On top of the stuff from UK comics creator, printmaker, and illustrator Jon McNaught that I’ve been meaning to get to since we closed the curtain on 2014 is a folded-over copy of the Fall/Winter issue of Smoke Signal, a newspaper comics anthology published quarterly by Brooklyn’s Desert Island comics shop. The recent issue of Smoke Signal — a new one is on its way — features work from Michael DeForge, Bianca Bagnarelli (her self-contained Fish story is worth a look), Charles Burns, Dash Shaw, and more. It was co-published by Nobrow, and the cover is just lovely — a wordless 12-panel square grid from McNaught, a figure whose endeavors are regularly featured by the versatile comics and art books publisher. Set in muted blues, purples, and salmon, McNaught’s work here is a playful typographic experiment, a marriage of both contemporary city skyline scenes and natural wonders, dotted with pigeons and skulking rooftop kittens. Towering building facades are framed in rubbery contours for reflections in water puddling on cobblestones. I love how the soft early evening light whitens the roof ledges and window trim.
Stray shafts of peach artificial light fall on holiday shoppers for a handful of mini strip-style editorial illustrations from McNaught that ran in December at the New York Times.
The NYT’s hefty year-end book survey featured the creator’s contributions in both the main installment and a piece in the “Notable Children’s Books” section that called for more colors than I’m used to seeing from him. Again, the relationship between light and shadow is at the forefront in the latter. Storybook jackets in a bookshop’s offerings are topped with blotty silhouettes, and although some get a bit more detail than others, we don’t get up close and personal with McNaught’s figures — there is typically some distance between the reader and his subject. Facial features are built-out with minimal strokes, and fingers look as if stuffed into blocky mittens.
The newest entry in a serial 12″ X 8″ magazine anthology that spotlights both illustration and comics, Nobrow 9: It’s Oh So Quiet landed in early 2014. It’s a really expensive book ($24.00) that will gobble up your comics budget for the week — Nobrow’s catalog leans toward the pricey end — but “magazine” is a misnomer. This is printed on big, heavy paper stock that hosts the work of more than 45 artists, all observing “silence” as a singular theme. McNaught produced one of its two covers — the one for the comics half of the book. The piece, a still evening scene that evokes both eerie and whimsical visuals from the storybooks of my long-gone youth, reminds me, too, of comics from London-based creator John Cei Douglas, probably owing to the spare color scheme and fantastical element (the perspective here renders this garden gnome more of a giant, admiring a purple-misted sky and huge moon).
Inside Nobrow 9, McNaught’s four-page comic is framed in perfect-square grids that house a humdrum errand in a suburban garden supply outlet. The panels’ corners seem soft and malleable, as if he clipped the edges to shield his character from being speared. McNaught’s hoodie-clad shopper peruses garden statues, each swathed in blue-gray shadow and black strokes. He brushes past leafy potted plants and a neat array of wheelbarrows, and busy dashes dance across the plant holders, shelves, and ceilings. For me, there isn’t a more tedious way to wind down time on a Saturday than by enduring domestic chores, but I’ll be damned if I didn’t marvel over McNaught’s beautiful comic.
Images © 2014 Jon McNaught for the New York Times. Images © 2014 Jon McNaught for Desert Island. Images © 2014 Nobrow.