#IMWAYR: Alone in Space: A Collection by Tillie Walden
Hello everyone! I'm so busy that I'm not entirely sure how I'm functioning, but I am, in part because I've been making myself read great books. In fact, I'm here today with a book of comics I've been waiting so long to read: Alone in Space: A Collection by Tillie Walden!
Because this book is divided into sections, I'm doing the same with my review, and I must say that my OCD is way too excited as a result!
Please note, this is a young adult (YA) book, and it contains mature content.
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Unless you're completely brand new to my blog (which is totally allowed!), then you're already plenty acquainted with the fact that I love—love—graphic novels. I've read tons and tons and tons of them, so it is a pretty darn important distinction that I consider Tillie Walden my absolute favorite graphic novelist. I was hooked by Are You Listening? and subsequently devoured On a Sunbeam, her graphic memoir Spinning, and her picture book debut with Emma Hunsinger, My Parents Won't Stop Talking!
Walden is an immensely acclaimed graphic novelist, and she's also incredibly young—she was born in 1996, and she's been publishing books since her teenage years (her productivity puts us all to shame!). Her books are like nothing else I've ever seen—soaring, surreal illustrations of Texas roads or outer space or towering architecture, moody storylines that speak to the essential turmoil and pain within us all while ultimately finding hope, and irresistible characters with achingly natural dialogue and inner worlds. I don't know if any of those words even mean anything, and I think I'll be trying to figure out exactly why Walden's books are so special for the rest of my life—I definitely know that I can't sum it up all in a sentence.
Now, before Walden published the graphic novels of hers that I've read, she published three graphic novellas—The End of Summer, I Love This Part, and A City Inside. And this book that I'm reviewing today—Alone in Space—compiles all three of those into a single collection, along with a bunch of Walden's earlier short comics and illustrations! (And a weird foreword written by some guy that is honestly kind of objectifies Walden—an actual quote from it is "that incredible noggin that sits atop Tillie's shoulders." It gives me the heebie-jeebies.)
Anyway, if we ignore that weird foreword and focus on Walden's own work, this collection is incredible—there really isn't a better way to explore all of her earlier work than in a book where it's all been cherry-picked and has little author's notes putting everything in context! And if you're wondering if Walden's earlier work is as good as her later work—why, yes, it is. So let's dive in!
The End of Summer
I Love This Part
A City Inside
Tillie Walden says:
This book. Oy. Probably my strangest work, and secretly one of my favorites. Don’t ask me what it means because I definitely don’t know. Includes a floating sky bed, a city inside a woman, cloud fish, and a very pretty triangle pillow. Available wherever books are sold, kind of.
Third time's the charm! (And for Tillie Walden, so is first, and second, and fourth, and fifth...you get the idea.) A City Inside explores the life of a young woman both literally and metaphorically as a compassionate figure (perhaps a therapist) brings out her life history, from a childhood spent amidst the weeds to a young adulthood writing stories in the sky (see the cover).
This is definitely the most gentle of the three novellas—in fact, it might be the least sorrowful Tillie Walden story I've ever read!
My reading of A City Inside is that, with every stage of your life, there will be new and beautiful things (memories, freedom, love) but also trade-offs. And we must learn to find the things we've lost not by uprooting our lives and searching for them, but by looking within and creating them deep inside ourselves.
I love Walden's choice to narrate much of this story in second-person narration ("you"), but what's even more brilliant is how she brings this narration into the frames themselves, via characters looking directly into the "camera" and right at you, the reader.
Also, here's a cryptic note: Pay attention to verb tenses.
A quote I totally love:
you grew up in the same way the weeds did around the sides of the garden
thin and unkempt
bunching together to find a form.
After the three graphic novellas, we get a wonderful selection of comics that Walden wrote when she was 16-20 years old, including many she submitted as assignments while she was a student at the Center for Cartoon Studies. (Where she now teaches—talk about moving up the ranks quickly!)
This section is where you really get to see Walden's creative development. As a young person who alternates between trying to get better at writing and feeling way too intimidated (and lazy!), it is utterly fascinating to see Walden experimenting with different techniques, developing her style over time, and perhaps even becoming more content as a human being too.
And also, as much as we do see Walden's skills increase over time, it's also very, very obvious that she was ridiculously, naturally talented from the get-go—otherwise, we wouldn't have all these amazing comics from her earliest years, like:
- "Dreaming," which is startlingly observant about the random agonies of childhood;
- "In the Palm of Your Hand," in which Walden completely bypasses all requirements for real-world logic simply by recognizing the inner illogical impulses within us all (this one's so good);
- "The Weather Woman," which personifies the weather in a brilliant, meaningful way;
- "What It's Like to be Gay in an All-Girls Middle School," which is self-explanatory and unflinching;
- "Q&A," which is a fascinating look into Walden's development and creative process;
- and "The Fader," which makes a more emotional and convincing case for environmentalism in two pages than most creators could make in a whole book.
Quick notes to end on...
First, ARE YOU AWARE that Tillie Walden is illustrating an MG graphic novel? She is—it's called Junior High, and it's a memoir by Tegan & Sara, who I was not familiar with but who are twins, a well-known musical duo, and queer advocates. How cool is that??
Second, I made an extremely saddening discovery that bears noting. I was perusing Tillie Walden's Internet presence, and I noticed some very cruel and bitter comments about her latest book, Clementine: Book One (based on the Walking Dead universe), on Goodreads and in her Instagram comments, partially because people are frustrated with the book and partially because it alters some of the existing canon. My response to this is to say that it is never—NEVER—okay to harass creators (or anyone else!) on the Internet, especially in a hateful or personal way. I know I could definitely have done a better job in the past of staying objective with some of my own negative reviews of other authors, but I also know I have thankfully not stooped to the new low of going to people's Instagram pages just to criticize them in their comments. Rock on, Tillie Walden, and ignore the haters. And for the rest of us (myself included), I think we could all stand to interrogate some of our more toxic relationships to creative work and creators, so that we never take out our frustrations with fictional worlds on living, breathing human beings.
Finally, I want to emphasize that this collection, Alone in Space, is simply fantastic. With three incredible graphic novellas and a meaningful look into Walden's growth as a comics creator, this book is an amazing way to become more immersed in the world of Tillie Walden, and to simply read some amazing comics too!
My rating is: Stunning!
My rating for the graphic novel-averse is: 2!