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Talking In Waves with AJ Dungo

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 something of 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 three 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 Dungo 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. 


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Hilda and the Mountain King Launch Events

So as I’m sure all you Hilda Folk are aware, the sixth instalment in the award-winning Hilda comic book series by Luke Pearson is set to be released at the beginning of September!

(And if you haven’t ordered your copy yet, you can preorder directly from Nobrow.net and your book will be shipped up to two whole weeks early 👀)

To celebrate we’ve organised a series of signings and workshops with Luke, where you can meet Hilda’s creator himself and pick up your own copy of Hilda and the Mountain King

Friday 30th August: Forbidden Planet Signing

Join Luke at the Forbidden Planet London Megastore, where he’ll be signing and sketching away from 5pm to 7pm

See more info at the Facebook event here

Address: Forbidden Planet, 179 Shaftesbury Avenue, London, WC2H 8JR

Saturday 31st August: Gosh! Comics Workshop

This daytime event will be running from 11am to 1pm, and is a family friendly workshop for children aged 5 and up. Luke will be on hand to help you make your very own Hilda adventure!

Address: Gosh! Comics, 1 Berwick Street, Soho, London, W1F 0DR

Saturday 7th September

This is a daytime sign and sketch session at Page45 in Nottingham, from 12 to 2pm

Address: Page45, 9 Market Street, Nottingham, NG1 6HY

We hope to see some of you there, and don’t forget to tag either @FlyingEyeBooks or @NobrowPress in any photos on social media!


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Summer Reading Challenge

Here at Nobrow & Flying Eye we’re so pleased to be part of this year’s Space Chase themed Summer Reading Challenge!

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 peony@nobrow.net with Summer Reading Challenge in the title)

Happy reading space chasers!


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Talking Ancient Wonders with Avalon Nuovo

I’m sure we can all agree that the artwork for Ancient Wonders, our latest non-fiction Flying Eye title about the mysteries and marvels of the Ancient World, is absolutely stunning.

Fully illustrated throughout by Avalon Nuovo, you can feel the awe-inspiring nature of everything from the Pyramids of Giza to the Hanging Gardens of Babylon emanating through the pages. The depth and sense of scale that Avalon creates in her illustrations is incredibly impressive – bringing a monument to life that hasn’t actually been seen for thousands of years is no small feat! 

To celebrate the publication of Ancient Wonders we decided to dig a little bit deeper into Avalon’s working process, and she let us in on some of the secrets behind how she puts together her illustrations.

Avalon was also generous enough to send us some of her work-in-progress videos, which document her entire drawing process. See below for a time-lapse of one of her double page spreads coming to life!

So how do you begin your illustrations, do you use one program for every element? 

For the roughs, I always work in Photoshop on a big Cintiq monitor. The roughs of each page are really more about design than they are about drawing, so I’ve found it really important to do the roughs on a large screen, where I can view each spread at the same size as the printed book while I’m drawing. If I don’t, I often make something that looks nice at half-size, but when it’s enlarged to actual size, it might look totally awkward! 

I tend to make the rough illustrations really, really detailed— they’re in black and white, but I basically paint in all of the darks and lights and make it look pretty finished. Sometimes it feels like a lot of work for something that really only a handful of people will see, but it’s so helpful to to be super clear when showing the designer/editor what exactly what it’s going to look like, so that we can do all the decision-making before the final illustration. 

It’s also a lot more enjoyable for me to make all those decisions in the sketches, so that when I do the final illustrations, I get to sit back and let my mind wander and just enjoy the drawing (and some music/podcasts/netflix to keep me company!)

And what do you do when it’s time to move on from the roughs?

Once they’re all approved, I turn the photoshop files into flat JPEGs and send them to my iPad. I use Procreate on my iPad Pro to make the final illustrations, and as you can see from the time-lapse videos, I basically use the rough sketch as an underlay. 

I usually draw over all the linework first with the sketch at low opacity underneath. After that, I keep the sketch layer turned off while I fill in the color, but I continue to use it as reference for all the lighting and darks/lights that I’ve already figured out in the rough sketch. I send it back to my computer when I’m done, change the document from RGB color mode to CMYK (Procreate only support sRGB at the moment— hopefully that changes soon!), and it’s done! 

What makes you prefer using an iPad over a computer? 

I could definitely do the final artwork on my computer, but using my iPad really just became a habit because— aside from the fact that I LOVE the workflow in Procreate— I had to do a fair bit of traveling for Christmas holidays and other jobs while I was working on Ancient Wonders, and working on my iPad meant that I could be working on final illustrations pretty much anywhere. 

That’s made for some really nice memories associated with the book, personally— when I look at the Hanging Gardens of Babylon spread, I remember working on it while watching an (American) football game with my family in northern California while visiting for Christmas, and when I look at the Inspiration: Artemis spread, I remember making it while on a trip to Finland to meet my partner’s family for the first time!

And what about the analogue vs. digital debate, are you firmly a digital person?

I actually really love working with analogue media— I’m a really dedicated sketchbook keeper and when I’m making illustrations just for fun, I still find it most satisfying to use ink, gouache and colored pencils. 

