What a year it’s been… from Darwin to DeadEndia and from SKIP to Stig & Tilde, we’ve published some absolute gems during 2019. And whilst of course we can’t pick favourites, we have put together the following gift guide to help you choose that perfect comic.
If you’ve not read any DeadEndia before – well, you’re in for a treat. Written by Eisner award winner Hamish Steele, this series is exciting, emotional and peppered with laugh-out-loud jokes.
Set in the Pollywood theme park, we follow the staff who look after the haunted house attraction at the park’s centre. But the house is also a portal to hell, with the elevator able to reach the thirteen planes, home to demons, spirits and other supernatural denizens. Cue a series of adventures filled with brilliant characters, awesome set pieces and a fantastic ‘series-wide’ arc. These books are part Clerks, part Buffy the Vampire Slayer, part love story, part horror and all entirely their own thing. Buy the first book, The Watcher’s Test, fall in love, buy book two. You’ll be glad you did.
A travel journey with a difference. Luke Healy is unhealthy, unprepared, and undaunted when he undertakes the challenge of travelling the Pacific Crest Trail, the gruelling 2660 mile hike from the border of Mexico through the USA, up to the border of Canada. A mix of long text and short snappy comic strips, we follow Luke every step of the way, through deserts and snow, facing forest fires and mountain lion encounters and a single hard decision. Luke examines the landscape, the nation, himself, his art and everything in between as he travels up the West Coast meeting a host of bigger than life characters on the way.
Do we describe this book as a visual journey or a visual feast? Because it really is both!
From the peaceful lake of the opening scene to the psychedelic sunset of the closing image, the story of Bloom and their alter-dimension counterpart Gloopy is a glorious stream of arresting artwork as artist Molly Mendoza whisks them through a dazzling array of different worlds. From weeping giants to alligator islands to 2D landscapes, Molly’s imagination runs riot and takes the reader with her while the central relationship between Bloom and Gloopy grows in a great coming-of-age tale.
This visually arresting graphic novel following the author as he and his partner navigate her battle with cancer is both heartbreaking and life-affirming in equal measure. A raw, honest look at the grieving process, it sugarcoats nothing as the author uses surfing as both a temporary reprieve and a way of reminiscing about the life he once shared and the life he now has. The artwork is sparse, stunning and boldly effective and complements the story beautifully. In Waves is a literary and illustrative masterpiece of a book and whoever you give it to for Christmas will thank you.
Whether you know your Russian folktales or not, you need these books in your life. This gorgeous series reaches new heights as the Merchant’s Son’s adventure goes from bad to worse as he continues on his quest to gain his freedom. The art is bold, the twists are brutal, the journey is epic! If you thought European folklore was harsh, then Russian is about to teach you a lesson.
If you read Fabien and Jeremie’s last book, Audubon: On the Wings of the World, you’ll already know the brilliance the pair bring to combining both intimate and historical detail. Brilliantly highlighting the huge achievements their subjects have made in our understanding of the natural world, while focussing on only smaller parts of their lives, these books are the perfect balance between the mundane and the divine of these incredible men. Shifting their sights to Charles Darwin, they focus their (and our) attention to the beginning of Charles’ voyage, allowing us to see the very seeds of his revolutionary theory begin to germinate as he wonders at the majesty of nature that his voyage presents.
A love letter to science, to nature and to understanding, this is both a beautiful book to own and to see – you don’t just read it, you inhale it.
Getting a gift for the little ones in your life can be a hard task, especially with all the choice out there! To help you pick the perfect picture book we’ve collected together some of our 2019 titles for you to peruse, whether your young one is looking for their very first book or just another special one to add to their library.
It’s a lucky child who finds this gorgeous picture book under the tree, this Christmas. Joe Todd-Stanton, winner of the Waterstones Prize for Best Illustrated Book has turned his sights to picture books this year, delivering with this brilliant tale of unlikely friendship, tolerance and altruism. When introverted mouse Julian finds a fox with its head stuck in his house (“‘I was simply popping in to see if you were ok,’ the fox lied”) he soon discovers that talking with people might not be so bad after all and that friends can come from the most unlikely of places.
The illustrations are to die for and the story has some laugh out loud moments (and one point that’s oh so fun to read aloud), this is going to be the perfect gift for everyone involved.
Professor Astro Cat and his team take readers on a new journey through space helping the biggest ideas seem small enough for young people to understand. They’ll learn how long it takes to walk a light year. Just what is a star? How big is a galaxy? And more and more and more. You might even learn a few things yourself.
Now couple that with the extraordinary vibrant retro artwork and you have a picture book gift that’s worth more than the stars.
And now the toddlers can get in on the action too! These gorgeous little board books pack the brilliance of the Professor Astro Cat series into an even smaller package. Super simple, super colourful, now the littles can start to learn about rockets and rovers, life on other planets, bio-domes and wormholes. It’s never too early to start dreaming about a life in the big black.
But we’re not just inspiring the future astronauts this season. We’re kick-starting the musicians too!
