As I was considering my “Best of the Decade” list which we ran as our first set of articles here on SOLRAD, I polled my corner of Twitter about which comics they thought were best from the 2010s. A book that came up during that time was a book I hadn’t heard of, WAKAME & WAVE & INFINITY, by Instagram-famous illustrator Little Thunder. The book was published in Chinese and English in September 2019 and immediately sold out; a second edition was released and again quickly sold out. For a hot second, a Japanese bookshop and gallery called Popotame was distributing copies internationally, and that’s how I came about my copy. Of all the books I own with a spine, this is likely one of the rarest.
WAKAME & WAVE & INFINITY is a book that has to be seen to be believed. There’s a certain absurdity to the physicality of the object, an absurdity that could never be duplicated with a more traditional printing or a digital edition. Finding an antecedent for this book is difficult, and the closest I’ve come across is another hard-to-find book, Lagon Revue’s 2019 release Marécage or their 2017 anthology Gouffre. Although not as massive or varied in tone as Lagon’s Gouffre, WAKAME & WAVE & INFINITY shares its predilections for design and print quality. Made with at least 7 different paper stocks, neon ink, reflective paint for an interior page, and stamp embossing on the matte slipcase, this is a book-lover’s book, a testament to printing technology and design in one package. To a certain extent, the book’s design mirrors it’s author’s aesthetic; WAKAME & WAVE & INFINITY is full of seductive excess and violent posturing.
Little Thunder is well known for drawing curvaceous women, often with dewy eyes or a bleeding nose. Her oeuvre includes busty women hidden behind casks or books, exposed to an unwary passerby; young women eating their own legs at the kneecap, curiously made out of avocado or pudding; a schoolgirl holding bloodied tissues to her nose as she stares out the window. There’s a clear linkage in her work between what is sexual or sensual and what is violent, and there’s a sense that her work intentionally makes the reader or viewer the voyeur. This thematic obsession is the motor of the narrative of WAKAME & WAVE & INFINITY, a through-line that informs the rest of the work.
The story of WAKAME & WAVE & INFINITY is fractured, but it is built along the faultlines of a single relationship, that of Wakame, a girl often represented with a piece of seaweed in her hair (wakame is a type of seaweed dish served in East Asia), and Wave, a man with a stern face and hair that curls like a devil’s horns. These characters are locked into a sort of tug of war that spans universes. Other characters, like Wakame’s father (often depicted as a catfish-faced man) or the people who live with Wave, play minor but recurring roles. Each chapter of WAKAME & WAVE & INFINITY follows a cyclical, destructive path where Wakame and Wave attempt to kill one another or fall in love with one another, and sometimes do both. The symbolism in this movement is identifiable in the characters’ names alone; Wakame (the seaweed) grows in the ocean, and the waves provide nourishment for the plant, but can also rip it to shreds. Seaweed that grows too dense can suffocate and destroy other life in the ocean. Maintaining homeostasis requires a balance of growth and destruction.
Each chapter is labeled as a unique universe within the book, and each universe sees the characters reimagined, always familiar, but always different; the work ascends from the realistic to the surreal the further you read. In one universe, Wakame and Wave are students in the same class. In another, Wave is a giant apartment building. In a third, Wakame has a giant flower blooming from her head. These manipulations of the characters keep the interplay between them — the violence, the lust, the anger, the regret — fresh and considered. The implication of multiple universes also impacts the way we view the continuous push and pull of Wakame and Wave. In the context of this “multiverse,” the action of these comics feels less like two characters and a single relationship between them, but rather an elemental, primal force. The movement of these two people is more like the movement of celestial bodies; rather than feeling human or isolated, their actions feel ubiquitous and expected. The universe moves, and Wakame and Wave are the cycle that moves with it.
But what is perhaps the most affecting part of WAKAME & WAVE & INFINITY is the way that Little Thunder ends the comic. Much of the narrative of WAKAME & WAVE & INFINITY is that of cyclical violence and regret, and Little Thunder emphasizes that this cycle exists for and because of the YOU on the opposite side of the page.Without spoiling too much, Wakame and Wave accuse the reader, pointing directly out of the panel. Little Thunder questions the meaning of readership, and again returns to the theme of voyeurism, confronting the reader for their behavior. Little Thunder indicates that perhaps, in this cycle of death and rebirth, violence and lust, even the viewer has no control over the outcome; you can close the book any time you want… but will you?
Earlier I spoke to WAKAME & WAVE & INFINITY’s rarity, and my general perception is that this rarity is an unfortunate aspect of making small batches of comics in a globalized economy. The scarcity of the book is a combination of factors; its publication in Hong Kong, its elaborate production values, amongst others. This rarity prevents WAKAME & WAVE & INFINITY from being more widely read, which is ultimately a real shame. It’s a gorgeously illustrated comic, and a powerful meditation on the human psyche.