So last year at Short Run Seattle, Box Brown introduced me to Tillie Walden's work. I found her art to be phenomenal. I was very excited when I heard she was starting a webcomic, and six chapters later, I'm absolutely blown away by her incredibly detailed line work and ability to use changes in color and style to striking effect.
Just look at this first set of panels of On a Sunbeam, the webcomic in question:
We start with the vastness of space, introduce a character, and show that ships have a very distinctive style to them, all with just three panels. Our character is on a quest of some kind, and it involves a space structure that looks like it popped out of an art history book. And just look at the detailing of the ship in that second panel! There's not just lines or buttons scattered randomly to create "details." There's a conscious effort made to have each panel look a bit different, using a variety of shapes and patterns.
It's breathtaking artwork, and that's just the first three panels. Each of Walden's entries, which feature pages upon pages of work, are exactly like this. She never cuts corners, making her comics ones to linger over, finding new pieces or seeing how patterns develop over the course of a chapter. There's a ton of echoing images in On a Sunbeam, due to its dual narrative of past and present. Because of the depth of each posting, they are also complete mini-stories, making this something that might appeal more to a traditional comics fan that most webcomics, which spread their story out across multiple days with smaller entries.
Here's another example of the artwork:
The first thing you notice here is the sense of scope. Thanks to figures in the foreground and a great use of perspective, we know the characters have arrived at a place that is immense. Due to the shattered stairs, cracks in the walls, and various holes, we know this place is dilapidated. And with Walden's use of colors, ranging from black to faded yellow to the multiple shades of gray, we have contrast that makes each of these elements stand out.
One more panel, this time with more figure work:
Here again, Tillie strives to use grayscale to keep the world of the characters varied, whether it's the flat black floor or changing tones to indicate the characters' clothing and other items are as varied as those we have in real life. There's not a lot of detailing in the faces of her figures, but we can still see their emotions, thanks to posing, placement, and clever panel structure.
The biggest weakness of "On a Sunbeam"--and in other Walden work I've read so far--is that while her visuals are amazing and the scope is absolutely breathtaking, she still struggles with pacing and plot. Her creative work is very much an experiment. Tillie's comment regarding the webcomic is very telling: "There are no exact plans for when this comic will end, I’m just going to keep drawing until I want to stop." What that means is that some readers may get frustrated at the meandering nature, with plot points mostly arriving as she sees fit, with many panels just exploring the world and her characters.
At some point in her career, I hope that Walden works on tightening her writing so that the quality of the story can match the quality of the artwork. That's not saying she's bad now, but once Tillie puts the two together, she will be an absolute master.
In the meantime, I'm very happy to keep reading and enjoying pages such as this one:
I hope you'll take the time to check out On a Sunbeam, especially if you're not familiar with Walden's work yet. She is going places, and I highly recommend you investigate her work now, so that when she's winning awards and getting a major book deal, you're not late to the party. Tillie has a Patreon, so if you love her work and can spare some funds, please help her keep going. Comics as a whole will be better off, and you'll be supporting an amazing young talent whose potential is as vast as the landscapes she's creating on the page.