John Porcellino, 262 pgs, Drawn & Quarterly, drawnandquarterly.com, $22.95 US/CDN
There’s a six-panel sequence in The Hospital Suite that shows why John Porcellino is a comics master. In this sequence, an ill Porcellino has lost so much weight that his wedding ring slips off his finger and rolls beneath the sink. Porcellino finds his ring and bursts out crying. Later, his wife makes a necklace and hangs the wedding ring around her husband’s neck. This sequence, drawn in the deceptively simple style that fans will recognize from Porcellino’s long-running series King Kat Comix perfectly encapsulates the full emotional weight that runs throughout The Hospital Suite. (Later in the book, Porcellino is reading Our Cancer Year by Harvey Pekar and Joyce Brabner and sees a similar scene: “Pekar beat me to it! Oh well, when I do the comic about this I’ll just put that scene in anyway.”)
Much like Charles Schulz at his finest, Porcellino has boiled his graphic storytelling down to near-Zen simplicity. Part two of The Hospital Suite ends with a single panel that’s literally just four separate lines and lots of white space, and yet somehow, in Porcellino’s hands, these four lines capture just how beautiful the world can be. Even in a beautiful world, being sick can change a person. But what do you do? Do you give up? Do you just curl up in a ball and wait to die?
This is an exquisite book full of many painful moments that lead Porcellino to realize, “I guess I just to need to act as if I’m going to survive.” Ultimately, to paraphrase Bob Dylan: “If you’re not busy living, you’re busy dying.” So get busy! We are all lucky to be alive! (A.G. Pasquella)