Wednesday, December 12, 2012

The Beauty of Decay: Dockwood

Jon McNaught's design-heavy comics that employ simply-drawn characters and an extensive use of a beautiful but muted palette certainly brings Chris Ware to mind as an obvious comparison. However, I'd argue that their surface similarities are less important than the fact that they both share a dark sense of humor that's not afraid to be broad in unlikely situations. Both also have an eye for nature's beauty as an almost heart-breakingly sad phenomenon at times, in the way that beautiful things can be almost painful to watch. McNaught's Dockwood is explicitly about the season of autumn: the season of beautiful decay. It's a slow process of fading beauty, moving day by day until the leaves have fallen off the trees.

McNaught's book is all about process, slow movement and decay. The ways in which people deal with this as opposed to animals is carefully highlighted. At the start of the book, McNaught makes fun of the way he knows he's going to manipulate the reader by starting the day with a driver stopping in front of a billboard that has a beautiful woman on it that says "Summer Deals", and literally papering it over with an image that says "Autumn Bargains". Capitalism and advertising cease for no season, but I loved how McNaught literally plops a big sign that says "Autumn" into his narrative as a way of introducing his narrative.

The first story, "Elmview", follows the day of a kitchen porter at an nursing home. His day is based on ritual, timing and methodical execution of his tasks while trying to distract himself from his day through radio or TV (either or both are on throughout the book signifying that sense of trying to escape from the moment). That distraction i made clear by McNaught in how he alternates his panels between a commercial and a very brief conversation. A nursing home is an obvious setting for a story about decay, but McNaught distinguishes himself by depicting how each of the residents faces mortality in a different way: resigned and happy, constantly angry, deafly oblivious while puffing away on a cigarette. It's not a coincidence that the angry man yells at the cacophonous starlings outside his window as they prepare to migrate for the season; their departure is another sign that a season is ending. Eating is another frequently used motif, especially comparing how the people eat to how the animals find their own sustenance. McNaught loves to draw out small movements that are not significant to the plot but are relevant to his themes, but avoids getting bogged down by cramming as many as 30 panels on a page.

The second story, "Sunset Ridge", feels a teenage boy going about his evening paper route starting after school. Chronologically, it picks up where "Elmview" leaves off, as the boy is obviously an outsider with most of his peers, with the exception of a geeky chatterbox who soon leaves him to his route. The boy is unnerved when a woman appears at her door when he delivers her paper and gives him candy. It's not until he gets back home that the story's theme becomes evident: it's about the steady erosion of his childhood. Violent sequences from the video game he's borrowed from his friend are cut with  objects from his room, things that show he's very much still a boy even if his childhood is slowly fading away. There's a hilarious sequence at the end of this story where his video game character stops to admire the sunset in the game after a mission and watch the birds. Of course, the birds turnout to have fangs and there's little time for his character to waste, as the computer reminds him. It's a funny way of driving home those points about autumn's inevitability in an artificial environment. This is McNaught's first major release, and he certainly lives up to his considerable potential. Unsurprisingly, the production values from NoBroware first-rate, and McNaught's obviously dry sense of humor punctuates his beautiful, methodical storytelling.

No comments:

Post a Comment