Two Eisner Award winners—Tillie Walden and Jeff Smith—spoke with editor-in-chief Heidi MacDonald at the U.S. Book Show on May 22. MacDonald, who also hosts PW’s comics podcast More to Come, moderated a conversation about their forthcoming work: Walden’s Clementine (Vol. 2) (Skybound, Oct.) and Smith’s companion to his long-running BONE comic book series, More Tall Tales: A Graphic Novel (Graphix, Sept.).

Walden’s Clementine series, set in The Walking Dead universe, represents a departure from her other projects, among them her memoir about ice-skating competitions, Spinning, and the graphic novel Are You Listening?, a hallucinatory road trip and meditation on traumatic memories. Walden also has illustrated the first in a duology from twin musicians Tegan and Sara Quin, Junior High (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, May 30).

Spinning’s been banned in a couple different states,” Walden added, “and some school districts have my name just across the board, like, ‘[Her books] are all gay.’ And they're right! But that's not a bad thing. That's what they need to learn.”

Walden accepted the opportunity to create the Clementine books “because it seemed like such a strange pairing to take this sensitive indie gay artist [myself] and go to The Walking Dead world. I was at a crossroads, where I could have kept making [similar] books. Clementine was a challenge, and it came with such interesting constraints with the world and the character.” A graduate of and now a professor at the Center for Cartoon Studies in White River Junction, Vt., Walden believes that placing limits on an assignment can stimulate innovation.

Meanwhile, Smith’s latest is a welcome return to familiar territory. “I had a few orphan stories in BONE that didn't get in the main canon,” he said, and Scholastic was game to publish them. “I love those characters, and it’s really great because I get to be with the guys [my characters] again.”

Staging Action Sequences

MacDonald observed that both Walden and Smith conjure a strong sense of place. “[Your books] are about journeys,” she said. “They're about getting from place to place and usually fraught with peril from other hominids”—zombies in Clementine’s case, or prehistoric species in Smith’s earlier Tüki: Save the Humans.

“I start with place,” said Walden, who set the first Clementine book among the icy crevasses of Vermont and the second in the Magdalen Islands, an archipelago in the Gulf of St. Lawrence. “The Walking Dead—the TV show and the comic—is pretty firmly set in the [American] South, and I was like, ‘We’re going north! I want snow!’ ”

Establishing the landscape helped Walden send the character on her journey. “Writing characters is so fraught and emotional from the get-go,” she explained. Clementine is a queer teenager, traveling alone, as well as an amputee whose mobility puts her in jeopardy. The known environment set the terms of the adventure.

Smith, who lives in Columbus, Ohio, finds inspiration close to home as well. “The valley that BONE takes place in was all based on the landscape around me,” he said, recalling “a fairy-tale place” called Old Man's Cave in southern Ohio, “with trees growing out of rocks and ferns everywhere.” He took comics artist Charles Vess there, and the forest inspired Rose, a prequel to the BONE stories.

In addition to place, MacDonald asked both creators about action sequences: Smith about his cinematic approach and Walden about speedy montages that imply without quite showing gruesomeness. “When I'm writing a story, I'm picturing it happening like a film in my head, and I just try to communicate that on the page,” Smith said. He compared his panel progressions to camerawork: “I don’t swing the camera, [which is] really the reader's viewpoint. I try to stay calm and let the characters move instead.”

Walden said that in Clementine, “My priority in telling the story about the apocalypse isn't the violence and it isn't just the action.” Instead, she said, she imagines her zombie-slashing 17-year-old protagonist growing up under relentless mortal threat. “I love how teens are nonchalant about really important things,” she explained. “One of the things I was trying to access is, like, how can they be nonchalant about zombies? One of the reasons I like writing teenagers is that they can have this thing that changed their life forever and also be like [shrug], ‘Whatever.’ ”