March 16, 2005

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Perfect Example, by John Porcellino (Raincoast Books, 2005)

Don’t let the simple cartoons fool you. Perfect Example is a pretty sophisticated book. Compiled from several years’ worth of the indie comic King-Cat Comic and Stories, Perfect Example is a peek inside 1980s adolescence — a place where I lived for several years.

Set in the Chicago suburbs, Perfect Example is somewhat biographical, touching on the lives of several recent high school graduates as they start to wonder “now what?” The stories and scenarios engender squirms and painful memories even as they generate nostalgia by reminding the appropriate-aged reader of the music and trends of these days.

Harvey Pekar, of American Splendor fame, recognized early on that there is certain universality in mundane experiences. We all wash dishes, get our hearts broken, fail in small ways and manage, despite it all, to carry on. Porcellino is from the same school of thought, showing, through his own story, that we all have a lot more in common than we might have believed.

The fact that Porcellino is able to do this with simple line drawings is a testament to his skill as a storyteller. Someone else might have gussied up the drawings and language to the point where the story was obscured. Porcellino recognized that sometimes the storyteller’s best move is to get out of the way and let the power of a simple tale do its work. A

— Robert Greene