Women Making Comics: Tillie Walden Talks Process and Creation

Tillie Walden is one of the most exciting cartoonists alive. From her beautiful brutally honest diary comics which ran for almost a year on her Patreon, through her small press comics about queer teens, to her epic sci-fi webcomic On a Sunbeam, Walden has staked her name as a creative force to reckoned with. To celebrate the release of Tillie’s brand new autobiographical ice skating graphic novel Spinning I chatted to Tillie about her process as a cartoonist and creator.

Tillie is a prolific creator, creating comics at a startling rate, Spinning was no different for the 22 year old creator, with the book going from concept to final art in a matter of months. Walden explained, “When I had the urge to make Spinning into an actual book it was only a few months after that initial feeling that I started drawing final pages. I’m very … I don’t know how to describe it really, but I tend to just sort of go for it. I’m not really a ‘sit and ponder’ type haha.”

Spinning by Tillie Walden

Spinning is an astoundingly honest and personal book, a devastatingly beautiful exploration of coming of age and coming out in a world that you’re not quite sure of yet. For Tillie this was a scary prospect. “It was SO terrifying omg! Vulnerability is like the first thing people expect to see in a memoir, and the last thing we actually want to be. But, hey, I found the courage somewhere. And it was worth it. It really helps that my publishers have been so supportive. The whole damn team, they really believe in me.”

Walden isn’t just a talented storyteller but she has an unbelievable range, spanning from her own autobiographical work, to outstanding stand alone illustrations and creating expansive science fiction worlds. For Tillie these are all different facets of the same skill set. Each with its place in her toolbox as a creator. Enlightening me about her process, Walden revealed, “Well, Spinning is like eating your vegetables. It is good for you, it makes you healthy and stronger, but damn it doesn’t always taste great and it really isn’t very fun. On a Sunbeam is like a cupcake. Or cool ranch Doritos. All fun, all yummy. I don’t really know why I’m running with this whole food thing right now but it feels right. OAS was a dream project, it was like climbing a playground every day with those pages.”

Spinning is not only an immersive and moving story but it’s also a technical feat with every panel choice and coloring decision working to further your emotional involvement in the story. Spinning utilizes just two colours which is a palette Tillie has worked with before. In this case she went for purple and yellow creating an atmospheric and unexpectedly sombre palette. Though the colour choices feel decisive and full of purpose Tillie originally had other plans for the visual landscape of the book. “Originally Spinning was black and white. My editor Connie was the one who gently pushed me towards color. I found the use of purple easily, but finding a way to make a spot color work (the yellow) was so hard! I remember a night in Vermont where the snow was falling and it was freezing and I was just staring at these pages and thinking to myself ‘THE YELLOW WILL NEVER WORK.’ But, then, of course it did! I just had to figure out what the yellow meant. When I decided the yellow was an accent, a representation of a certain sharpness I have in some of my memories, it naturally fell into the pages.”

Spinning by Tillie Walden

As a young queer creator Tillie often centres queerness in her work, as a queer fan this always a joy to see, and was for me one of the things that originally drew me to Tillie’s extensive body of work. Spinning is a vibrant and visceral realisation of coming to terms with your queerness and for Tillie these are the stories that come naturally and they’re fun to tell. “I don’t really feel a responsibility. It just feels right. Also it’s more fun. Why would I want to not draw queer characters? The LGBTQ community fucking rocks (can I curse here?) and I want nothing more than to raise them up with my work. I used to not feel this way because of all the problems that come with being a queer youth, but being a queer adult is pretty awesome. I feel proud of being gay, and I want that in my stories.”

With such an expansive amount of work at such a young age, Tillie has worked over multiple mediums and formats, and each one has its own particular feel. “A webcomic is a lot more like jazz. It feels more free form, and it feels a lot less final. When a comic is going straight to print I’m thinking a lot more about the actual ‘page.’ I’m thinking about page turns, about the whole composition. For a webcomic, I’m thinking about scrolling, thinking about putting reveals low down in the page. But as far as actually drawing, it’s pretty much the same process. Grab my pens, grab my headphones, and draw like the wind.”

On a Sunbeam by Tillie Walden

Comics are a medium all onto themselves and often as fans we don’t necessarily get to understand the process behind why creators like Tillie choose to lay books out the way they do. For Tillie, it’s an intrinsic part of the process, one she was happy to share with us. “The emotion behind the page should drive the paneling. Is the character tense? Is the scene full of complexity? Consider a complex layout with sharp angles and cut-off compositions. If the moment is more of a breath, more of pause, consider a large panel that gives the reader room to breathe along with the characters. Basically, let your story guide the layout. And if you’re struggling, go look at some manga. That has all the answers.” Tillie shared.

Being so prolific can sometimes be a struggle, and that struggle is one that Tillie has publicly spoken about, but with Spinning Tillie feels like she has finally started to find that fine line between creating a lot and self care. “I think I have found a balance! And recently I’ve been getting much more strict with myself to try and preserve my wrist. I get a lot of sleep, and I try and eat well and relax as much as possible. If I don’t stop myself, I will just keep drawing. I also have to really stay on top of my mindset. There’s a lot of pressure on me. And I can’t let that influence my creating. It’s been pretty crazy though, damn. I think a lot of people want to be the ‘hot young thing’ in their industry, but honestly, I wouldn’t recommend it.”

On a Sunbeam by Tillie Walden

Spinning is an utter joy of a book, it’s the kind of tome that feels good in your hands and holds the sort of story that you want to start reading again as soon as you turn the last page. For Tillie though, her highlight of the creative process with Spinning was actually the moment that her work was done. Tillie happily reminisced, “My favorite part was finishing it. The euphoric sense of pride and looking down at that stack of pages and really feeling like I accomplished something.”

For fans of Tillie’s lovely work there is a lot more to come, with the book version of On a Sunbeam coming out in Fall 2018. That’s Tillie’s main focus for now. But there are some more top secret projects to look forward too. “There’s a lot more that I’m doing, but I have been sworn to silence.”

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Rosie Knight

Rosie Knight

writer. fake geek girl. makes comics, occasionally sells some.