For music lovers of all ages, Orchestra makes a perfect first comprehensive guide on musical theory. Starting with a simple history of the orchestra, it sweeps through the different sections of an orchestral arrangement from string to woodwind to percussion. Then we visit some of the world’s most famous venues and the composers who have inspired generations from Vivaldi to Duke Ellington. Then it roars into a crescendo, leaving the music halls behind to talk about opera, theatre, cinema, myth and legend. The art is glorious, the content more so. Just buy it already and thank us later.
It’s that festive time of year again! 🎄And because we know that that finding the perfect gift for the ravenous readers in your life can be hard, we’ve put together a list of the very best books for any readers aged 7 and up.
And if something here tickles your fancy, don’t forget we’re currently offering a Christmas discount of 20% off your entire order at Nobrow.net or FlyingEyeBooks.com – just enter the code XMAS20 at checkout. This code will expire on December 20th, so better get shopping!
If your young reader hasn’t discovered Hilda yet, then your present-buying worries are over!
Available as graphic novels (more pictures than words) or illustrated fiction (more words than pictures), Hilda and her adventures have inspired dolls, merchandise and even a BAFTA-winning cartoon on Netflix.
Smart, headstrong, kind and curious, Hilda lives in the fictional town of Trolberg but loves heading into the wilderness where she has so many cool adventures with grumpy trolls, persnickety elves, lovelorn giants, nightmarish Marras and lost house spirits.
Fun, exciting and total page-turners, there are already six books in the series, so plenty for a young reader to get their teeth into. But if you only want to buy one, then go for the first one, Hilda and the Troll (for the comics) or Hilda and the Hidden People (for the illustrated fiction).
If you think your child is too grown-up for a book on unicorns, think again!
This amazing book is great for older readers – a study on unicorns as detailed as any text book. This book looks at the evolution, life cycle, diets, magical properties and anatomy of the unicorn, from the species to be found in the North, to those from the unforgiving deserts on the equator. Written by ‘Professor Temisa Seraphini’ it’s a brilliant way to learn about zoology and conservation and the artwork is completely gorgeous. Perfect for fans of nature and fantasy, with something for both.
If you’re looking for tales of mischief, adventure and fun then look no further than Akissi. Set in an African village, Akissi gets up to all sorts of shenanigans and scrapes from neighbourhood cats trying to steal her fish, pestering her older brother, starting a new term at school, tackling scary teachers and dealing with school bullies. Following in the footsteps of childhood classics like Just William, Dennis the Menace and Minnie the Minx, Akissi is the perfect embodiment of spirited children everywhere.
Each book is three volumes combined, packed with adventures told in bold colourful comic strips packed with detail and excitement. These are a must-have for the little monster in your life.
How many of the Seven Wonders of the World can you name? With Ancient Wonders you’ll never wonder again. The big double pages with a large illustration of each wonder is absolutely stunning, getting across the true majesty of these incredible constructions. Those alone make this book an ideal gift, but when you see the wealth of knowledge too. Readers will be able to find out how each wonder was built, the myths, gods and rituals that inspired their construction and what happened to them after in simple, exciting language. This is an eye-poppingly gorgeous book and we highly recommend it.
In this mesmerising follow-up to Nightlights, Lorena Alvarez explores our relationship with nature and animals, all in her stunning illustrative style.
On a school field trip to the river, Sandy wanders away from her classmates and discovers an empty turtle shell. Peeking through the dark hole, she suddenly finds herself within a magical new dimension. Filled with sculptures, paintings and books, the turtle’s shell is a museum of the natural world. But one painting is incomplete, and the turtle needs Sandy’s help to finish it…
This title can be read as a sequel to Nightlights or as a stand alone comic.
In his new addition to his Brownstone Collection, we head to China where our heroine Kai, looking for more excitement in her life, seeks out the mischievous and rebellious monkey king. But does he bring her what she craves or something more dangerous? Inspired by Chinese myths and history this book is fun, educational and a delight for all the senses.
Don’t miss the takeover weekend we’ve got planned with OKIDO magazine on Saturday 30th November and Sunday 1st December at their HQ in London’s Kings Mall Shopping Centre in Hammersmith!
Over the course of the weekend we’ll be selling books at exclusive discount prices at our pop-up shop, and be running some amazing FREE drop in workshops, led by four of our incredible illustrators.
