Last year, a friend sent me the webcomic ON A SUNBEAM. This was my first encounter with Tillie Walden’s work. This beautifully illustrated story of young queer love transcends its sci-fi storyline. Since then, I have followed Walden’s work, inspired and amazed by the young artist’s prolific production of comics imbued with powerful emotions. Walden’s graphic novels (A CITY INSIDE, THE END OF SUMMER, I LOVE THIS PART), graphic memoir (SPINNING), and collection of illustrated quotes (MINI MEDITATIONS ON CREATIVITY) evoke deep feelings of nostalgia. Her wistful narratives and surreal artwork leave readers pining for more.

In 2017, Walden graduated from the Center for Cartoon Studies in Vermont. Her works deftly use comics to examine the relationship between time and space. As a result, her signature surrealist style beautifully captures the vibrant coming of age narratives. This year, Walden’s latest comic SPINNING won an Eisner for Best Reality-Based Work. Walden’s forthcoming ON A SUNBEAM marks her fourth graphic novel. ComicsVerse is excited to have the opportunity to talk to Walden and learn more about her creative process.

[Please note that portions of this interview have been edited for clarity.]

ON A SUNBEAM. Image courtesy Tillie Walden.

Graphic Memory: SPINNING and Comics Art

ComicsVerse (CV): I want to start by congratulating you on your recent Eisner award for SPINNING! Unlike you other graphic novels, SPINNING is a graphic memoir. You use your background of competitive ice skating to structure the book. Would you tell our readers more about SPINNING? How was the process of composing a memoir different from your work in fiction?

Tillie Walden (TW): Sure! SPINNING is about my childhood as a competitive figure skater. I never intended to be a memoirist. But when I was at school, I tried to make a short comic about ice skating and realized that the topic was much larger than I had expected. So for my second year thesis project, I started working on SPINNING! It was a very difficult book to create, but I got through it and I’m glad I did.

CV: All of your works contemplate the subject of memories as well as the interaction between time and space. This may be a natural result of working with comics. However, can you elaborate on how you came to the medium of comics and how the medium helps you with these themes?

TW: It’s always strange to me when I hear people describe the themes they see in my work because I’m usually very unaware of it. I came to comics sort of unexpectedly. I took a class when I was seventeen with Scott McCloud, and that was really it. After that class, I started making comics and I haven’t stopped since. As far as how the medium expresses these themes, I think comics are really interesting in how they allow a story to be told. It’s all about combining single moments. Like in a movie, we don’t get to linger on our favorite frames. But in comics, we’re allowed to. So I’m always drawn to picking moments that deal with space and atmosphere and memory, I suppose, because I feel like those are interesting moments to linger on.

Drawing on Emotions?

CV: Your comics carry incredible emotional power. The fragility and honesty of your characters are complemented by intense colors. As a result, your graphic novels all have a tone of heartbreak and nostalgia. Can you tell us about your artistic process? How do you feel about tapping into these strong emotions with your art?

TW: I don’t really see any other way to do it. Whenever I’m drawing, I’m always reaching down deep inside myself, as cheesy as that sounds. The act of making comics for me is a very personal one and intimate one. So my comics naturally become that. Recently in an interview, someone mentioned that they thought that a lot of my work was very romantic. They asked me if I was romantic. And I don’t think I’m romantic at all actually! So it’s just really funny that there’s this gap between what I do and what the reader gets. But I also sort of love that there’s this gap because then it’s not just that I made a comic; it’s out of my control.  

I LOVE THIS PART. Image courtesy of Tillie Walden.

CV: You studied at the Center for Cartoon Studies. How did your studies influence your work?

TW: It just made me a better cartoonist! I got to live in the mountains and the snow for two years and do nothing but draw comics. Anyone who gets the opportunity to do that would improve. I loved my time there. I miss it every day. And I wouldn’t be the cartoonist I am now if I hadn’t gone there.

Queering the Narrative

CV: Who/what are some of your main creative influences?

TW: I don’t read many comics currently because I spend so much of my life making them. So I will talk about prose influences instead! One of my favorite authors is Tana French. I’m super inspired by everything she’s ever written. And recently I’ve been very inspired by Adrienne Rich’s poetry. Poetry and comics are extremely linked for me. I also would love to be able to write poems one day, though I do not think I have it in me (to be perfectly honest). I rely on my art to make the magic, and I don’t think I could do it with just words.

CV: Your graphic narratives all include LGBTQ+ characters. SPINNING addresses your coming out process directly. Your artwork strikes a balance between representing LGBTQ+ in comics without tokenizing our stories. Do you intentionally set out to address queer identity in your work?

TW: No, not really. I can’t really see making work that doesn’t deal with queer content. Being a lesbian is as basic to me as wearing glasses and having blonde hair. So incorporating it into my comics has always felt very simple and clear to me. Of course, because the books are published, it sort of changes the dynamic. The content of my stories becomes political and makes a statement. Which I’m fine with! Because, of course, I want to do everything that I can to advocate for my community. But it all really just begins with me in a room wanting to draw two girls kissing for no other reason than the fact that I like kissing girls.  

THE END OF SUMMER. Image courtesy of Tillie Walden.

What’s Next for Tillie Walden?

CV: ON A SUNBEAM, which comes out on October 2nd, began as a webcomic. Can you tell us more about ON A SUNBEAM?

TW: ON A SUNBEAM is a gay space comic that follows a large cast of characters. It deals with lost love, bullying, found family – I’m honestly trying to remember what it’s about! It’s been a while since I drew that book, and I’m a little rusty. I promise you, it’s fantastic, and you can read it all online for free!

CV: How has it been transforming the webcomic into a published graphic novel?

TW: It was really simple because I had a lot of help from my great team at First Second. They helped me deal with the ins and outs of making this comic really sing in print. But, yeah, it wasn’t really that hard! It was fine! I get asked this question all the time.

CV: Do you have any other projects in the works that you can tell us about?

TW: I am working on two books right now – but I can’t tell you about either of them yet. But stay tuned for more details!

ON A SUNBEAM by Tillie Walden
ON A SUNBEAM. Image courtesy of Tillie Walden.

ON A SUNBEAM is available to read online. It releases in paperback on October 2nd. All of Tillie Walden’s works are available here

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