Tillie Walden is an award winning cartoonist, who currently teaches at The Center for Cartoon Studies. As one of the youngest Eisner Award winners and three time Ignatz winner for her YA graphic novels, she is known for her intimate, authentic portrayal of adolescence – often exploring queer themes.
She published her first graphic novel at 19. In the years since publishing her debut she has had tremendous output, publishing seven graphic novels and working on many other projects. At present she is working on a graphic novel trilogy, extending the Walking Dead Universe and following on from Telltale’s The Walking Dead games, under Skybound’s new Young Adult and Middle Grade imprint, Skybound Comet. Walden also recently made her big two debut in Wonder Woman’s Black and Gold #2.
Walden’s art style is known for its effortless, hand drawn quality – almost always inking traditionally. In her earlier books she also coloured traditionally; often favoring purple tones and watercolour washes. She excels at combining incredible complexity, often in architecture or dense forests, with much simpler figures.
Below is some of her work:
If you’re looking to read some of Tillie Walden’s work, here are some I highly recommend:
On A Sunbeam
On A Sunbeam is, arguably, Walden’s magnum opus (at least so far) and has cemented her as a YA comics star.
The story follows protagonist Mia at two points in her life; as a young teen, at boarding school and as a young woman starting her career as a restorer on a spaceship (that also happens to be a giant fish). While this story is a certified sci-fi, it is also a romance, coming of age, drama and so much more.
Readers are placed into this women and non-binary people only, limited-colour world, with boarding schools that float on rocks amongst the stars. We never question the why of this world, it just seems so real. Walden excels with quiet, human moments against a backdrop of the wondrous in a way comparable to Hayao Miyazaki. However, the quiet of the story clashes with the fantastical. When Grace is lost in thought of her home planet, the landscape begins to take over the panel until everything else fades away. She is then pulled back to the conversation and thus, reality. When floating via zero gravity technology, the panel morphs into Mia, laying in bed; silently listening to Grace read to her – these are just some examples of Walden’s larger than life world building all gravitating around the emotional, sincere core of the story.
Walden’s linework is loose and confident. She often works with no sketch, just straight ink and yet everything is so clear and reads so well. I’ve often heard Walden’s work referred to as ‘breaking the rules’ of comics, yet I’ve never found myself distracted by this. She clearly has a vision of her art and the story that she is so aptly able to project onto the page. Her panels flow into one another, her hand lettering living next to her hand drawn line work creating such harmony on the page.
If you only read one Tillie Walden comic, this is the one to read.
On A Sunbeam was originally released as a webcomic, being nominated for the Eisner for Best Digital Comic, and still remains online for free. A 544-page printed edition is also available from Avery Hill Publishing (UK) and First Second Books (US).
I Love This Part
I Love This Part differs to On A Sunbeam in many ways. It is only 68 pages, with many of those pages being full-page spreads, coloured traditionally. However, it retains the same contrast of fantastical and very real moments. It centers on two young girls in a small town – capturing seemingly mundane, intimate snapshots of their relationship, from listening to music together to doing homework.
These full page spreads function as essentially stand alone illustrations, we peek into these vignettes as the girls cycle through the seasons, becoming closer. Walden also plays with scale- the girls are sometimes as tall as trees, paddling in the depths of the ocean or leaning on skyscrapers. Other times they are average height, particularly when restricted by outside forces, such as school or parents. You can really feel the intensity of their relationship, likely a first love, as it outgrows their small town.
I Love This Part is available from Avery Hill Publishing.
Alone in Space
Alone in Space is a compilation of many of Walden’s ‘greatest hits’ and shorter comics, including her debut ‘The End of Summer’. We witness her skills develop from high school to present, along with captions and anecdotes from Walden, written retroactively, looking back at her work. This is particularly interesting as she started her career so young, and the book looks even further back to comics she drew at 16. Walden, reflects on her emotional state when creating each comic, at one point referring to herself as a ‘moody teen’. She also, very candidly, reflects on how her process has changed such as her first comic using digital colouring.
It is fascinating to so clearly see Walden’s art style develop, change and see her visit certain themes and ideas over the years.
Alone in Space is available from Avery Hill Publishing.