Kingdom (Jon McNaught, 2018)
Modernists have tried for ages to delve into the banalities of life. Artists like Gustave Flaubert, Stanislaw Lem and even Jerry Seinfeld have attempted to deal with the nothingness of our existence with different results. But, just like Patti Smith said in her book M Train, “It's not so easy writing about nothing”.
Heck, it’s even harder to write about a book about nothing.
Jon McNaught’s oeuvre might be close to achieving this task as nothing crucial happens in Kingdom—a small child doesn’t get lost at the beach, a mother doesn’t snap and screams at her children, and an old lady doesn’t die surrounded by loneliness. No fuss, no drama. But no drama doesn’t automatically mean happiness. And that’s where the greatness of Kingdom lies.
In this richly-detailed story of a single-parent family spending their holidays and dying of boredom in a neglected seaside town, Jon McNaught keeps showing interest in the way progress and nature collide—chirps of birds get mixed with radio transmissions and video game tunes, and sea landscapes are ruined by pizza cutters and beer bottles. But McNaught is not as distressed by how technology has taken over the world as he is more concerned about how it limits people to appreciate the environment.
The back cover quote from The Comics Journal compares Jon McNaught with Terrence Malick’s filmography as they are both more committed to showing the beauty of the mundane than elaborating a story. But while Malick’s latest movies—A Hidden Life as yet unseen—are more inscrutable and metaphysical, McNaught’s approach is more unambiguous and down to Earth.
McNaught’s low-key style might baffle and frustrate readers craving for plot development—the characters’ overall disenchantment with life is purposely never explained or elaborated on—but for a book that’s about the little things we don’t pay attention to, it makes sense Kingdom focuses on those dull moments we later tend to forget. Creating a plot-driven work about nothingness is as contradictory as making an entertaining story about boredom.
By Jon McNaught | 2018 | Nobrow Press | 128 pages