Alone in Space – A Collection

By Tillie Walden (Avery Hill Press)
ISBN: 978-1-910395-58-5 (HB/Digital edition)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: A Time of Wonders to Be Reseen… 10/10

Transitions are important. In fact, they are life changing. But so can be looking to where we just came from. In this superb compilation you can see some of how the amazing Tillie Walden got to where she is now.

We usually attribute wisdom and maturity in the creative arts to having lived a bit of life and getting some emotional grit in our wheels and sand in our faces, but – at least in terms of age – that’s not the case for the Texas-raised pictorial raconteur, whose beguiling string of releases include On a Sunbeam, Clementine, Spinning and Are You Listening?

Walden is still a relative newcomer – albeit a prolific one – who has garnered heaps of awards and acclaim. Whether through fiction or autobiographical works (frequently both at once), she can engender feelings of absolute wonder, combined with a fresh incisive view and measured, compelling delivery in terms of both story and character. Her artwork is sheer poetry.

Following an erudite and recapitulating Introduction by Warren Bernard the comics begin with a breakthrough moment. The remarkably adept neophyte auteur began her rise with Ignatz Award-winning debut graphic novel The End of Summer. Compelling and poignant, it is a family drama fantasy, chillingly reminiscent of Nordic literary classicists like Henrik Ibsen, Astrid Lindgren or Tove Jansson, thematically toned like Brian Aldiss’ Helliconia novels whilst visually citing Dave Sim’s Cerebus collections High Society & Church & State.

Most impressive is the fact that The End of Summer was crafted in 2015 as a side-project whilst Walden was finishing her First-Year major assignment at the Center for Cartoon Studies in White River Junction, Vermont. There are further treats from that time at the back of this epic collection, which also include this story’s prequel ‘Lars and Nemo’.

Like everything Walden creates, this is a story I hesitate to describe because it’s a beguiling immersive experience that doesn’t need me spoiling it for you. Get it, read it, tell a friend.

What I will say is this: in distant place servants and staff rush to seal a colossal, cathedral-like palace. Winter is coming and the palatial bunker will be closed off for three years…

In that oppressive atmosphere, frail prince Lars and his twin sister Maja become increasingly aware of the tensions and quirks afflicting their large family.

Lars’ failing physicality has made him a quiet, introspective and fatalistic observer, whilst his dependence on Nemo – a gigantic housecat acting as companion and living, loving wheelchair – mark him as a marginalised target for siblings Olle, Per, Nikolaus and Hedda. As time passes and the children seek ways to amuse themselves, increasingly unstable Per seems to find the oppressive isolation and vast scale of the palace as well as the disinterest and suppressed tensions of the adults incomprehensibly claustrophobic.

Before long, the dooms and disasters Lars is obsessed with start to manifest, leading to tragedy and terror…

Beautifully illustrated in monochrome tones, with Brobdingnagian perspectives shaping every panel, this saga of an opulent yet cold House of Secrets, shielding a broken family from the elements but not themselves and each other, is a superb examination of humanity at its best and worst.

Walden followed up on her Ignatz Award-winning debut with this fluffy yet barbed coming-of-age tale. Part Sweet but not Calorific, I Love This Part deliciously pictorializes life-changing happy, introspective, contemplative and aspirational moments between two schoolgirls who have found each other. Shared dreams, idle conversations, disputes and landmark first steps, even fights and break-ups are seen and weathered.

Novelty, timidity, apprehension, societal pressure and even some unnecessary shame come into it, but generally it’s just how young people learn to love and what that that can entail…

Apart from the astoundingly graceful and inviting honesty of the tale, the most engaging factor is the author’s brilliant dismissal of visual reality. These interactions are backdropped by wild changes in dimension and perspective, abrupt shifts in location and landscape and shots of empty spaces, all adding a sense of distance and whimsy to very familiar proceedings.

Walden is a great admirer of Little Nemo so fellow afficionados will feel at home even if some might experience the odd sensation of disorientation and trepidation. Like being in love, I suppose…

A City Inside is another seamlessly constructed marriage of imagination and experience to unflinching self-exploration, constructing a perfect blend of autobiography and fantasy into a vehicle both youthfully exuberant and literary timeless.

Opening in a therapy session, the story delves intimately into a woman’s past, from isolated southern days to bold moments of escape – or is that simply drifting away? – in search of peace and a place to settle. We all leave home and then grow up, and here that transition is seen through a tentative alliance with an idealised first love. It fumbles and fails thanks to the dull oppression of the Happy Ever After part that no fairy tale ever warns you about…

Eventually life builds you into the being you are – hence the symbolism of a vast internal metropolis – and life goes on, or back, or away, or just somewhere else. That’s pretty much the point…

Supremely engaging, enticingly disturbing and ultimately utterly uplifting, this shared solo voyage to another county is a visual delight no lover of comics can possibly resist. Apart from the graceful honesty on show, the most engaging factor is the author’s inspired rearrangement of visual reality. These dictate mood and tone in a way a million words can’t, supplying a sense of grace and wistful whimsy to the affair.

You’d have to be bereft of vision and afflicted with a heart of stone to reject these comic masterpieces, but for many even more rewarding is a glimpse at how that narrative acumen developed.

Rounding out this epic tome is a wealth of Comics by Tillie Walden Aged 16-20 Years Old: all accompanied by author’s commentary to foster understanding or highlight points of interest. From 2013, ‘Glare’ details a childhood spat before 2014’s ‘My Name Is…’ acts as an introduction to a new student whilst the same year sees the artist dabble with colour on a visit to ‘Slumberland’

Scale and compression inform visual experimentation in 2014’s ‘Cramped’, ‘Journal Entry’ and ‘The Graduate’ after which 2015’s growth opens with longer works and a tribute to major influence ‘Ghibli’ followed by evocative breakthroughs ‘Lost Trees’ and ‘Dreaming’. That same year looking back to childhood spawned oppressive fancy ‘Sun in My Eyes’ and graduation piece ‘In the Palm of Your Hand’

In 2016 rapid fire soliloquy ‘The Weather Woman’ led to aforementioned prequel ‘Lars and Nemo’ (don’t read it first, okay?) and Walden’s first trip to space in ‘Alive’ ending with a reflective slice of visual verity in ‘What it’s Like to be Gay in an All Girls Middle School’.

Rounding out the candid review is course project delight ‘Q & A’ and fantasy moment ‘The Fader’ (2018) segueing into a stunning Gallery section of promotional prints, posters, variant book covers, and bookplates.

Superbly engaging, shockingly nuanced and movingly beautiful, these works are pure comics magic no lover of the artform should miss.
© Tillie Walden 2021. All rights reserved.