Since her 2015 debut, Tillie Walden has gained a reputation not only as a gifted young cartoonist but also as one of the most flexible and likely to surprise. October 10 will see the publication of Clementine, Book 2, her second book set in the universe of The Walking Dead, an unexpected outing for an artist known for emotionally subtle, intricately illustrated fiction and memoir.
At 16, Walden took a two-day workshop on comics creation taught by Scott McCloud, author of Understanding Comics. She came home determined to be a cartoonist. “At the time, I didn’t think I’d have a job as a comics creator,” she says. “I was just going to draw comics.”
Walden enrolled in the Center for Cartoon Studies in Vermont, where she drew her first graphic novel, The End of Summer, a fantasy set in a snowbound castle; Avery Hill published it when Walden was 19. She cemented her reputation as a creator to watch with 2017’s Spinning and 2018’s On a Sunbeam, both published by First Second. Spinning is a graphic memoir about her teenage years as a competitive figure skater and concurrent coming out as a lesbian. Recently, the Eisner-winning title has appeared on banned book lists. On a Sunbeam, a science fiction epic set in deep space, won the Los Angeles Times Book Prize.
Walden was as surprised as anyone when Image approached her a few years later about writing and drawing a Walking Dead comic. “I was like, ‘I can’t believe you asked me to do this. Do you know I make quiet, sensitive gay comics?’ But when I thought about what they were trying to do—to tell a story of survival for a queer, disabled teen—it was fascinating.”
Disability consultants helped Walden craft her depiction of Clementine, who has had her left leg amputated. Above all, Walden wanted to dig into the psychology of a teenage girl fighting in the zombie apocalypse. “I get very frustrated with depictions of young women who are just badass characters and never fully cope with the things they go through,” she says. “I wanted to bring a new quality to this character, which wasn’t just that she can survive anything or kill anything, but that she can learn to cope with her feelings and memories and become a whole, nuanced person.”
Meanwhile, Walden is also illustrating Tegan and Sara: Junior High, a middle grade graphic novel written by the eponymous indie music duo. “It’s fun to go back and forth between cute, cartoony Canadian kids doing fun stuff,” she says, “and sitting down and drawing something really gritty and emotional for Clementine.”
Tillie Walden will be in conversation with fellow graphic novelist Jeff Smith and The Beat editor-in-chief Heidi MacDonald on Tuesday, May 23, 4:30–5 p.m.
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