I have two desks in my home studio— one with my monitor/computer, and one that has a tilting top for good old-fashioned drawing. I haven’t used it a lot these days though— ultimately I’ve realized that because my work is so detailed, it’s more realistic to work digitally for my professional work. 

As a result, I haven’t used traditional materials much lately— nowadays my drawing desk is where my partner sits so that we can keep each other company while we both work late into the night (or, now that my partner has finished their thesis, so that we can still hang out while I work and they play Skyrim!)


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Hilda: A Definitive Guide

Hands up who’s been watching Hilda the series?

Invented by Luke Pearson, beloved by us, Hilda follows the adventures of a fearless blue-haired girl as she travels from her home in a vast magical wilderness full of elves and giants, to a bustling city packed with new friends and mysterious creatures

And whether you’ve been following the Netflix series or not, you can follow along with Hilda’s adventures in our illustrated fiction series!

These tie-in titles expand on Hilda’s adventure’s in the show’s first series, giving you a new insight into both Hilda’s world and her own thoughts and feelings

This makes the books perfect for either a lover of the animated series, or someone only just setting out on their first Hilda adventure

There’s three titles in this series so far:

Each book is beautifully illustrated by Seaerra Miller, who captures all the citizens of Trollberg perfectly

And if you didn’t already know, Hilda actually first began as a graphic novel way back when we published Luke Pearson’s Hilda and the Troll! Have a look at a page below and you can see how far Luke Pearson’s drawing style has changed

Since Hilda and the Troll we’ve published four more graphic novels following her journey:

And in September 2019 we will be publishing Hilda and the Mountain King, the next instalment in the series that will follow on from The Stone Forest’s chilling cliffhanger ending…


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ELCAF: The Recap

Zines, comics, sun, beer – this years ELCAF had it all!

It’s coming up to a month since the end of East London’s greatest (at least in our opinion) annual comics and illustration fair, so we thought we’d do a little recap

A huge huge thank you to everyone who came and braved the weekend crowds for some illustrated goodness, the fest was one of the busiest it’s ever been

Whilst there’s almost too much to mention, we’ve picked out a couple of highlights to show you below…

The festival’s artist in residence, Jon McNaught, was selling some of his beautiful prints all weekend, whilst also signing copies of Kingdom. Jon also did a sold-out talk on the process of creating Kingdom, branching out to speak more generally about printmaking, poetry, and the use of comics to explore distant memories and the passing of time

Tom Haugomat’s stencil workshop created some amazing works of printed art – all with only the use of simple stamp ink pads! You could also find Tom at our own Nobrow stall, signing copies of the wonderful Through A Life

We also loved taking part in Carles Porta’s Silly Ballet workshop, creating dancing stop motion works of art

David Biskup was the winner of 2019’s ELCAF x WeTransfer Award, where he won funding to complete his book There’s Only One Place This Road Ever Ends Up. We can’t wait to see what David gets up to over the next year- make sure to come to ELCAF 2020 to see the results!

Here’s a few more photos of the fest to keep you busy, and we hope to see you all again next year!


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Calling all aspiring illustrators!

We have the pleasure to announce ourselves as a supporter of Pathways, an exciting new initiative for diverse, ambitious and talented artists who believe they can be the next generation of children’s illustrators.

Pathways is exclusively for those from ethnic minority and disadvantaged backgrounds and is open to both those with no formal illustration training, and well as to undergraduates, graduates and postgraduates.  

The programme is a two year course, during which you will be taught by tutors from BA and MA illustration courses from ten affiliated Universities. A wide range of world-renowned illustrators, editors, art directors and designers will also be taking part as mentors – that includes some of us here at Nobrow & Flying Eye! Members from our very own editorial and marketing teams will be working with Pathways to help you get the very best start in the world of publishing.

Check out their website for further details, and don’t forget – applications close September 2nd!


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Nobrow & Flying Eye at ELCAF 2019

It’s our favourite time of year again here at Nobrow and Flying Eye – ELCAF 2019 is upon us! 

Celebrating the very best in illustration and comics the East London Comics & Arts Festival is now in its 8thyear, and this year’s programme is bursting with talks, workshops, screenings and masterclasses.

The festival takes place at the Round Chapel in London, and will be open 12 to 7pm Friday 7th, Saturday 8th, and Sunday 9thJune (head on over to the ELCAF website for further details).

Take a look at our pick below to see when and where you can catch the best of the weekend…


SATURDAY 8th JUNE

Tom Haugomat: Colour, Shape, Land, Print: 12.15 – 13.45

Paris-based illustrator and master of colour Tom Haugomat will be heading this workshop, where you will develop your very own set of stencils to create atmospheric landscape scenes.

Through A Life by Tom Haugomat

Speaking Up and Speaking Out: 14.00 – 15.15

Francesca Sanna of The Journey fame joins Rui Tenreiro, Samandal, and Warren Bernard for this panel talk about what role comics and illustration have to play in the 21stcentury. Head over for what will no doubt be a fascinating discussion on how powerful a tool illustration truly can be.

