#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.

Add it on Goodreads or preview the illustrations!

Some background...

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

If you've never been to Walden's website, she has some delightful mini-descriptions of her books that I will be using in place of publisher's descriptions. For The End of Summer:

**********

When I was 17 I got an email from Ricky at Avery Hill Publishing asking me to do a book. I said no, and then a year later I said yes. This is the book I made. Includes twins, a giant cat, many indoor pools, snow, and violence. Available like all the others.

**********

This ended up being my favorite novella of the three—it brought me to tears twice. It tells the story of Lars, a boy in a royal, dysfunctional family struggling alone with an awful illness. He has sometimes-strong relationships with siblings, especially his twin Maja, and the companionship of a giant cat named Nemo to carry him through. But it's the end of summer, and now the family must lock themselves inside their cold, mournful, enormous house for three years in order to avoid the deadly cold of winter. And locking yourselves away for three years brings consequences.

The beautiful tragedy of this story resonated with me so much—Tillie Walden has a keen understanding of the kind of sorrow that, unfortunately, is inherently relatable for human beings, especially young ones with far too little distance from the slight trauma known as childhood. It's intriguing to see a boy protagonist, considering Walden's brilliant decision to write her later book On a Sunbeam without a single boy or man in sight, and Lars is a worthy character to take up this rare mantle—his intense introspection, like so many of Walden's characters, is somehow both completely realistic and utterly emotional and gutting all at once. Here's a quote from Lars early in the story:

**********

I always expected to die of a plague.

My skin would rot, I'd vomit blood.

And I always imagined dying on a cloudy day. Like the world couldn't handle sunshine because it would be losing me.

But I don't think I'm interesting enough for the weather to mourn me.

Maybe...I should read more.

**********

Seriously, how is Walden this good at words and illustrations? Good grief. There is so much packed into this 80-page story—the brutality of the world in inflicting cruel illnesses on children like Lars, the ways in which gender norms violently trap women and girls in an unbreakable prison of expectations, the ways in which even the most troubled and cruel of us can still have redeeming qualities and be worthy of empathy in the end, the importance of even one companion in a world of sorrow, and the juxtaposition of acts of kindness and cruelty to where they almost mean the same thing in a world like this one. This story contains an awe-inspiring creation myth, characters you will root desperately for after just a single scene (Walden characterizes basically the entire family at one dinner, and it is so effective), and an ending with so many parallels and so much to think about.

Also, one smaller thing is that I love how Walden seems to choose the images for her stories that are most resonant for her, knowing that they will subconsciously click for the audience as well. The terrifying indoor pools from Are You Listening? return here, as unnervingly smooth and colorless as ever, chilled abysses that we willingly build almost as reflections of the aching holes in ourselves. Walden also includes some non-diegetic illustrations of engines that capture a kind of precision, and ceaselessness, and violence that works so well. (I can now check off my to-do list "use non-diegetic in an everyday sentence"—my film professor just might be proud.) The most obviously resonant illustrations, though, are the meticulously designed castle that Lars and his family live in—I'll let you see it for yourself, but it is incredible in how it makes you feel small and insignificant and part of such a larger-than-life force of misery that threatens to conquer all. Like, wow.

This novella is simply stunning.

I Love This Part

Tillie Walden says:

**********

People seem to love this book. They... love this part. HAH! Ok. It’s a love story, I suppose. Between girls, obviously. Includes many lush landscapes, snappy dialogue, and sadness. You’ve been warned. Available wherever books are sold.

**********

You know, I thought I didn't connect with this story at first, but the more I look through it, the more I grow to love it, and the more it emotionally resonates with me. This is a story of two young girls falling in love. Walden brings to life the everyday conversations (of music, The Sims, IKEA) that make their relationship meaningful, as well as the beautiful gestures that bolster their connection. And she also brings to life the pain inherent in a secret, queer relationship, as well as the arguments and mistakes that are almost fate for two young lovers.

Walden's stylistic choices in this story are fascinating. It's told entirely in full-page panels, which puts the emphasis on quick, meaningful moments rather than a fully connected plot. And Walden draws her two protagonists as giants amidst their surroundings, which sets them apart—perhaps in a negative way, as they can never truly find a place where they fit in, or perhaps in a positive way, as they unashamedly take up space, exposing their love to the world.

My favorite line:

**********

I got an iPod shuffle once for Hanukkah and it really stressed me out that I never knew what song was next.

**********

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.

**********

Bonus comics!

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.
After the comics, we conclude with a wonderful little gallery of stray beautiful illustrations, wrapping up this one-of-a-kind collection!

One other random observation: Walden mentions being obsessive in one of these comics, and some of the imagery she uses in her comics resonates with me and my OCD-addled brain in some very interesting ways. I don't think I ever registered that character trait in her, but it definitely makes more clear why her work resonates with me in particular so much!

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!




Comments

  1. So glad you loved this novella best. It must have been good if it brought you to tears. I don't really read graphic novels, but you make me wonder if I shouldn't start reading some.

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  2. Max, this is all new work to me & I will try to find some of Walden's work. It sounds particularly special because of the relationships she shows, whether human or other-worldly. I had to smile & then agree at your ending comment. It is awful to think that people "take out frustrations with fictional worlds on living, breathing human beings." Yet also it's just ridiculous. I know you're busy but take a moment sometimes to relax, too! Have a great week!

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  3. I am already a Tillie Walden fan, but am pretty sure if I wasn't that I would be now. I am heartbroken that this one is not available at any of my libraries.

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  4. I love that you give a rating for the graphic novel-averse! I agree that there are two camps and I am in the graphic novel lover camp, though I don't read nearly as many as you do. This author is so impressive and I didn't realize she started when she was young, which make her even more amazing.

    The online haters are just so awful. I don't have those feelings about people let alone feel the need to say things publicly in a cruel way. I just don't get it.

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  5. I'm not familiar with these, will check them out. My public library has a large selection.
    I have a lovely children's book in my list - a major classic: https://wordsandpeace.com/2022/09/11/sunday-post-66-09-11-2022/

    I have read a lot of nonfiction as "graphic novels", some are so so good

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  6. It amazes me when people so young write great books. Some people are so talented!

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  7. I can't believe how young this writer/artist is and how young she was when she started publishing. Thanks for featuring her work.

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  8. Thank you for sharing this graphic novelist. The books sound really interesting, and like everyone else, I'm surprised about her age. Looking forward to the middle grade book she's writing.

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  9. I really don't read many graphic novels and hardly ever read YA, so I probably won't get to this one, but it's good to know about. Thanks for your very thorough review.

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  10. Oooh, another Tillie Walden book! I'm a big fan, too, and this sounds amazing! Thanks for your intriguing, thorough, engrossing review! I'll have to look for this.

    Sue
    Book By Book

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