It’s difficult for me to describe my experience of reading John Porcellino’s Diary of a Mosquito Abatement Man because it exemplifies so many of the things I love about comics. It’s simultaneously unpretentious and deep, funny and heartbreaking. The images are representational, but they’re not realistic. They’re perfectly suited to the content and the tone, to the realization that we have a responsibility to the world around us – even the smallest lines.
I have to begin by saying that I love the way Mosquito Abatement Man works on a story level. This is not a “graphic novel.” It’s not a long memoir mimicking the literary style. It makes no bones about its original structure and release. There are skips across time, important moments are highlighted and the story moves on. In that way, Porcellino’s is such a comic—meant to be told in pieces.
That said, what happens here is ripe for that kind of format. It’s episodic and observational. It doesn’t rely on the conventions of the traditional arc. The repetition of ideas, of actions, of characters, of images creates a world that’s not so different from that of our own minds, where ideas fade and resurface as time passes. We’re getting his stories through his memory, so rather than trudging through the mundane and every day, or worse, the forgettable, we see the most important parts, the parts that, were it not told in an episodic format, might be ignored.
Likewise, I can’t help but talk about the visual style of Diary of a Mosquito Abatement Man. Porcellino’s characters are representative but a bit rough or simple. I draw the distinction because Porcellino’s initial style now feels rougher, more violent. Likewise, The art by the end of the story is cleaner, softer, more aware. It seems likely that his visual style changed over the creation of these stories, that it developed. In the beginning there are more textures, lots of stray lines, a scratchier overall quality. By the end, however, Porcellino is drawing cleaner lines, more consistent faces. While some of this can be chocked up visual development, I had fun thinking about and applying it to characters’ situations and to my own. The more sophisticated drawings have a softness, a sensitivity to them that suits Porcellino as he becomes more uncomfortable with destroying mosquito populations. There’s a tentative, soft quality to those images. Their childlike simplicity (combined with their aesthetic sophistication) allows them to create a world that’s ripe for just this kind of contradiction—the same kind of interaction between text and image, the same kind of polyvocality—with its flat lines and lack of perspective. This is a group of stories with that kind of sensitivity.
Finally, I can’t avoid the discussion of what’s deeply personal and confessional here. So much of the brilliance of Diary of a Mosquito Abatement Man relies on John and on his ability to make art out of the ordinary, the grotesque, the rural. There’s a place for these subjects—not a fetishized or commodified place—in comics. Because of its lack of a clear structure and narrative center, Diary of a Mosquito Abatement Man might never have found a home in more traditional literary contexts. I’m glad comics could provide the right home for these stories and for this sweet little book.