One gentle book that you may have missed, but should not, is John Porcellino’s Thoreau at Walden, a beautiful hardcover published by Hyperion. It’s a wonderful introduction to Thoreau for any reader. Thankfully, John Porcellino, in connection with The Center For Cartoon Studies, leads the way. This certainly is not your standard graphic novel meets the classics outing. Instead, it’s a meeting of genuine kindred spirits.
Most people live lives of quiet desperation.
If we don’t keep pace with our companions, perhaps it is because we march to the beat of a different drummer.
These words are ingrained in us and as true today as when they were first presented to the world by Henry David Thoreau in 1849 in the landmark of American literature, Walden.
Never hitting a false note, cartoonist John Porcellino, known for his own landmark in comics, King-Cat Comics and Stories, shares with us his interpretation of what it may have felt like to be in a little log cabin out in the wilderness. This brings to mind the film, Into The Wild, and another young man with the world at his feet with a compulsion to throw himself to the mercy of raw nature. However, this extreme reaction to civilization was never Thoreau’s intention.
Instead, his plan was to live in a cabin, not too far from town, as an experiment in self-reliance. He wasn’t courting anything extreme. His goal was to simply live within his means. He grew his own food and did a few odd jobs. He visited friends and they visited him. The rest of the time, he studied, wrote and communed with nature. All this sounds sort of like a page out of John Porcellino’s life. His drawings clearly resonate with a similar outlook on things. That common desire to come up against the elements is tempered with gentle contemplation, a hallmark of Porcellino’s own observations, and the only constructive way to go when it’s just you and the woods.
If you stay in one place long enough, you will see and be part of everything. Out there in the wild, what matters are the quiet moments like how the sun light plays throughout the day or how the owl reacts to your movements or how the friendly mouse will wiggle its way through your clothes to reach that piece of cheddar you hold out to it. It’s a pleasure to see how Porcellino depicts that play of light, the owl’s reactions and the mouse’s journey.
Porcellino is careful to distill what happened at Walden Pond. In a most natural way, Porcellino becomes Thoreau and Thoreau becomes Porcellino. Both of them come together to invite you to join in: no need to crash into nature; just learn to simplify. Porcellino does a great job of keeping that message clear, simple and accessible. He also does a thorough job of annotating his use of text from Walden which helps to encourage further reading.
This book is a great companion to the more recent book by Porcellino, Map of My Heart, which I will explore with you next time.