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Tillie Walden

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Page 45 Review by Stephen

Tillie Walden dominated the last decade at Page 45, beginning with these three poignant bestsellers which were created during her late teens under the tutelage of Ricky Miller at Avery Hill Publishing.

So yes, I LOVE THIS PART, A CITY INSIDE and THE END OF SUMMER plus print designs and a plethora of previously uncollected and highly illuminating short comic stories created between the ages of 16-20, within which Walden successfully experiments with colour and construction, shadow and light, landscapes and scale and, above all, honesty. There are well over a dozen, each shedding light on the three main features, while 'What It's Like To Be Gay In An All-Girls Middle School' adds to her SPINNING graphic memoir and ‘The Fader’ visually foreshadows ON A SUNBEAM.

The reviews below are almost exactly what I wrote way back then.

I LOVE THIS PART by Tillie Walden

It's my favourite part.

"Can we ever tell anybody?"
"Probably not."

Simple, subtle, sublime: two girls share experiences, confide and reassure each other gently.

They explore landscapes together, looking out, over, or nestling within them. This is the sweet languor of youth when you still have time to rest supine and stare at the sky up above you. There's an intimacy in the way they inhabit those landscapes, absorbing a song, one ear-bud each, or crouched under a duvet in front of a laptop with a nocturnal cityscape rising behind them, its tiny skyscraper windows lit while their monumental silhouettes, crisp and bold, stand out against purple-tinged clouds.

"I got an ipod Shuffle once for Hanukkah and it really stressed me out that I never knew what song was next." That made me smile. It's true, isn't it, that we enjoy the segue from one song to another on an album we love, subconsciously anticipating what we know will come next as the final chords on the current one fade or when it concludes in a blistering crescendo? Same with mix-tapes you've made.

The story is told in single-panel pages and if the landscapes are so often majestic – mountains, canyons, valleys – then the two girls are equally epic and so completely at one with them. Their positioning is perfect and the sense of scale is breathtaking. Here Tillie Walden takes her early Winsor McCay influence and makes of it something uniquely her own. Winsor thought like this, but he never did this. There's also that dreamlike comfort to it. Or at least there is to begin with.

Initially each full-page panel features both girls in synch, either side by side or opposite each other, but then there's a brief falling-out over a photo uploaded onto social media without the expressed consent of the other. It's still gentle, and the kindness – the reassurance – remains. But there follows a telling page in which they're no longer completely as one but staring in different directions and, oh, the art is exquisite as one girl's swimsuit hugs tight while the other's dress billows in a breeze.

Gradually there encroach pages in which only one or neither girl features, silence falls and texting begins instead. Never forever, I promise you, for this is far from linear. But it's in marked contrast to what went before when their relationship morphs as they tentatively explore new territories, not necessarily successfully. Aaaaaand we're still only a fraction of a way in.

The comic's not long but it's substantial, begging you to linger and rewarding you if you do. It's fiercely well observed with incredible understanding and empathy but without demanding you recognise that, for so much is left to be said by the silences.

Parenthetically, Tillie’s autobiographical SPINNING, created at the age of 21, boasts an astonishing sense of perspective and, most unexpectedly, includes both a coda to the above and, sadly, a resolution.


A CITY INSIDE by Tillie Walden

Another quiet, contemplative and sublime gem, this is contains the most romantic sentence ever written:

"You gave up the sky for her."

The lines are crisp, the shadows deep and the night sky positively glows.

Told in the second person singular, a young woman casts her mind back across her life. It's so engrossing that you won't notice the switch in tenses on your first reading and, as it concludes, you may have forgotten where you came in so that the final three pages are truly startling.

There's always something magical in Walden's work, and at one point the woman finds herself suspended in the sky, living in the cup of an open, hollow ball from the top of which billow curtains which are never truly closed. Can you imagine the view? Can you imagine the tranquillity?

"Then one day, you met her."

She was cycling through the sky.

"She was beautiful, wasn't she?"

And what did you do?

"You gave up the sky for her."

Obviously. Bittersweet does not even begin to cover this.

Only once is there more than a single sentence per panel – quite often there is silence instead – and within the recollection itself those panels are bordered only by what lies within. High in the sky, with the wind tossing the lanterns and tousling her hair, there are no borders at all.


THE END OF SUMMER by Tillie Walden

Well, would you just look at this architecture!

Vast arches, vaulted ceilings and windows several storeys high; classical statues set inside concave bays; halls which conclude with the opulence of a Roman cathedral's chapel. Could you get more Baroque than this?

Then there's the ethereal air, nightgowns and all that time spent in bed; an indoor lake on which the children go sailing; and a giant cat called Nemo. Winsor McCay, anyone...?

This is a family home! Also a haven from a three-year winter during which the doors must remain firmly closed. But for a sanctuary it doesn't seem very safe. It's cold and it's hard and there will be conflicts and confinements. I don't think this family is very healthy at all, quite apart from the fact that young Lars is dying. I'm not sure of what, but he seems sickly, consumptive. He appears to be fading away. His closest relationship is with his sister, Maja, but that's also going to run into trouble. As I say, not the healthiest of families.

He's comforted by that giant cat which – when it's not carrying Lars on its back – is constantly curled up like a gigantic, fluffy white pillow, which is what Lars uses it as.

To be honest I wasn't sure what was happening towards the end. It's all very rarefied and the family far from distinctive. But it's very beautiful with the crispest of architecture which boasts the most enormous sense of space and attendant frigidity. You can almost hear the echoes.

This is the earliest of the three works, wherein you’ll discern so much promise which we now know heralded the arrival of one of this medium’s true titans.




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