John Porcellino’s Diary of a Mosquito Abatement Man is the comics equivalent of Nabokov’s Butterflies—an idiosyncratic collection of every Porcellino story dealing even tangentially with the titular insects (culled from the 15-year run of his delicate, autobiographical King-Cat zine), rounded out by three superb new offerings.
Call it this summer’s buzz book. In his twenties, Porcellino worked mosquito abatement—tramping through marshes, ladling out larvicidal Bti (his boss claims that it “would be totally harmless for a human to eat”). He also drove a spraying truck for long shifts, at a maximum speed of 12 miles per hour. Life in the slow lane perfectly describes this artist’s m.o.—in a typical King-Cat story, patient observation shades into epiphany or hallucination. In the hypnotic “Chemical Plant/Another World,” our hero drives his spray truck into a bizarre, hermetic machine-city, through “weird streets with names like ‘Technology’ ?”; a jungle of pipes and steam surrounds him as reality slips away.
Porcellino often provides dates of occurrence and composition, and the gap is beguiling; in its modest way, this Diary becomes a meditation on memory and creation. (See the hilarious, untitled series of blank panels, sparked by a pencil from a Holiday Inn and written while drunk.) Another pleasure is watching his style and sensibility evolve, from early Panter-esque scratchings and an aggro persona to a perfectly controlled minimalist line and eventual empathy for all living things. This final sentiment might seem corny if “The Owl” weren’t so haunting—the bird glides above his truck “like a ghost,” weirdly beautiful. Only later does he realize it’s dying from the poison, and he puts his career to rest.