AJ Dungo on creativity and grief

After losing his partner of eight years, writer and artist AJ Dungo published his first graphic novel, In Waves. He speaks with CR about how it’s given him a new understanding of creativity as a way of processing fear, memory and emotion

Writing a book is a huge creative undertaking, but for illustrator AJ Dungo it came with an unimaginably difficult extra dimension. Shortly before he started graphic novel In Waves, his girlfriend Kristen died from cancer, having been through cycles of treatment and remission. Origin­ally, Dungo had pitched publisher Nobrow an idea for a non-fiction history of surfing, but it ultimately turned into a deeply personal memoir. In it, Dungo reflects on memories of Kristen – many of them gut-wrenching – as well as stories of surfing’s key figures and ­moments. The two threads of narrative weave in and out of one another, finding parallels between moments in surfing history and Dungo’s own experiences.

“I really grappled with the concept, because I didn’t know if it was too soon to be telling this story,” he tells CR. “It barely happened, and I was still processing it, and obviously heavily in it. I also didn’t know if this was the way I wanted to tell her story, or if I wanted to side-saddle a different narrative with a story that should belong to her.”


Milton Keynes