Review: In Waves (Nobrow Press)

Beneath the fairly unassuming cover of Nobrow’s new graphic novel In Waves, is a poignant and heart breaking tale of love and loss that is interspersed with a history of surfing. All of which creates a fascinating mix of stories that are brought together by the unifying power of the ocean.

Publisher: Nobrow
Writer: AJ Dungo
Artist: AJ Dungo
Price: £16.99 from

In Waves is a joint love letter to AJ Dungo’s two passions – his late girlfriend Kristen and his love for surfing. It’s hard to know if this is a personal reflection intertwined with stories about surfing or a a book about surfing which is interlaced with highly personal stories. In a lot of ways it reminded us of Kat Chapman’s Follow Me In in the way that the personal moments and the more objective factual stories are so intertwined that you cannot separate them and it would be a lesser book without either element.

In Waves begins with a look at the history of surfing in Hawaii and Polynesia, before moving forward in time and location to introduce us to AJ’s girlfriend Kristen. She is in the latter stages of cancer treatment and it is surfing which was her one true love and what brought her and AJ together. As they attempt to help her to surf one more time you notice that her leg is now a prosthetic and as the book develops you begin to learn more a bout her plight, as well as more about how her and AJ’s relationship developed. As this happens, we also learn about the history of surfing from those early days on islands that were not inhabited by white men, through to more present day stories looking at surf pioneers like Duke Kahanamoku and Tom Blake.

Without wanting to diminsh the emotional heart of the book, illustration is clearly creator AJ’s third love and as such he has produced a beautiful and sumptuous book that give everthing a dream like feeling of nostalgia and affection. AJ has an art style that reminded us of Jon McNaught’s Kingdom with the lush use of colours and it’s almost litho printed approach to building images – in particular the water – makes feels both highly stylised and so fluid that it almost feels alive.

AJ does a fantastic job of using greens and blues for the present day pages and a warm sepia tone for the historical pages which creates a sumptuous contrast between the two worlds. With the historical pages having a very accurate style reminiscent of a book like Robert Moses, when it comes to the more modern day pages we found ourselves reminded of Tillie Walden, with the expressive, albeit vey subtle facial expressions and the sublime mix of reality and otherworldly elements, that in this case are represented by the water, not space cathedrals!

In Waves is one of those books which may be a difficult sell, but one which will not disappoint those who pick it up. Although the surfing history might appeal to boarders it is about more than that. And while the story of a tragic love tale told in intimate slice of life moments might appeal to the comics crowd, the surfing element gives it that added element of originality.

However it is more than just a surfing book and we hope people aren’t put off by its choice of main subject matter. Although it is an intrinsic part of the story, it is not the be all and endd all. Dungo’s story is told without being ‘too cool for school’ and wallowing in surfer chic. Instead, what you get is a genuinely informative and insightful look at a sub culture interspersed with poignant and heartfelt tributes to someone the artist clearly cherishes very much. All of which makes In Waves a really compelling and emotive read that you can’t help but get submerged into.