Tillie Walden

Are You Listening by Tillie Walden

Texas. Raining. Traffic everywhere. The whole world is dark.  Shades of red and blue and purple. Bea decides not to get on the bus home, and instead, finds herself in Lucy’s Gas and Food, where Lou recognizes her. Lou offers to drive Bea where she’s going, knowing the Bea is on the run. They head west. They pull off the road and go into Big Spring, TX, pop. 50. Bea finds a cat. Its tag says it is from West, West Texas. They decide to take it home.  West is not on any map. They ask around. None of the directions are that helpful. Bea is 18. Lou is 27.  A mechanic.

They are running from their pain. There is a disturbing story that is driving Bea. It snows suddenly. Becoming friends. Lou teaches Bea to drive. Bea comes out to Lou, who never came out to her mother before she died. Two men, from the Office of Road Enquiry, are following them, and they want the cat. The women run from them several times. When they finally find West, there’s nothing at the place where the cat’s house would be. Suddenly, the world changes. Buildings and roads appear. They figure out what is going on. You will too. Walden introduces characters you want the best for—she is compassionate with their failings and foibles. You somehow see the world through their eyes. As the epigram from Adrienne Rich says, “All maps are fiction.” And fiction takes you places that you can’t find on a map, that you didn’t know you were going to, and when you get there, you have changed. Fiction is the map.

A City Within – Tillie Walden

If you like reading. You love finding a new author, and somehow it’s even better when that author is just starting out, and wows from the start. I began with Tillie Walden‘s extraordinary On a Sunbeam (You can read it here). Then her memoir of being a competitive skater Spinning. You won’t regret time spent with either of these. But I have just read her third graphic novel, A City Inside published by the wonderful Avery Hill Publishing. It’s a weird novel.

It begins with a young woman being told to relax and being given tea. I’m English, I appreciate that. Then she is told, “Swallow all your spit and breathe deeply.” The words “A City Inside” fill the next two pages. Continuing in the second person. “You left…trying to escape those southern ghosts…were too afraid to live in the city…so you decided the sky would be better.” She lives in the sky with a cat and meets “Her.” You is so taken with Her that You leaves the sky and moves in. Like a good poem, the story leaves sense at the edges and perfectly for a short graphic story, focuses on images of place. Her is even a place. All the old wounds inside You start to accumulate, and a new city is built. In You’s mind maybe? Not certainly. At the end, she steps out of the story and there Her is, in the waiting room. It is as though every line Walden makes on the page has meaning. Each panel is a small work of feeling. A work of story. A work of human emotion. At the end you are together with You and Her, and happy.

Tillie Walden is one of the places graphic books are going, and she is a graduate of The Center for Cartoon Studies in Vermont.