Recently I discovered the work of Jon McNaught and instantly it captured both my attention and my imagination. To begin with I love the aesthetic of his work. He uses a limited palette of colour for each strip which helps to add a cohesion to his work and set the mood of the piece. His use of light also goes a long way towards setting the mood and to me adds the sense of a stillness reminiscent of a autumn/winter afternoon. I want to take a look at McNaught’s work with particular reference to one piece called “Pilgrims” which you can read in complete from his website.
With the aesthetic in place the stage is perfectly set for McNaught to tell his stories. McNaught’s stories move at a lovely pace. They amble in a slow peaceful way reflective of their setting and perfectly matched to the experience being expressed. With his stories he manages to take a very normal, everyday experience which on paper may seem mundane and turn it into a compelling story.
Perhaps an element which makes his stories most compelling is the fact that he manages to tell the story without use of any words or sound. The reader therefore is required to understand the story based only on the visual information provided. It is here that McNaught hits on an idea proposed by Will Eisner in his book “Theory of Comics and Sequential Art”. Eisner expresses the notion that in order for a reader to comprehend an image there needs to be a commonality of experience between the reader and the artist. Eisner states that “This demands of the sequential artist an understanding of the readers life experience if his message is to be understood”. What Eisner means by this is that the artist needs to be be able to express the experience in a way that is easily understandable and recognisable to the reader.
This, for me, is what makes his stories so interesting. His attention to the smallest details and the seemingly banal. Small moments, which wouldn’t usually bare a second thought, appear easily recognisable and relatable when presented by McNaught. It is in those small details which I find myself recognising and relating to the experience. Having taken part in similar pilgrimage, I could instantly recognise many of the experiences. The crowd file on and off the bus as directed, A person sits alone and reads, another takes photos when asked not to. Within “Pilgrims”, it seems as if McNaught is highlighting the triviality of these small actions while the actors miss larger experience surrounding them.
In the absence of any words or sound I feel that McNaught expresses a mood and story with which communicates to me an experience which is familiar. It is the small, seemingly inconsequential, moments within this experience which lend the most gravity and help to build a story which is as subtle as it is human.