In Waves by A J Dungo
First of all I need to make a confession. I have never surfed in my life. The freezing North Sea might produce some good waves but only the very bold with very good wetsuits brave the surf here. Hypothermia would be the probable result of any attempts on my part to catch some green room action in the Firth of Forth.
That has been no obstacle to partaking of surfing culture of course. The movies…Blue Wednesday, Rio Breaks (never seen Point Break though). The music…Wipe Out, Surfing Safari, Miserlou and the wonderful Surfing Magazines by The Go-Betweens of course. Comics? Not so much. Probably the closest I have come would be the Californian punk tales of Jaime Hernandez in Love and Rockets. But even there the skate and surf lifestyle was only glimpsed.
So I stuck on a few surf tunes and dived into In Waves. The first thing that strikes you about this book is how beautiful it is. NoBrow have done a commendable job of production. The turquoise toned cover with silver lettering (and surfer) is striking.
AJ Dungo says he is not much of a surfer either “I’m just an overzealous tourist” but then this book is not just about the act of surfing. It is also about nature, life and loss. The author moves between tales of the history of surfing looking at surfing’s development and place in the culture of indigenous Hawaiians. He looks at some of the pioneers of the sport like Duke Kahanamoku and Tom Blake.
Duke represented the blissful nature of surfing. Tom personified the idea that surfing could provide comfort to those who felt broken. An idea that has consumed me.AJ Dungo
The other, and central, strand of In Waves is the story of Kirsten. Kirsten was AJ’s girlfriend and we learn the story of their relationship as they both grow up. We also learn of Kirsten’s struggle with cancer. A keen surfer, Kirsten finds solace in the waves for as long as she is physically able to do so. In this communion with the majesty of the ocean, Kirsten and AJ are able to transcend the everyday, to forget suffering and find common meaning and joy. The ocean plays an almost mythical role offering amnesty from death itself.
“She wanted to surf again but then she got sick. When she lost her leg, she reassessed her limitations. she knew she couldn’t play ball anymore but she knew she could surf again. That was her goal to get back into the water”.AJ Dungo
The art of In Waves is wonderful. Clear-line style figures and oceans that seem to come from Japanese woodblock prints. The name of Jamie Hernandez comes to mind again, with excellent portrayal of figures, movement and expressions.
The tales of the history of surfing are drenched in sepia whilst the story of Kirsten and the ocean has a turquoise green palette – green for the ocean but also green for the hospital gown.
In the end, Poseidon’s promises prove to be empty and when Kirsten is gone AJ is left alone on the water.
“It comes in waves. It’s a brief but honest answer. The emptiness is constant. But grief has no recognizable pattern. It just comes and goes.”AJ Dungo
In Waves is the kind of book you want everyone to read, you want to give it to your friends but you also want to have it close to hand. Quite something.