Created by AJ Dungo.
Released 4/6/19 - Published by Nobrow.
376 pages - £16.99/$18.95.
The Story - ‘In this visually arresting graphic novel, surfer and illustrator AJ Dungo remembers his late partner and the shared love of surfing that endured throughout their time together.
Dungo explores the beauty and complexity of the author's relationship with his partner as they face her prolonged battle with cancer. With his passion for surfing uniting many narratives, he intertwines his own story with those of some of the great heroes of surf in a rare work of nonfiction that is as moving as it is fascinating.’
The Review - This is a book that isn’t so much in two parts but does manage to instinctually and intelligently interweave two narrative styles. The history of surfing rides the rails alongside a very personal story of young love and loss. Both lines of story are true accounts but are approached differently. The autobiographical element is easily one of the most touchingly communicated stories I have read in many years. It’s quite an accomplishment, especially for a creator so young.
The art has a clean and often iconically executed style but never caught me as sterilised or cold as some modern graphic novels seem to often. It’s never brash or complicated but conveys with a two colour approach with exactly what you need to see. It’s a book of many, many pages but never seems like a chore or a ‘long read’. It’s testament to the artist that at no point did I find views of surfing or beaches and California piers in any way tedious. The waves themselves are rendered in a variety of experimental ways that I found entrancing. You often watch the drama from a distance looking out to sea or back to the shore, this is a marvellous effect in emotional resonance for that sense of longing and loneliness. I’ve put a tick in the impressed column! I read it in two sittings and it would have been one solid session but I felt the need to walk away for a time and ruminate on what I was experiencing.
If I had one small niggle it would be that I found the ‘personal’ side of the story the more interesting of the two strands and would absolutely loved to have seen much more. Learning about the history and characters involved in surfing was interesting but I’m a sucker for the autobiographical.
‘His legacy began on the shoulders of a giant.’
In fact the sea and the surf are only part of what is going on here in both sections. What really gets you is the romance that is at it’s emotional centre. A perfectly captured awkward encounter at a school disco is followed by nervous contact, text messages and finally a kiss stolen in an all too brief moment. It’s these selected moments from the memory of a relationship that make this book so special in my opinion.
‘The headlights tore us apart.
Her parents were home.
And I was left in the dark.
With only the rain for company.’
The history of surfing is also told at a pretty great pace with a love for the sport and parallels thematically the story about love, loneliness and loss. The two parts begin as larger chapter sections that are delineated with a colour palette change. But as you progress through the stories the palette remains the same but the narratives reflect each other in very clever styles and shorter bursts. Whilst the history is told chronologically the story of the tragically unfolding relationship skips to and fro through timelines.
It’s not to say that this is just a heart jerker of a story (no spoilers) because you actually get to learn a thing or two about surfing and surfers, as I did, that you may not have previously realised;
‘Beach boys were part surfer, part tour guide, part entertainer and art escort.’
Being out amongst the waves on your board is spoken about with great passion and occasional injections of wit and warmth. The creator AJ shows an affinity with what he writes and draws and you begin to understand the allure of being out there all alone. The sea and your board becomes a home, a challenge and a way of life. This we see in the rise and the fall of love and it’s pursuit. You feel the actual cold rush of the waves and also allow the motions of these surfers to clarify moments of love and loss. The lives of those chasing the thrill are opened up and shown to us without anything being hidden. The time jumps and the emotional beats become a jigsaw for the reader to enjoy putting together.
Like all good fiction this is a book that you can escape into. It affected me and just for that moment as I read it and for a time afterwards I was there living alongside it’s characters. When a story has depth and palpable art you do indeed inhabit it and it surrounds you as you observe it’s world. I hope that I never lose that feeling and this book only went to reinforce my love for the medium of comics.
‘Life is short, AJ. You better enjoy.’
And remember that emotions and feelings of all kinds....
‘Come in Waves.’
You can find AJ Dungo on Instagram @agedungs and follow the links to find out more about this creator.
Head over to https://nobrow.net to reserve a copy and follow them on twitter @NobrowPress
PS If this book doesn’t have you crying like a baby you may want to check for a pulse!
Many thanks for reading.
Here’s a little about the creator from his website;
AJ Dungo is an illustrator from Los Angeles. He attended ArtCenter College of Design. He has worked with great people at Nike, Nobrow, The New York Times, Esquire, Narratively, Vissla, Skechers, etc. His work has been recognized by American Illustration, Society of Illustrators, and AD&D.
You can find him surfing shorebreak or loitering in an empty parking lot or at firstname.lastname@example.org.