Page 45 Review by Stephen
This is sublime.
And it is going to resonate profoundly with almost every single one of you, for it's the most astutely observed and skilful evocation on paper - through light, colour, carefully regulated pacing and that which is said and sometimes left sullenly unsaid - of sights, sounds, sensations and behavioural moments during a key time common to us all.
These are the four chapters: 'To the Sea', 'Landmarks', 'Passing Time', 'The Waves'.
So how were your family holidays, as a child aged perhaps seven, ten or thirteen, and what lasting memories of them do you retain?
They're about to come flooding back in the most minutely discerned detail!
'To the Sea'
They set off in silence - the mum, son and daughter - though you can almost hear the drone of the traffic on the morning motorway.
McNaught nails the temperature and time of day through the angle of the shadows cast by the sun, the cars almost hovering over asphalt which is as pitted in the sunshine as it is pock-marked in the shade. And cars do glide now, don't they, such is their suspension? We hear so much less of our own vehicle's engine while inside, and although we are looking down from without on that page, it is the senses of the drivers and passengers which are paramount in successfully communicating this experience.
And, oh, the colours!
They may not actually set out in silence, but it's that lull-time part of the journey which we come in on. Gazing out of the car window as a child on such a long journey, we see exactly what we did or would now of Britain's countryside from a motorway: glimpses of grazing sheep between monumental overpasses or gigantic pylons overhead, their arms outstretched, perhaps a brief glimpse of oh no it's gone! When you're young (so reasonably unseasonably travelled) that which is mundane to adults all seems so much stranger, more exotic and even exciting.
You know, for the first few furlongs, at least.
Then there'll be rain. Of course there'll be rain! It's British Summertime and you're off on your holibobs! There'll be lashings more of that later, I'm sure! So there's the odd horse suffering in water-drenched silence and you look into the back seat of the family saloon and it's already cluttered with empty Haribo packets and a bottle of juice just lolling about, back and forth on the floor. The windscreen wipers reveal what they can rhythmically, then eventually there's drowsiness, sleep. Mum checks her rear-view mirror....
"Four more hours!?" the son bleated earlier. "Why're we going somewhere so far away?"
"Well, it's a great place! You guys will love it! ... It was my favourite place in the world when I was your age."
Ah, but so much more has changed in the two or three decades than it had when I were a lad. A mobile phone signal wasn't exactly a priority back then.
Their destination is a coastal caravan park. And, oh, the colours (reprise)!
How do you think they'll get on?
As the sun sets on their first night and the lights go on one by one, through like intimate orange heat sensors below the vast purple heavens, that too is rendered magnificently, with a majesty or melancholy, you take your pick.
The next morning Mum takes Suzie on An Expedition (capitals courtesy of 'Winnie The Pooh') because Andy's "being awkward". The boy's now just a little too old to be interested in a family holiday and wants to be left to his own devices.
"If we keep heading this way, we'll get to the Mermaid's Cave! That's what your Grandpa used to call it! He used to tell us about the mermaids who lived there... guarding the treasure. He said you could hear them singing at night. If you listened carefully."
Suzie's spotted a crab.
"This one's had its legs bitten off."
Way to ruin the romance! But the Mermaid's Cave, when they reach it, will surprise you and twice. It's priceless, really.
It's all very pertinent, poignant, bitter-sweet and of course some aspects of magic are, one prays, immutable and universal, like the sparkles of sun on wavering water when the sun lies so low in front of you.
Just the other day I sat staring at a long stretch of river, then lapping lakes, in precisely those dazzling conditions, absorbed by the sun falling full on my face while the cool blowing breeze set my spine off all tingling. McNaught's diamond-shaped spangles of light capture that very specific, sensual beauty to nothing short of a thrilling perfection. There are even whole sheets of white light when the brilliance of sun upon water becomes almost too much for the unshielded eye to bear, and we love it!
It is oh so familiar, all of this - an almost impossible task, you would have thought, given the different configurations of diverse family dynamics and destinations, but McNaught has improbably succeeded through an extraordinarily keen eye, judicious selection and an uncanny ability to render with exquisite precision what to most of us would be fleeting and ephemeral or at least not quite communicable - and I am desperately looking forward to comparing notes with as many of you as possible, page by page and perhaps over a glass of wine, to see which instances you recognise most as well.
This, for example:
Visiting an elderly Great Auntie whom you've never met, with their drab rooms and fuddy-duddy old ornaments; your Mum and her Aunt chatting away about people you've no clue nor a care about. You're left to look around the room, idly. Ah, but a tin of biscuits will be opened to go with the tea!
"There we go... There might be some chocolate ones in there... if you dig down deep enough."
Over and over again, McNaught nails it. These are my memories. Only with more moths and spiders, and I don't I ever recall seeing the ramshackle roof of an ancient local museum glass cabinet, with its stray wires etc.
That it's a single mum makes for a particular dynamic which is really quite sad, for there's no sharing of the onus to keep the kids constantly entertained, but nevertheless it all rings so very true.
"Suzie, don't waste your fries."
She is. She's flinging them at the crows. But don't you just love the way that kids are so very contrary that they will blatantly lie to your face?
"Stop kicking my chair!"
It's the back of Suzie's big brother's passenger seat.
What do you think Andy's been up to?
Few creators pack the page with as many panels as this (Chris Ware, quite often, within the likes of BUILDING STORIES) but then there's so much to see when you do have the time to stop and look around you, or when times stops to pass so seemingly slowly when you're very young. Nature is forever getting on with its own thing, whatever you're doing or not.
There are also some spectacular full-page phenomena which I won't give away here for fear of ruining your surprise. But you mark my words: you'll remember it all.
You'll remember the rain, especially. It's a staple of every British holiday, holed up in a tent, caravan or rented cottage and - once on the road, decisively - cramped in the confines of car, having beaten a hasty retreat from a harbour or seafront to eat your boiled eggs while staring out of the increasingly steamed-up windows.
And this will be remembered forever, as an all-time British classic.
Jon McNaught has exceptional award-winning form already, but at the time of typing all his other graphic novels - like Andi Watson's and Nabiel Kanan's mainstream British fiction - languish sadly out of print. Here's hoping that this is the book which will catalyse a mass resurrection so that we can proudly create an entire Jon McNaught counter-corner display!