Carles Porta, The Silly Ballet: 15.45 – 17.15

Finally, an opportunity to achieve your lifelong dream of taking part in a cardboard paper puppet ballet! Illustrator, animator and graphic designer Carles Porta will be heading this workshop, teaching you how to bring your dancer to life through stop motion animation.

Under The Water by Carles Porta

Francesca Sanna: Sharing Your Fears: 17.30 – 18.30

Francesca Sanna will take you behind the scenes of her latest picture book Me and My Fear, which is a heart-warming tale about sharing and overcoming the things that scare you the most. As well as talking about her illustrative process Francesca will be talking about the months that she spent working with a research group from Birkbeck University, and how their work influenced both the story and design of the book.

Me and My Fear by Francesca Sanna

SUNDAY

AJ Dungo: Sequential Self Help and Surfing: 14.15 – 15.15

Come along to hear some insights into AJ Dungo’s In Waves, his debut graphic novel that covers the topics of love, loss, and the solace of surfing. As well as covering the book’s life from concept to creation, AJ will also be talking about the role of comics have to play in escapism. 

Jon McNaught: Passing Time: 16.45 -17.45

ELCAF 2019’s artist-in-residence Jon McNaught joins us for this very special talk, which has Jon talking in depth about Kingdom, his latest comic. An illustrator with an approach and aesthetic like no other, Jon will also be talking about printmaking, poetry, and the use of comics to explore distance memories and the passing of time.

Kingdom by Jon McNaught

All talks come free with an ELCAF all access ticket


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Greg McIndoe examines Simona Ciraolo’s picture books
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Having spent quite some time building (and writing about) my treasured collection of Nobrow and Flying Eye Books titles, choosing my favourite is a very hard decision indeed. However, if there was a gun to my head (an unlikely scenario, I know, but it is always good to be prepared) then Simona Ciraolo’s debut Flying Eye Book Hug Me would have to be my top choice.

Hug Me brings together an unbeatable combination of quirk, humour and heart to tell a story of Felipe, a cactus in search of friendship and, of course, hugs. This adorable starting point alone makes Hug Me a strong contender for the top spot and add in the book’s warm, rustic aesthetic, surprising and hilarious plot twists and heartwarming happy ending and you have, in my opinion, the perfect picture book.

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So we have established I am a fan of Simona’s debut title (I think that is pretty clear, right?) and so it will come as no surprise that when her second Flying Eye Book was released, I was excited to say the least. At this time, knowing there were people like me eagerly awaiting her next title, Simona herself was feeling the pressure.

“You can’t help but fear that there’s perhaps a higher expectation towards your second book: someone who liked the first might draw comparisons between the two and, well, find it disappointing! But really what made working on the first one a lot less daunting was that things moved so quickly I hardly had a chance to dwell over it.”
– Simona Ciraolo

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Whatever Happened to My Sister?, Simona’s second title, looks at a girl’s bemusement at seeing her older sister growing up and is not Hug Me 2 in any way, shape or form. The biggest changes between the two books is aesthetic. Simona’s second book relies more heavily on smoother, watery textures as well as a moodier colour palette to capture the feelings of change and confusion in the air. This noticeable change could be seen as an obvious way of avoiding comparison but it was in fact purely down to the change in subject matter as Whatever Happened to my Sister? was actually in development before Hug Me was created.

Although, I don’t believe in the “a bad sequel can ruin the original” train of thought, I was a little apprehensive as to how Simona could ever top Hug Me. However, thanks to Simona retaining her clever wit and illustrative charm, I was just as impressed with Simona’s second offering. And after much examination, I found the two titles not to be so different after all. Simona may have jumped from succulents to sisters with her main characters but her core themes moving from making friends to drifting apart from family is a much less dramatic leap. In this way, Whatever Happened to my Sister? is Hug Me’s spiritual successor.

And Simona’s next Flying Eye Book takes another natural step to look at ageing and its effect on relationships. The Lines on Nana’s Face sees signs of old age turn into wrinkles of wonder as a little girl learns about the important moments in her grandma’s life. As ever the concept in this new title is prominent. Simona’s illustrative talent is immense – her spontaneous, energetic use of line and texture is almost reminiscent of Quentin Blake and her use of calm colour is warm and uplifting – she believes having a story you need to tell, or a powerful idea, is most important of all.

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“Being a competent artist is a great help to the extent that it makes it easier to create a readable narrative and an object that’s pleasant to look at, but should not in itself be the most important aspect of creating a book. That being said, I do believe there’s an intrinsic value in the beauty of pictures and their striking ability to reach places that are difficult to get to with words alone.”
– Simona Ciraolo

As for what could be next for Simona, the possibilities seem endless. A cacti-led take catching up with a fully grown Felipe (a part of me will always secretly be hoping for this) or something entirely new and different? With each title added to the Ciraolo library, I am more and more confident the next will be a success. Each title seems just as witty, intelligent, emotive and beautiful as the last and I can’t wait to watch as Simona’s glittering career unfolds – a picture book legend in the making I am sure.

This is a guest post from Greg McIndoe who blogs at Headless Greg.