Saturday, May 10, 2014

A King Cat review thirteen years later

I've been obsessively reading and re-reading King-Cat related stuff of late, and I just have to share my opinion about the 'best' issue of King Cat. Let's not say best. Let's say, the issue that I've read the most times, and the issue which always brings tears to my eyes and a smile to my face.

Back in January of 2001, ole John P. put out the incredible King Cat Comics and Stories #58 for the extremely fair price of $2. It was the middle of winter in Elgin. John was living at 212 N. Melrose in the Sears model home he'd purchased in 1998 (and which he would leave in 2002). Maisie K. indubitably curled up nearby while John wrote and drew the stories that would make up this issue.

King Cat #58 is a strange one, by KC standards. No Catcalls. No Snornose. No Top 40. There's nothing cute about this issue. This one is all heart. 100%. The issue is comprised of five simple (and nearly perfect) elements:

- the cover drawing of a tall bare tree on a sparsely populated hill
- 'An open letter to Dough Mioducki' - John thanks Doug for a letter and check and then describes being sad in one short paragraph
- 'Forgiveness' - a 31-page story about John as a boy getting a sling-shot, killing a bird, and that fact eating him up inside, until he emotionally explodes after accidentally sending the dog into the basement after a ball. This story grips me every time. The secret shame you have as a child when you do something wrong. Without an adult's ability to rationalize, justify, or simply not care, a child can be so susceptible to agony over wrong-doing. This story is gut wrenching every time I read it, and when I asked John about it one time, he told me it was one of the hardest stories he'd ever written, because he still felt that shame about the bird. I believe he said he'd been trying to put out that story for years before he actually did.
- 'Rockford Station' - a 2-page JP classic. This story feels like John closing the door on his first marriage, in a sweet, nostalgic way. The story starts with 'We….' and you expect it to be one person remembering something fondly to another. Then, in panel 6, he says, 'One day I was hungover and I laid my head in her lap'. Not 'your' lap, but 'hers'. The final panel of this story would make up most of the cover to 'Map of My Heart' & on his book tour, John always included this comic. It's really a classic.
- Back page gag panel - two rich ladies walking tiny dogs past a diamond store - one says to the other 'So I said, 'No- You listen to me!'" Just a perfect knee-slapping palate cleanser.

This issue, for me, sums up pretty perfectly why single issue comics exist and are critical. The five elements of King Cat #58 work in a way that they simply don't in a collection. In 'Map of My Heart', 'Forgiveness stands out, because it's such a singular work. But the way it's juxtaposed with the letter to Doug and 'Rockford Station' get lost in the collection, unfortunately.

Unfortunately, this issue is out of print, and while I could find two copies on Amazon, they're priced at $20. Who knew that investing $2 in John P. thirteen years ago would give you a tenfold profit!

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