#296: A Rare Moment of Sun

Residential sky. Tall pine tree.
North La Salle, Detroit, MI

Something I never realized about Michigan until I lived elsewhere was how gray the winters could get. People associate cloudiness more with Seattle and Portland, but thanks to cold Arctic air blowing southeast over the Great Lakes, Detroit and other rust belt cities are not far behind. There are days when I’ll make the same argument one makes for seasons in general, that the rarer stretches of sun, by contrast, feel especially buoyant. Other times I just wish it wasn’t so damn cloudy.

Toward the end of this latest manuscript push, I found myself reading more graphic novels than usual, and discovered them to be not only a necessary break from staring at pages of text but also a particularly effective way of absorbing plot and story. I can go through them as quick as I can a feature-length movie, but unlike film, I can more more easily skip back and review scenes, without interrupting too much the flow of the experience. And while it is possible to skim the text in a comic, to skim the images is … basically the same as reading them?

There are a handful of novelists (graphic or otherwise) for whom I will read everything they write, and over the last weeks I’ve added one more: Tillie Walden. As often happens with such encounters, the first book you read of theirs turns into your favorite, and for me, that was Walden’s latest, a mystical road trip novel called Are You Listening?

Three horizontal panels, red and purple. Dreamlike bus creaking to a stop over protagonist in jeans and red hoodie.
From Are You Listening? by Tillie Walden

I was trying to put my finger on why Walden’s work is so captivating to me, and I think it’s that it feels strangely familiar, without my being quite able to place where I’ve seen it. A kind of aesthetic deja-vu, like we’ve watched and read and lived some the same things – Miyazaki films, Murakami novels, Scott McCloud and Jillian Tamaki, road trips in the American Southwest, schoolday evenings spent waiting for English fansubs of not-yet-syndicated-in-America anime – and all these same experiences got encoded into a weird dream.

From On A Sunbeam by Tillie Walden

Are those koi-spaceships a conscious nod to Saga? A subconscious one? Or a nod to some more original source?Am I supposed to know? Is it just me or is there something Chris Ware-ish about the rhythm and perspective of the following page, from Walden’s figure-skating graphic memoir, Spinning:

From Spinning by Tillie Walden

Walden has a few more books that I’ll be ordering from my local comic shop. But to you (non-graphic) novelists who can write sharp characters and dialogue but struggle with plot, I say: Read more graphic novels! Read more Tillie Walden!