All workshops are run on a drop-in basis throughout the two hour session, so come by anytime! Check out the full details here…
Saturday 30th November
10am – 12pm : Abstract Animals with Owen Davey Owen will how you how to use shapes to draw whatever you can imagine! This fun, drop-in workshop will help you to draw animals both big and small with the creator of the acclaimed Mad About Monkeys and Fanatical About Frogs. Suitable for ages 6+
2pm to 4pm : Alien Activity with Ben Newman Could there be life on another planet? Join award winning illustrator Ben Newman and Professor Astro Cat for a gravity-defying drawing workshop. Get creative with some space-factoids and design your very own alien. Suitable for ages 5+
Sunday 1st December
10am – 12pm : Sleepy Mobiles with Eleanor Hardiman From the illustrator of the viral sensation The Sleepy Pebble, Eleanor Hardiman, this relaxing workshop will show you how to create a gorgeous hanging mobile from collaged and found elements. Suitable for ages 6+
2pm – 4pm : Paper Penguin Pals with Ella Bailey Join the creator of the best-selling One Day on our Blue Planet series in creating your own penguin pal with collaged materials, just in time for the cold weather to blow in! All materials provided. Suitable for ages 5+
You’ll be able to find us at the OKIDO shop space inside the Kings Mall Shopping Centre in Hammersmith in London, where our own pop-up shop will be running from 9.30am to 6pm on Saturday and 10am to 5.30pm on Sunday.
We’ll also have free activity worksheets and a colouring in station running all day for the whole weekend, so whether you’re looking for some wonderful workshops to keep you busy during these cold winter days, or just want to get a head start on your Christmas shopping. pop by anytime for some Flying Eye fun!
We sat down with award winning illustrator David Doran, who we recently had the delight of working with on Orchestra, a beautiful large format book which is the perfect introduction for budding musicians and those with a passion for the orchestra.
From atmospheric film soundtracks to exhilarating live performances, the dazzling sound of the orchestra is unmistakable. Within Orchestra you can meet the performers who bring the music to life, the instruments that take centre stage and discover the beauty behind each and every note.
We picked David’s brains on everything from his own passion for music to how he puts together his elegant and inspiring illustrations. Read on below for more!
Whilst your drawings for the book are
very clean and digital, they also feel very vibrant and full of life. Do you
immediately draw onto a tablet or iPad, or do your illustrations start life in
My process has gradually become more digital
over the years, through working on projects and finding the most efficient ways
to work. Though, I always do my best to maintain the handmade quality…I love
seeing slightly wobbly lines and the artists hand in work!
Is this illustrative process the same
when working on editorial work as well as on books?
Editorial timings can involve such
quick turnarounds, sometimes a week, sometimes a matter of hours. I enjoy the
challenge of thinking fast, working up concepts and speeding towards a quick
With this book, I spent nearly 3.5yrs
with the idea, working with the team at Flying Eye, gradually developing the
concept and working hard to make the book the best book it can be.
Orchestra has a beautiful colour
palette full of complimentary peaches and blues, how did you come to settle on
the colour choices for the book?
l wanted the colours in this book to be striking, warm, engaging and joyful. I have very specific memories of certain books I had as a child, vivid colours and lines; I loved Orlando the Marmalade Cat the drawings were beautiful. I can picture my favourite spreads, and how the colours always stood out. With the more traditional printing process of these books being so clear to see, often using 3 or 4 main colours that overlap to create the full palette, I wanted to reference this directly in Orchestra, by using only 4 grounding colours in the palette myself. The difficult part was to find 4 colours that gave the book enough variety from each page to page.
The subjects of your illustrations
seem to always be lovely and varied, from landscapes to people, full colour
spreads to spot illustrations. You utilise this whole wide range of skills in
Orchestra – did you have a favourite part of the book to illustrate?
I think that the variation from page
to page is what makes a book so special to have. There’s a lovely transition as
you turn the page and the opportunity to show the variety and surprise the
reader with each turn is something that I wanted to make the most of.
My favourite part of the book was
illustrating all the different characters on each page and including small
details for readers to gradually find (birds stealing breadcrumbs, mice hiding
on stairwells…). As a child, I loved pouring over the details and I’m hoping children
can have the same experience of finding something new on each page with
And was there a most challenging
There’s a lot of detail and intricate
information in the book that needs to be shown correctly. The most challenging
part was creating and designing the layouts of each page that show the
information both accurately and also engagingly.
Some of the illustrations of
instruments are quite technical, how was this to work on?
Yes, there’s so much detail to
capture on the instruments, and it’s very important to get it right when
creating something educational. I had a lot of input from the team at Flying Eye
who checked all the details with a professional.
What’s your own relationship with
I love music! We have music playing
in the studio almost all day (with a few podcast exceptions). I’ll often listen
to Orchestral music when I’m reading briefs or emailing, as I find it great to
concentrate too and often get a little distracted from reading when there is
And finally, do you have any advice
for any new illustrators who are interested in book illustration?
Enjoy what you’re making and find
ways to make it personal to you!
It’s been another busy month here at Nobrow HQ, and we’ve got yet more exciting events lined up for this November! Whether you’re US or UK based there’s a score of things for you to get in your diaries, so whack out your pen and notebook and take a look below…
AJ Dungo connects with the surfing community, in discussion with surfer and Fulbright scholar Jamie Brisick in Los Angeles
Jamie Brisick is a former professional surfer-turned-author, receiving a Fulbright fellowship in 2008. His recent piece “Surfing in the Age of the Omnipresent Camera” for The New Yorker is worth a read for anyone who enjoyed In Waves’ pensive reflections on life in the water.
