classix, Map of my Heart, Diary of a Mosquito Abatement Man, to name a few). He his known for his simple line work, poetic writing and biographical themes. It is with his new collection, Hospital Suite, (Drawn & Quarterly) that Porcellino delivers his first, previously unpublished collection of stories.
Hospital Suite is composed of three sections; “The Hospital Suite,” “1998” and “True Anxiety.” Each section can be read independently, but together they tell a story about the struggles of mental and physical illness that have plagued the artist throughout his adult life. The stories detail John’s long stint in the hospital in the late 1990s, his hyper sensitivity to certain sound frequencies and volume (a condition known as hyperacusis), his OCD, and the removal of a tumor from his intestine. All were debilitating. There were times when John’s OCD was so acute when producing his comics, he would have a dreadful feeling that drawing a building without a chimney would cause its real-life inhabitants to asphyxiate and die, as if he had the power to alter reality through his work. This sort of disorder can be crippling. Even while the sufferer realizes the irrationality of their thoughts, and recognizes the absurdity of their fears, they cannot overcome them. Porcellino does overcome them temporarily only to succumb to them again when stress triggers a relapse.
Mysterious illnesses, misdiagnosis and a never-ending quest to root out the causes of his ailments occupy much of John’s life. Buddhism helps. Avoiding wheat and dairy helps. Antidepressants help, but it’s a continuous game of whack-a-mole, where as soon as a physical ailment is hammered into remission, a mental one pops up to take its place. As a result, relationships deteriorate along with physical and mental health. Two marriages end and John crisscrosses the country from Chicago to Denver and back, then onto San Francisco and back again. (Porcellino now lives in Beloit, WI.) It’s hopeful to think that by the book’s end John has been cured of all that ails him, however, this may never truly be the case.
In addition to the 25th anniversary tour and the release of Hospital Suite, John was also the subject of a documentary shot in 2010 but just released this year. In Root Hog or Die (made by filmmaker Dan Stafford), John recounts some of his medical history as well as his struggles with OCD. High school and college friends and ex-wives are interviewed, but they reveal little about John that he hasn’t already revealed about himself. In addition to his minimalist drawing style and Zen-like writing, honesty has always been John’s policy. He has no qualms about explaining his intestinal issues or describing masturbation habits. The film, when viewed in the context of John’s past and current work, helps create a picture of an artist who is devoted to his art by a compulsion to create that cannot be altered or halted by any external forces — or internal ones, for that matter. There will be many more chapters in this story. Some will have happy endings, some not. Either way, John’s suffering is his readers’ gain. Hopefully, it is at least cathartic of the creator.