John Porcellino on Distribution, Self-Publishing and DiamondPosted: April 13, 2011
John Porcellino’s drawing style is a big deal to me—it encouraged me to draw in my own way. Johns art style, when I first saw it, was radically different from what I thought ‘comics’ were supposed to be. My own comics were not what I thought comics were supposed to be either. Seeing King-Cat changed things. For a while I thought maybe I would write comics instead of drawing them. But once I saw King Cat that all faded away—I HAD to draw my own comics.
As I keep going with cartooning, John’s commitment to self-publishing and independent distribution becomes just as much of an inspiration as his drawing style. Both things are, to me, equally revolutionary in comics. I try to get at what I see as important about Johns publishing and distribution choices in this short interview. Once you’re done, go to SPIT AND A HALF and get some books!
Austin: You work a lot with other artists, but are also deeply invested in your own work. When I try to put into words why I like to work with other artists books, I can’t explain it in a succinct way. There is something very ‘right,’ to me, about doing it, but it’s hard to define. Can you talk a little bit about why you run a distro instead of simply concentrating all your energy on your own art?
John: I think to me there’s two main reasons I like running the distro. One is simply that I enjoy being a part of a community, and helping that community. When I find an artist’s work that I like I want to share that work with others. I want to help out on both ends, by helping the artists get their work out, and by helping readers find good work. It gives me a great sense of satisfaction every time I fill another order.
The second reason is maybe a little more “mercenary,” but– I’m an artist and as an artist I need time and energy to do my work. And that requires money. But as everyone knows, working strictly as an artist can be financially difficult. So, my feeling is– if I have to have another job, something outside my individual work as a cartoonist, it may as well be something that’s deeply involved with the things I love and the people I respect and admire. So if I have to have a dayjob, running the distro is a pretty rewarding choice.
Austin: When I heard about Diamond changing their policy and making it harder for people to list ‘pamphlet’ comics in their catalog, I felt very angry that a lot of people went along with this. I see pamphlet comics as an art form–a perfect size and scope for comics that has real artistic merits that the graphic novel does not eclipse. Accepting that Diamond policy as fact seemed to be letting a corporation determine the artistic future of comics. I know you felt something about that policy as well—can you talk about your reactions?
John: I can understand your anger at people “going along” with Diamond’s policy, but if they’re in the hands of a monopolized distribution stream, maybe they felt there was no other way to go. As someone who comes from a DIY background, the answer is clear though– you create a new system. Many readers like pamphlets, and many artists like pamphlets. I think after that initial blow of losing Diamond, artists and publishers are finding their way again now. There are so many small, completely independent publishers coming up, putting out material in this format, and artists self-publishing work in this format. It’s not going to die– in fact it might flourish, at least creatively. You know, that’s another reason I was interested in reviving the distro. The time is right. I think the comics world can really benefit from stuff like Spit and a Half (and those others doing similar work) now.
For me personally, I love books, but I love the pamphlet form as well. I think of my work in 32 page bites for the most part. Each new issue of King-Cat is a wholly formed individual expression. It’s a COMIC BOOK. That’s really clear to me. For many artists that format is perfect, even crucial to what thay want to do.
Despite all the upheaval in the comics world, and publishing in general, I have nothing but high hopes for the future. I think the underground got kind of confused for awhile in the 2000’s. Things were changing so fast. Now we’re seeing creators and publishers digging in and getting to work. We’ve seen our options, and we’re making choices. Comics are more alive now than at any other point in history, and they’re going to survive. That’s for certain.
Austin: When I was younger, I read something you said about an early collection of your work from Highwater—you made a statement about how someone publishing your work other than yourself seems to ‘validate it’ for some readers, which you found strange. Over the years I’ve started to feel more and more that the only person who can ‘validate’ your work is yourself—but it took me a long time to come to thinking that. Can you talk about your mental evolution into believing in your work that way, and how that has changed over the years?
John: Well, I don’t know if there was much of an evolution… it’s something inherent in the way I think about art. Much of it was coming up in the punk/DIY scene of the 80’s and early 90’s… You don’t sit around and wait for someone to tell you what you wanna do is OK. If you believe in it, you do it. And punk meant taking your struggles, your insecurities, and turning them into a badge of honor. You just throw yourself to the world. If they take it, OK, if not, that’s not your problem. I knew what I was doing had value. Even if not every comic I drew or song I wrote was the best comic or song in the world, I knew the path I was on had value.
I’ve talked about this before, but it wasn’t until King-Cat 44 came out, after Zak and Mr. Mike and I made that west coast road trip in ’94, that I started to feel self-conscious about my work. It suddenly occurred to me that other artists were reading this work, and taking things “seriously.” It had never occurred to me before. That took some readjusting on my part. But by that point I think I had worked out inside what I wanted to do and how I wanted to do it, so I had some inner stability to rely on. I was able to make a conscious effort to trust myself, and the process of making my comics. If you’re an artist there can be no other way. You have to learn to be a good self-critic, and once you do that your confidence can develop .