Friday, October 11 — 7:30pm 18 N. Vermont Ave. Los Angeles, CA 90027
Luke Healy in the Big Apple! A conversation about Americana with cartoonist Malaka Gharib at the New York Public Library
Malaka is the global health and development editor at NPR, and the founder of the D.C. Art Book Fair, held annually at the National Museum of Women in the Arts in Washington, D.C. Check out The New York Times’ recent in-depth feature profile on Malaka, “How to Draw Yourself Out of a Creative Funk”!
Saturday, October 19 — 2:00pm 135 East 46th Street New York, NY 10017
Luke Healy in the Windy City! Cartooning workshop at Challengers Comics in Chicago
Monday, October 28 – 7:00pm 1845 N. Western Ave. Chicago, IL 60647
Nobrow at Comic Arts Brooklyn 2019!
Once again we’ll be tabling at Brooklyn’s premier independent comics festival on November 2, in the strange gymnasium of the Pratt Institute campus where this year you’ll be able to snag a copy of Hamish Steele’s new book DeadEndia: The Broken Halo for the very first time, ahead of its November 5 street date! We’ll also have our full bevy of brand new releases and back catalogue classics in tow, so stop by and say hullo. If you’ve never been before, CAB is a free annual show organized by Pratt and local indie comics staple Desert Island Comics to highlight the best of independent cartooning.
Saturday, November 2 – 11:00am to 7:00pm 200 Willoughby Ave. Brooklyn, NY 11205
Nobrow at Nottingham ComiCon
Nottingham ComiCon is set to be a very special one this year – we’ll have our whole set of shiny new releases with us, from AJ Dungo’s moving memoirIn Waves to the long awaited sixth instalment in the Hilda series, Hilda and the Mountain King.
Saturday, October 9 – 10am to 5pm Nottingham Conference Centre, Burton Street Nottingham, NG1 4BU
MCM Comic Con London
We’re delighted to be representing the very best of Nobrow and Flying Eye at MCM Comic Con in London this year. We’ll be there all weekend, hand selling our favourite titles and offering some exclusive MCM discounts.
Friday 25th to Sunday 27th October – 10am to 7pm Friday and Saturday, 10am to 5pm on Sunday ExCeL London Royal Victoria Dock, 1 Western Gateway Royal Docks, London E16 1XL
DeadEndia: The Broken Halo Launch at Gosh! Comics
More info to come on this one, but save the 1st November in your diaries! Hamish Steele is back with DeadEndia: The Broken Halo – the long awaited sequel to the first DeadEndia graphic novel. We’re planning a suitably spooky launch London institution Gosh! Comics, so keep an eye on this space…
Friday, November 1 Gosh! Comics 1 Berwick St, London W1F 0DR
“Everything, from the candid dialogue to the artwork, brings to life an adventure full of heart. [DeadEndia] is a celebration of diversity and love that transcends all the astrals levels” – Lorena Alvarez, creator of the Nightlights series
The Broken Halo (written and illustrated by cartoonist and all round wonder Hamish Steele) follows on from where DeadEndia: The Watcher’s Test finished off, but can also be read as a stand alone graphic novel if you fancy jumping straight in.
But as a short summary for any newcomers: war is brewing across the thirteen planes. And as always, haunted house attraction and portal to hell Dead End is right at the centre of it.
Recently reopened as a hotel, Dead End’s resident tour guide turned hotel manager Norma is determined to leave the ghosts of the past where they belong. But with her friendship with Barney up in the air, and angels and demons using the hotel as their literal wrestling ring, Norma soon finds that unwanted ghosts can appear at any moment, especially when they’re your own.
Read on for a short preview of The Broken Halo, and don’t forget to preorder your copy now if you like what you read!
A beautiful treasure trove of tales perfect for bedtime, The Sleepy Pebble and Other Stories is co-written by sleep specialist Professor Alice Gregory and children’s author Christy Kirkpatrick, who’ve incorporated mindfulness and other techniques into every chapter.
The book is fully illustrated throughout by Eleanor Hardiman, whose elegant watercolours truly bring this book to life. We sat down with Eleanor to get a closer look at her working process, and to get a behind-the-scenes look at her studio.
We’ll pass you over to Eleanor to tell you more…
Using analogue media is really important to me and my process, and that starts right from the sketch stage. My roughs always start with pencil sketches, I have one retractable super chubby pencil that I love drawing with, it means I can create more flowy shapes and spreads without getting caught up in detail.
The Sleepy Pebble and Other Bedtime stories took inspiration from old fairytale books in it’s layout and contains a huge mix of different elements, this was the biggest challenge for me! The book includes a set of patterns, spots, character’s, drop caps and single and double page spreads for each story. All my sketches start as little thumbnails and are then redrawn and finalised at book size to keep everything consistent. There were so many elements on the go I made tick-charts for each story to keep on top of all the artwork in its various stages. Seeing the rough sketches in the book layout for the first time was really exciting, it went from pages of various sketches into something book-like!
Each of the stories were so different and I paid attention to creating different environments with different plants and details for each one. I based the tree story on french lilly filled lakes, and the pig story took inspiration from the Vietnamese mountainous countryside.
