Bird tracks

In Microtones, our newsletter-first column.

In Microtones, our newsletter-first column.


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The work of comics artist John Porcellino offers a chance not to escape the world but to treat it with a kind of frank acceptance that also leaves room for wonder. The exhibition COMIX And LIFE, up through May 18 at Union South’s Gallery 1308 as part of WUD Art’s Comics Symposium, surveys highlights from recent editions of King-Cat Comics, an autobiographical series Porcellino has been self-publishing since 1989. Porcellino will also take part in two events in town on Saturday, April 28: Madison Print & Resist at the Central Library, and later a “comics slam” at Everyday Gay Holiday. But I’m particularly happy about the art show because visiting it this week brought back for me the calm and sense of perspective that Porcellino’s work can induce.

For the unfamiliar, it helps to know that King-Cat basically just documents scenes from Porcellino’s life, with the occasional detour to ponder brief but profound exchanges among philosophers and Buddhist monks. He never dramatizes or embellishes, but his sparse artwork gives his stories a sense of interiority and a dash of humor. Outwardly the scenes are mundane, but the key is Porcellino’s openness—to nature, to a sense of the divine, even to loneliness and pain—and really the story of King-Cat is how he cultivates that openness through all of life’s ups and downs.

Porcellino stops his dogs from mauling a possum. He revels in the strange beauty of a cross-country drive. He spots all manner of plants and birds and groundhogs. The bulk of King-Cat concerns itself with such moments, rather than overtly life-changing events. “Now, I’m ‘doing King-Cat‘ not only when I’m writing or drawing, but when I’m washing the dishes, walking the dogs, sleeping, or eating,” he writes in an artist’s statement for the show. “It’s just one continuous whole.” He also currently lives in Beloit, which gives some of King-Cat’s recent installments an almost-local flavor.

My favorite piece in the show (other than the cover of King-Cat #74shout out to bats) is a full-page drawing called “Ten Million Bird Tracks In The Snow.” It’s just those words, surrounded by dozens of simply rendered little three-toed tracks. The tracks, though 2-D and static, catch the viewer up in a gentle whirl. In its own way it’s as powerful as an elaborate landscape painting, but that does nothing to diminish its sense of humility and surrender. Moments like this keep me coming back to Porcellino’s work, and it’s well worth a detour over to Union South to see it in a gallery setting.


New this week:

Three writers offer some final reflections on what they saw at the 2018 Wisconsin Film Festival.

On our podcast, comedian Johnny Walsh talks about soldiering on after winning a local stand-up contest.

Jazz musicians Michael Brenneis and Paul Hastil explore improvisation and abstraction on a new collaborative release, The Moraine.

It’s pedal pub season again, and Chris Lay is not taking it well.

Elsewhere on the Madison internet: Entrepreneur and activist Sabrina Madison earns some national recognition for her work on behalf of women of color; Babcock Hall ice cream isn’t kosher; festivals and outdoor events throw a lot of wrenches into the workings of Madison; standout Minneapolis noise-rock band Buildings will play a May 26 show at Art In; Madison experimental musician Noxroy has a new release out; and in-the-works east side venue Communication has announced a soft opening event on May 11.

This week’s Madison calendar: Jazz trumpeter Marquis Hill matches wits with some UW-Madison facultyThe Sacrifice offers an apocalyptic vision. Four bands help out local-music booster Ralph Shively. Micro-Wave Cinema says goodbye. And more.

An ode to the best and worst of Madison summers.

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