By Jon McNaught
Sort of took this in the wrong order. Pebble Island was Mcnaught’s follow up to Birchfield Close but I read it first (and rather fell in love with McNaught’s style and mood) and only now have I found my way onto Birchfield Close.
Again, as with Pebble Island, it’s a boutique thing, miniature hardcover art object more than graphic novel with narrative and story structure. But, just as with Pebble Island, this is never a problem. Birchfield Close entrances…… and does so more immediately and effectively than Pebble Island.
It’s set through a nondescript surburban estate, all the identical houses, with their identical roofs, identical back yards with their identical fences. And it immediately put me in mind of Ray Davies and my favourite Kinks song – Shangri-La:
“And all the houses in the street have got a name
‘Cos all the houses in the street they look the same
Same chimney pots, same little cars, same window panes”
In so many ways that Ray Davies song, a song that fills me with happiness from it’s exhultant, joyous, perfectly observed reflection of everyday life acts on me in much the same way that McNaught’s work here does. Granted, it’s neither showy or exhuberant the way The Kinks song is, but the emotions are the same – that celebration of the everyday, the emphasis of the magic of the mundane.
The houses may stretch as far as the eye can see, but do they stretch as far as the imaginations of the inhabitants?
In Birchfield Place McNaught goes some way to taking us into the imaginations of those living such a mundane existence – and illustrates all of the little moments of wonder that we could all see pass us by, if only we stopped and looked for long enough.
So we sit, with two bored surburban teens, atop a roof, and observe the intricacies of life through the best part of a day. The sunbathers, the flocks of birds wheeling and swooping about us, televisual affairs, a random bike accident, animals at play, lawnmowing, planes flying, the old game of finding shapes in the clouds – it’s all here, all visible from the roof.
It was there all along, we just never stopped this long to let it happen around us.
The art immediately evokes Chris Ware, both in his minimalist figures and detail and his delicate matt palette of pinks, blues, black and white.
But Ware’s work is far darker, concerned with paranoia and despair. McNaught’s is far more hopeful, more celebratory. There’s so many moments in Birchfield Place when I had to stop, just to absorb properly what I was experiencing. It’s that sort of comic.
The pace of the piece, coupled with it’s near silence (sure, there are occasional snatches of noise, but they’re incidental rather than narrative) makes the mind work, and we fill in the spaces between pages, between and within panels, submitting our own soundtrack to it all.
The whole thing drifts, we flow along with it, passengers. And McNaught allows our imagination to take flight, sometimes showing us the way (as with the trip to the Arctic onboard the air balloon above), more often just letting us choose our own course.
Birchfield Close is comics as a theme, a mood, poetry comics perhaps. Evoking so much, saying little on the surface, yet what the reader takes away is a profound sense of wonder. Beautiful.