Each of the 5 bedtime stories has a different limited colour palette, so my next step was to make detailed colour plans for each story and element, so that all the decisions are made before the final artwork stage. Watercolour is a very unforgiving medium so it’s saves so much time by planning everything out! I transfer the pencil sketches over to procreate for the iPad pro and plan the colours digitally. The iPad means I can try lots of different colour ways out quickly without painting each option. This process saves lots of time and makes me more adventurous with colour, although I had to be mindful about including colours that are as effective in paint as they are screen.
With a new book layout full of coloured roughs I was ready to start final artwork, my favourite part! I like to get really settled at my desk before painting, as I’ll be there for a while. I usually have a cup of tea and a good podcast on the go. On my desk I have the sketch, colour plan for reference, a mix of brushes, tissue paper, clean and dirty paint water, masking fluid and a scrap of paper for testing the colour and consistency of the paint. I work traditionally with watercolour, meaning I start by painting the lightest colours, and work my way to the darkest using a combination of washes and thicker paint for the darker details. Simple elements like the drop caps or characters are painted as one final image, however more complex spreads with lots of elements are painted in layers and compiled together on photoshop. This means there is less pressure to paint everything perfectly first time (phew!) and also means elements can be moved or changed individually if they need to. I worked on each story one at a time, this was to make sure they all looked consistent as mixing paint again is tricky, but this also meant I really got to delve into each one, I love each story for different reasons and having this variety was a great part of the project.
After scanning and combining the different layers of each image I start to edit the artwork digitally. This usually includes small tweaks like adding saturation or contrast to the paintings, cleaning up any marks and neatening any edges. Illustrating the cover of the book was so special as we got to include spot gloss and gold foiling (my favourite!), it also meant I got to revisit the underwater artwork and use all the squiggly coral patterns and speckled pebbles.
The Sleepy Pebble is out now in the UK, available on our website and in all best bookshops. The release date for the US and Canada is October 15th, and available from Penguin Random House.
We had a blast with Molly Mendoza and AJ Dungo at Small Press Expo in Maryland this past weekend, but that’s not all we’ve got in store this month for our U.S. East Coast fans!
Tomorrow we’ll be at Brooklyn Book Festivalin New York, with a kid-oriented table at Saturday’s “Children’s Day.” Swing by booth #18 from 10am to 4pm to check out our latest kids’ books like Hilda and the Mountain King, Stig & Tilde: Vanisher’s Island, and Kai and the Monkey King.
But our big highlight of the festival: Shackleton’s Journey and The Wolves of Currumpaw author William Grill is making a rare Stateside appearance at Brooklyn Book Fest! He’s signing at our booth from 11am to 1pm, so be sure to stop by and say hi.
Americana by Luke Healyis a unique book: part travelogue and part memoir it’s a work that effortlessly stitches together multiple narratives across time and place. The main story is more than compelling enough- Luke recounts his 147 day journey across the 2660 mile long Pacific Crest Trail (a staggeringly long hiking path that winds up from America’s desert border with Mexico to Canada’s mountainous one). However this journey is more than just a hike, it is the culmination of a lifelong obsession with the USA that Luke has never quite managed to shake. As he puts it himself:
“I’m driven by my hunger for the American experience. But also by the hope that if I gorge myself on it, I’ll become sick of the taste.”
We sat down with Luke to get a deeper insight into why he took on the PCT, and how the book’s concept has developed since he started planning for the trail.
How did you first hear about the PCT, and how long did it take you to prepare for it?
I first heard about the PCT in 2014, when I saw a trailer for the film adaptation of Wild by Cheryl Strayed. I saw it right before I had to move back to Ireland from the USA. I didn’t want to leave, and was in a huge funk. The first thing I did when I returned to Ireland was buy and read Wild. I was immediately obsessed, and decided that I would hike the PCT in 2016, leaving myself enough time to prepare, since I had never hiked, backpacked, or camped before. All told, I prepped for about 18 months.
This is a massive understatement, but the PCT looks really, really hard. You very honestly document the amount of times during the trip that you almost quit the trail. How do you feel not finishing the PCT would have affected you, if at all?
I don’t think I’d have the same kind of closure that I have now about my relationship with the USA. Every time I’d lived there before, I was forced to leave against my will, and it definitely left me feeling as though I had left things unfulfilled. Although my journey wasn’t without compromise (in the form of a few skipped sections), I feel as though when I walked out of the USA, I’d reached the end of something. Though at the time, all I wanted was to sleep indoors again.
What were the most difficult moments along the trail?
The hardest moment by far, was around mile 340 at Cajon Pass. I’d had a horrible few days, and was suffering from a depressive period. I was so unhappy, and exhausted, and was just plodding along. And I kept running out of water, multiple days in a row; which is obviously very dangerous when you’re isolated and tramping across a blisteringly hot desert. I had a realization, then, that I was engaging in “risky behaviour”, by not taking enough caution with my water supplies. A classic symptom of depression. I decided that if I wasn’t able to take care of myself, I shouldn’t be on the trail, and a few days later I got a ride to L.A. with the intention of quitting for good.
