The new book from Dockwood’s Jon McNaught, Kingdom continues the kind of thoughtful and meticulous look at the English condition that made his previous work so compelling. This is subtle and beautiful story telling at it’s very best!
Publisher: Nobrow Press
Writer: Jon McNaught
Artist: Jon McNaught
Price: £16.99 from Nobrow.net
Kingdom centres around a young family, (mother, son and daughter) on their way to a caravan park on the south coast to enjoy a holiday. It’s a familiar journey from many a family holiday, but this is almost incidental as McNaught focuses his attentive eye on the minutiae of the trip and really manages to capture the essence of that quintessential rite of passage that is a seaside holiday.
From the opening scenes in the motorway service station, to the obligatory trip to a gift shop, via the son’s unlikely friendship with a local, through to the daughter’s compulsory visit to an ageing relative, these moments are all incredibly familiar, yet McNaught uses that familiarity to weave a sense of nostalgia and pathos into the page without really doing very much heavy lifting in terms of story telling. The story he tells is all about a series of moments, rather than a deeply thought out character study, and he builds what story he has using the small and tiny actions of his characters (or even just the world around them) to create this deep and thoughtful look at a family on holiday.
Visually, McNaught has created a truly unique style for himself thanks to his sublime use of colour and a densely panelled page, packing upwards of 30 panels on one page at a time. But rather than it feel cluttered and over bearing, he uses this excess of panels to really capture the minutiae of the moments. From the opening scenes in the motorway services station where we see the son playing on arcade games without any money (something I’m sure we’ve all done?), while the daughter plays on the swings and the mother just enjoys a coffee and a moment of peace and quiet away from the wheel, he manages to capture every facet of this all too familiar moment to perfection. And from every angle!
While many creators would limit this to a single throwaway panel, McNaught revels in it, and dedicates over a dozen pages to just this part of the journey. But without ever making it into something it’s not. It’s beautifully observed and he manages to pick the perfect moments to highlight and make what could be something incredibly self indulgent into something truly beautiful. But this is not the only one. Every moment he looks at in the story is captured with this almost forensic level of detail, and generous page count, and are pieced together to make the whole of the story.
But it’s not all 30 panel pages as McNaught breaks the flow to create standout moments, expanding to full pages and even double page spread for emphasis. Rather than revel in the sensational, he picks the quiet moments. Things like a large drawing in the sand or the bucketing rain of the caravan park to give you moments to reflect and mull over what is happening, rather than be shocked and amazed.
As well as breaking out of the structure for full page images he also merges panels together to create these beautifully textured pages, such as one in a gift shop later in the book, and this is where the colour also comes into play with his use of co-ordinating shades that gives each page a very muted but exquisitely co-ordinated feel to them. He also manages to creates moods and feeling with this use of blues or oranges in order to reflect the characters moods or the time of the day.
Kingdom manages to say so much about what it is like to holiday with your family, without really saying anything at all. While it is contemporary in the fact that the son has a smartphone on which he is constantly trying to play games, at the same time it also has this timeless, almost vintage quality to it as it looks back at bygone times. Certainly the mothes feels like she is aspiring to her own childhood moments, and attempting to transpose them on yo her children (which is a trait familiar to many readers with kids!)
Kingdom really is a truly wonderful read, but it is so delicate and thoughtful and subtle that it feels out of place to bombard it with superlatives and hyperbole. As with so many Nobrow books, this is one that deserves repeated reading, and with the density of content this is almost a requirement as each read through will allow you to take in a different moment of minutia and perhaps trigger your own childhood memory. Thoughtful, poignant and beautiful, McNaught manages to turn the mundane into the magical and make even the most boring of journeys feel like the trip of a lifetime!