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In Waves

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AJ Dungo


Page 45 Review by Jonathan

Well, prepare to have your tears come crashing down your cheeks like Patrick Swayze falling off that big wave at the end of 'Point Break'...

I nearly added dude, but that seems a bit insensitive given that this work joins the disparate canon of material that has caused me to cry on public bloody transport!! Fortunately it was a sunny day so I had my shades to hide my reddening salty eyes from my fellow i4 bus travellers...

Here's the publisher to give you some idea of what is about to come crashing down all over your head, emotionally speaking, whilst I attempt to compose myself...

"A tale of love, heartbreak and surfing from an important new voice in comics. IN WAVES is Craig Thompson's BLANKETS meets Barbarian Days*. In this visually arresting graphic novel, surfer and illustrator AJ Dungo remembers his late partner Kristen, her battle with cancer, and their shared love of surfing that brought them strength throughout their time together.

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 non-fiction that is as moving as it is fascinating."

* In case you are wondering by the way Barbarian Days is an acclaimed prose memoir by William Finnegan about his love of surfing (you can read a review on the Guardian website here).

I concur completely with that final phrase! I found myself absolutely gripped like a soon-to-be arterial spraying stump of a leg between a Great White's jaws with AJ Dungo's history of modern surfing featuring the life stories of such luminaries as Duke Kahanamoku, a Hawaiian native regarded as the father of surfing (who also managed to find time to win five Olympic medals for swimming) and Tom Blake who revolutionised board design creating the template for the boards still used today. The endpapers, cast in a sepia tone akin to old photographs, are a lovely tribute to this duo of surf deities.

In fact, I learnt that the sport had its roots as a way of life for all Hawaiians, young and old alike, before the Kingdom of Hawaii was overthrown (becoming a republic for a few years before being finally annexed by the United States) and the influx of non-natives began to drive the vast majority of the indigenous population out the very waters which they had always regarded as part of their cultural heritage.

I found the sections regarding surfing exceptionally engrossing and it did almost make me reconsider having another attempt at learning to surf after a near death experience on my first (and only) attempt in Newquay many years ago. In fairness to the shop owner who had rented me and my friend the boards and wetsuits on a particularly blustery day when the waves were regularly hitting a good six feet, we had neglected to tell him the key piece of information that we had never surfed before.

After we returned totally exhausted, completely bedraggled and having been utterly unable to stand up for even a millisecond, he excitedly asked if we'd had a good time, assuming we'd been loving the big waves. When we belatedly confessed our inexperience he laughed his head off and explained he'd given us the sleekest, fastest boards he had and then went in the back to produce what looked like two enormous perfectly rectangular polystyrene floats that might be used to save someone from drowning. Errr... in fact, that's exactly what they were! But we were far too knackered to have another go... Maybe one day...

Anyway... the joyful, exuberant sections on surfing are in stark contrast to the tragic story of AJ's girlfriend Kristen. Yes, there is certainly joy, and much inspiration, to be found in the way she valiantly battled against her terminal cancer for as long as she possibly could, including going surfing with him and her brother despite having had to have to her leg amputated as a teenager, but ultimately this is also the desperately tragic story of her untimely passing and how profoundly it affected AJ and her family.

Artistically it will not surprise you to learn that AJ has gone for the many greens and blues of the ocean itself for his colour palette alongside some lovely clean linework. His style is perfectly in keeping with the serene nature of his storytelling. I would defy anyone to read this and not be moved like a bobbing surfer sat atop his board awaiting the next big swell.

In fact once we arrive at the conclusion of this work, where the precise nature of the title becomes apparent and AJ allows Kristen have the simply the most perfect last word possible, I was practically surfing a sea of my own tears off the bus...