Also, the day I broke my leg along in the mountains was pretty bad. But I just kept taking ibuprofen and hiking on it, so the depression thing was probably worse, haha.
Do you also have any stand out good memories of your time there?
A lot! As hard as the trip was, it was one of the best experiences of my life. Oddly, a moment to really sticks out to me, which actually doesn’t feature in the book because I found it too difficult to communicate, happened right after I’d crossed the state border form California to Oregon, months into the journey. I was in Callaghan’s Lodge, who offered cheap food for hikers –and when you’re hiking the PCT, you are always starving– I was walking through their dining room, and made eye contact with another thruhiker, who was taking the first bite of a huge plate of spaghetti and meatballs. We both started laughing because we both knew how much joy she was getting from that bite, and in that moment we saw how absurd we both were. It felt amazing to be so connected to a complete stranger.
Despite that there seems to be a great deal of community feeling amongst the hikers you met and walked with, a unique kind of hiking culture. Have you kept in touch with any of the people you met along the way?
Yes, I’m still in touch with lots of them, via facebook. But I mostly still talk to the hikers from the group “Mile 55”, who I hiked about 400 miles of trail with. They’re some of the best people I’ve ever met, and I’m extremely grateful to call them my friends. I’m going to be seeing them for the first time since trail in October, and I can’t wait (please attend my US events while I’m there!).
I also have seen Justin and Jenny a few times, the hikers whose wedding I attended on trail. We’ve crossed paths in London, and I am very happy any time I get to see them.
There also seemed to be an impressive amount of support along the way for hikers, people who would offer up their outhouses etc for walkers to sleep in, and leave water caches in the desert near Mexico for them. Do you know anything more about these “trail angels”, or how many of them help maintain the trail?
No official numbers, but my guess would be hundreds. There are pillars of the community who open up their houses every year, but also the dozens of people any hiker meets at road crossings or trail junctions, with cold cans of soda, or hot fresh food ( a rare luxury on trail). Or just the trail angels who don’t even know that’s what they are, who pick you up hitchhiking, and invite you to shower or sleep at their place.
They keep the trail alive, and they’re some of the most generous, incredible people I’ve ever had the privilege to meet. And that’s not even mentioning all of the volunteers who head out and do work on the trail itself, clearing fallen trees, maintaining this massive engineering project that can sometimes look like a simple dirt path, but is unfathomably complicated to maintain over such an enormous distance.
If my walk across America jaded me to certain aspects of US culture, these people, were what reminded me of the other side of that coin.
The amount of detail and small recorded moments that you‘ve captured in Americana is incredible, it almost feels like watching a documentary at times rather than reading a comic. How did you keep a record along the way? Was it all notes, or did you have time to draw occasionally whilst there?
I took no notes, and made no drawings. While hiking, I never intended to write a book about the experience. I just wanted to do something for my own self. When I got home and decided that I did want to put something together, the memories were so visceral that I had no trouble recalling them, I think just because every day was so unusual and unlike anything I’d ever experienced before. Three years later, things have definitely faded a little, so for that reason, I’m very glad I took the time to write the most interesting parts down.
Could you also expand a little more about the process of making the book itself? Did you start it immediately after returning from the US? And are there many extra stories from the trail you ended up editing out?
I started working on it pretty much as soon as I got home to Ireland. I sat down and wrote an outline, as well as a detailed draft of the first hundred or so pages before pitching it to Nobrow. Then over the next 18 months I wrote a bunch of rough drafts of the book.
A lot of stuff got cut. It’s hard to condense five months into something digestible. In the end, I mostly cut stuff that felt like it was detouring too much from the momentum of the overall book. Even though the final book has something of a meandering quality, I still wanted everything to seem purposeful, and some stories were just too unrelated to fit in.
One of my favourite little anecdotes that got cut took place in the town of Mt. Shasta, a very hippy spiritualist kind of spot (it has more than ten crystal shops). While I was there, my bankcard got blocked for a suspicious transaction, and I had no way of contacting my bank because I couldn’t pay for an international call. In the end, I had to borrow $20 from another hiker, and look for a payphone and phone card. I searched all over town. In the end, I found a phone card, buried amongst “bigfoot is real” bumper stickers and “UFO Drivers licences” at a gas station. The gas station owner was surprised when I brought it up to check out and said “that’s probably been there since the ‘90s”. It still worked.
As you describe reaching the end of the PCT during Americana’s last few pages you say you “don’t feel changed. Not yet”. Now time has passed, do you feel the trail has changed you?
We’re all changing constantly, I think. Everything we experience, and every choice we make just influences the trajectory of that change. Without hiking the PCT, I wouldn’t be somehow preserved as the person I was before I hiked it. But I certainly wouldn’t be the same person I am now. Everything in my life is different because of hiking the PCT, and I’m very thankful for that.
