The main thing I was worried about going into this course was my artwork. I don’t think it’s very good. I can’t draw backgrounds with vast detail, or characters with strong facial expressions, or even cars without making them look distorted. Drawing comics is an uphill, uncomfortable battle for me. Reading John Porcellino’s Diary of a Mosquito Abatement Man changed the way I look at my drawing abilities. It made me realize that I could have a raw drawing style and still make it work and be effective.
The story (which I believe was serialized in King-Cat) is given context through the introduction. The main character finds himself working as a mosquito abatement man, and falls into this weird “human vs. nature” realm that eventually overcomes him. He spends years in different aspects of this business, meeting interesting people, and experiencing shocking events, from witnessing car sex to being literally sucked to sickness. He goes insane driving a fog truck 12 miles an hour for 12 hours a day. He becomes sick of his job, killing mosquito after mosquito, until he finally quits for good.
There’s a clear change in art throughout the book. I can see Porcellino’s style shift from a more raw style, to a more crisp and clean one. This gives me hope that my own artwork will continue to improve, assuming I will continue to draw and make comics (I will). I kind of liked how the raw art reflected the main character’s raw experience in dealing with the mosquitos. The longer the main character stayed as a mosquito abatement man, the cleaner and more refined the art became. The connection seemed important to Porcellino’s character’s mental stability.
The main character begins to feel guilty about killing the mosquitos. Well, less guilty about killing the mosquitos and more guilty about spreading poison into the air and water. But when his boss gives him a logical explanation for why they kill the mosquitos, the main character doesn’t feel any better about this. This was very interesting to me. It was like he was finally siding with nature over humans. Even more, it was like he finally understood his place in nature, and acted accordingly.
This book provided insight into a world and process that few know. I hate mosquitos, and have never considered anything from their point of view before, until I read this book. For the record, I still hate mosquitos, they’re awful, but I’ve learned about an aspect of nature I had never even thought about before, with artwork similar to my own.
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.
Before I read Diary of a Mosquito Abatement Man, I looked through the book and read from the notes at the back, where Porcellino states that his comic “Hellhole” is includes the “original two-page introduction that [he] kept hidden for many years (out of shame).” I knew I had to read the book based on the truth of that note. And I did.
As I learned in the introduction, Porcellino’s book is a collection of comics about his work as a “mosquito man,” exterminating the insects in both Chicago and Denver, from 1989 into the ‘90s. Porcellino originally published the comics in his magazine King-Cat Comics, a name that, interestingly, comes from a Lawrence Ferlinghetti, so says the Internet. Porcellino published the comics collected in Diary of a Mosquito Man from 1989 to 1999, and the book includes new material from 2004, so the book shows his development as an artist. I was surprised when, upon reading when he was born, that Porcellino started publishing King-Cat Comics when he was twenty. (This twenty-two-year-old has some work to do.)
Many reviews, from Goodreads to a review on the back of the book, use the word “punk” to describe John Porcellino’s Diary of a Mosquito Abatement Man, and I agree. The book starts with a grungy, longhaired twentysomething looking sad in the rain. How punk is that? The early King-Cat comics are short, with some only two pages, drawn in a rough, rudimentary style. The comics are funny, with Porcellino encountering a variety of characters during his work, from a couple having sex in a car to a dude hitchhiking from to Chicago from Racine, Wisconsin. The early comics set in Chicago were interesting to me for personal reasons, too, being from the northwest suburbs.
The longest comic in Diary of a Mosquito Abatement Man is “The Death of a Mosquito Abatement Man,” a previously unpublished comic from 2003 and 2004. Before his last season as a mosquito man in Denver, the summer of 1996, Porcellino developed an ear problem and started studying world religions. Soon Porcellino became a Buddhist, and as a result of his spirituality, he became conflicted about his work as a mosquito man, killing so many, in his words, “innocent creatures.”
“The Death of a Mosquito Abatement Man,” and the other “new” comics drawn in the 2000s, after Porcellino quit being a mosquito man, are retrospective, more serious in tone, and drawn in clean, simple lines. This gives the comics a different effect on the reader than the early “punk” comics, and personally, I enjoyed the ‘90s comics more, but respected Diary of a Mosquito Abatement Man as a whole.
I read Diary of a Mosquito Abatement Man shortly after I read “Mosquito Bites,” a novella by Nathan Floom published in The Seattle Review. In “Mosquito Bites,” like in Porcellino’s, a man works to control mosquitos during the summer. Diary of a Mosquito Abatement Man and “Mosquito Bites” complement each other well, with both Floom and Porcellino’s characters—in Porcellino’s story, himself—using the extermination of mosquitoes to explore larger-than-mosquito-sized problems in their lives.