The book is of course equally as much about your relationship with America as it is about the hike itself. Do you still feel as such a strong pull to it as you once did?
I don’t. I have many fond memories of my times living in the USA, but I have no desire to live there now. I love my American friends, and any time I can see them is an incredible privilege, but for now, I’ve lost interest in just about everything else the USA has to offer.
And lastly, have you continued hiking as a hobby, or would you take on a similarly large hike again?
I haven’t hiked at all since finishing the PCT, but I’d love to start up again. I spent a lot of this summer in Scotland, and the landscapes here have really reignited my interest in hiking and backpacking.
If funds ever allow, I’d also love to do another large thruhike. Maybe the Via Francigena, a foot path from Canterbury to Rome. Or the Te Araroa, a trial that runs the length of New Zealand. I have my eye on those.
Luke Healy is an Irish cartoonist currently based in London, England.
Americana (And The Act of Getting Over It.) can be purchased from FlyingEyeBooks.com in the UK, and PenguinRandomHouse.com in the US. It is also available in all best bookstores.
It’s September, and you know what that means… Pumpkin Spice Latte season! And also… Maryland’s very own Small Press Expo 🙌 SPX is now less than two weeks away, and boy have we got a stellar line up for you all this year.
SPX is one of our absolute favorite US shows and joining us this year are the acclaimed author-illustrators of Skip and In Waves, Molly Mendoza and AJ Dungo!
Nobrow will have a booth at tables W76-78—if you’ve been to SPX before it’s our usual haunt, the same location in the ballroom where we were the last couple of years.
On Saturday at 1:30pm Molly will be on the Blurring the Visual Lines in Fantasy Fiction panel in the White Flint Auditorium, where she’ll be in discussion with fellow Nobrow illustrator Anne Simon (Marx, Freud & Einstein: Heroes of the Mind), along with Yann Kebbi, Rune Ryberg, Ida Rørholm Davidsen, and moderator Alex Hoffman. Molly will also be signing at the Nobrow booth Saturday 3 to 5pm and Sunday 2 to 4pm!
On Sunday AJ is taking part in the Depicting Motion in Sports Comics panel at 4:30pm in the White Oak Room (not to be confused with the White Flint Auditorium… we know it’s confusing), where he’ll be talking sports with José Quintinar, Rob Ullman, and Ellen Lindner, moderated by SPX Executive Director Warren Bernard. AJ will also be signing at the Nobrow booth from 12 to 2pm Saturday and Sunday.
BUT WAIT! That’s not all! On top of our full line of books we’ll be selling at SPX, we’re pleased to be debuting four new titles at the festival this year:
In particular Kai and the Monkey King is a very exclusive opportunity for SPX-goers only, as its general US release date isn’t until the 22nd October 👀
If you’ve never been to Small Press Expo it’s the biggest indie comics festival in the United States, and is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year. We’ll be road tripping down to the show from our New York office, so keep an eye out on our social media channels for some juicy behind-the-scenes Nobrow content
So, see you in a couple weeks?
SPX takes place September 14thto 15that the Marriott North Bethesda Conference Center in Bethesda, Maryland
Released earlier this year to widespread acclaim, In Waves by AJ Dungo is a rare work of non-fiction that is as moving as it is fascinating. A dual narrative, AJ weaves together a history of the great heroes of surfing with the deeply personal story of his relationship with his late partner Kristen, and her prolonged battle with cancer.
We sat down and talked to AJ about the years he spent working on In Waves, and to get an insight into his working process.
How did you first decide you wanted to become an illustrator?
When I was in community college, I didn’t know what I wanted to do. I was just taking general courses. The only class I was taking that I really enjoyed was a printmaking class. During this time I stumbled across a book on illustrators that Juxtapoz published. I was just so enamored. I learned that it was a broad genre that covered all of the kinds of images that I really gravitated to.
The artist that really stood out to me from that book was James Jean. I started collecting his books and just fell deeper into this new genre I never knew had a name. His book of Fables covers was a revelation. It was so revelatory to me because he included process shots alongside finished pieces. My mind was blown that these intricate images started as scribbles. I dove deeper into his catalog and saw all the work he had for all kinds of clients. Because of him, I started to read more about illustration as a profession, and that’s when I decided that I wanted to become an illustrator.
In Waves is incredibly visually distinct, with the beautiful limited colour palette and the switch between the browns and oranges of the history of surfing, and the greens and blues of the autobiographical sections. At what point did you decide to format the book this way, both with the colour palettes and merged narratives?
Thank you for the kind words. The merged narrative had been an aspect of the book since it’s inception. It was the prompt that Sam, the CEO of Nobrow, gave me when we started this project together. On a study abroad trip with my school, I presented Nobrow with a project about surfing. When Sam approached me to make a book together, he referenced my surfing project and wanted to make a book about the history of surfing. Eventually he wanted a story with a more personal connection. So I told him about Kristen and how she introduced me to the sport.
That’s when he suggested I try and merge the two; the history of surfing alongside my personal history with surfing. A request that I thought was ridiculous at first because it seemed impossible but one that I’m so grateful for today.
In regards to the color, I had always known the book would be a limited palette due to the tight deadline. It was the practical choice since I had so little time to work on the book. Sam later insisted I add another color, some sort of spot color. That’s when I decided to use the color as a system of placing the reader in a certain narrative. This choice both fulfilled Sam’s request and added a layer of subtle organization to the storytelling.
How much does the final version of In Waves differ from your initial idea?
Not much. The only thing that I wanted that changed was the beginning of the book. In my mind I knew how the story would start and how the story would end and that was with the chapters “the kiss” and with “bushwick request.” I thought it was a powerful way to drop the reader into the thick of the story without much explanation. But a fantastic editor at Nobrow, Ayoola, suggested swapping the beginning out with the chapter that opens the story now, “last summer.” It made more sense, it brought all the elements of the book to the reader in a subtle way; Kristen, her illness, and our connection to surfing. In the end, I think it worked out for the best. Thanks Ayoola!
This book is clearly a complete labour of love, was it difficult to work on such personal subject matter so intensely?
When Sam asked me to make a book with him and Nobrow, it had only been 3 or four months since Kristen had passed away. It was very intense. I didn’t think I could do it. I didn’t think the timing was right. I had just started a full time job, I was doing freelance illustration on the side, and now I had to tell Kristen’s life story and the history of surfing within a few years. It was a Herculean task. Not only was it difficult emotionally but I think logistically it was pretty hard. I would work from 9 to 5 then stay at the office until 10 or 11 pm working on the book. My commute was over an hour long and there were many nights I fell asleep on the ride home. Also every weekend was spent working on the book. I became notorious for cancelling plans and being absent from events because I had to work on this book that meant so much to me. As hard as it was, it was worth it. It was a unique way for me to process my grief, I think the self induced isolation was good. This project allowed me to immortalize my best friend.
All of Kristen’s family and friends have clearly been amazingly supportive about the book’s publication, were they very involved in the making of the book?
Yes, they are incredible and I consider them my own family. Initially, they weren’t involved. I was so secretive about the whole project the entire time I was making it. I never showed anyone anything, it was important to me that everyone read the book in it’s finished state to absorb the story in its entirety, which I think is the only way it makes sense. After submitting a draft to Sam, he thought the chapter where I met Kristen for the first time was too clichè and would benefit from an outsider’s perspective. Which I thought was weird because it was exactly as I recalled. I had wanted to include Kristen’s family in some way and this was the perfect opportunity.
With a voice recorder ready, I interviewed Kristen’s mom, brother, and cousin. It was during the interview of Kristen’s cousin that his wife recounted a story that Kristen had shared with her. It was about how I met Kristen and it was told in a way that I had completely forgotten about. It was much less cliché and much more humiliating haha. I must have buried that one deep in my subconscious. It was so great having their input because it gave the story more depth and dimension. I love that their voices are a part of Kristen’s story because I’m just one aspect of her life. To have them included gives the reader insight into the depth of the love Kristen’s family had for her.
Are there any artists or illustrators who have influenced you and your work the most?
This question is always so hard to answer. There were artists that I had in heavy rotation during the writing of the book. Adrian Tomine, Jillian Tamaki, Craig Thompson, David Mazzucchelli, Connor Willumsen, Sam Alden, Chris Ware, Daniel Clowes, Olivier Schrauwen, Alison Bechdel, Katsuhiro Otomo, Yoshihiro Tatsumi. The author William Finnegan’s book “Barbarian Days” was a huge inspiration, he writes about surfing in such an intimate and transcendent way.
Are you working on any other long-term projects at the moment, or do you have anything in mind for the future?
Right now I’m just doing freelance illustration and weirdly enough I’m working part time assisting James Jean. In terms of long term projects, I’d love to make another book but I think I need to live a little before I start another one. It’s definitely always in the back of my mind though.
And very importantly, do you still get the chance to surf much?
I try to get out as often as I can. If anyone wants to paddle, hit me up!
AJ is based in Los Angeles, and In Waves is his debut graphic novel.
Copies are available from our site, or in your local best bookshop. American customers can also purchase In Waves from the Penguin Random House site.
We’ve got a bunch of Flying Eye titles available at your local library ready to be read as part of the challenge, from Professor Astro Cat to The Secret of Black Rock.
If you’ve not heard of it before, the Summer Reading Challenge takes place every year during the summer holidays. You can sign up at your local library, then read six library books of your choice to complete it.
And best thing is, it’s completely free!
To see if your local library is taking part head over to the SRC website here
We’re also giving away some special books to those who take part, just take a photo of a Flying Eye book one of your family have read as part of the challenge in your local library, and tag @FlyingEyeBooks on Twitter or Instagram.
And whether you’re a librarian, a care-giver, or a parent looking for some extra activities for your kids this summer, we’ve got you covered. As part of the programme we’re giving away these free Space Chase themed work and colouring in sheets, which you can see below
(For the large versions just email email@example.com with Summer Reading Challenge in the title)