Interview with Tillie Walden

Tillie Waldenby Nora Seilheimer

Tillie Walden is a cartoonist and illustrator from Austin, Texas. She is the creator of the Eisner nominated works, I Love This Part and On a Sunbeam. She is a graduate of the Center for Cartoon Studies, a comics MFA program in Vermont.

We had the opportunity to speak with Walden about her illustration and writing process for Spinning, which was released in September of 2017.

Your new coming-of-age graphic memoir, Spinning, documents your coming out, various traumas, and other formative experiences set against the backdrop of your twelve-year skating career. You introduce each chapter with a skating move. With hundreds of moves to choose from, how did you go about selecting and pairing moves with specific chapter.

It wasn’t even my idea to open each chapter with a skating move. That beautiful thought came from my editor, Connie Hsu. She suggested I try and do something with that space. And she was right–even a chapter page is valuable real estate in a graphic novel. As far as picking the moves, that wasn’t hard at all. When you skate for as long as I did, you naturally gain a collection of moves that are your favorites or your most familiar, and those are the ones I chose from. It was easy to describe the moves that I was really familiar with. Crafting the images and captions was second nature because I’ve done a scratch spin so many times that describing it is like describing the weather.

Spinning could have easily started and ended with the same scene, your first visit to the rink since telling your coach, Caitlin, that you were quitting after twelve years. However, you chose to end with your favorite figure skating memory, attending the Cape Cod Classic with your old synchro team from Texas when a hurricane hit. Why end here and not on page 382 when you exit the rink after your first visit back?

My story isn’t neat. I don’t think a memoir should be wrapped up with a perfect little bow at the end because that isn’t how our memories or our own stories ever play out. And my memory of that competition and that hurricane and everything it brought up felt so much more like a real ending. Honestly, I don’t know exactly why I chose it. It just felt right. I think it’s a very difficult task to turn your life into a cohesive narrative. Our memories just aren’t that linear. You’ll have three years of your life that are hazy and then you’ll remember two weeks where everything important seemed to happen. I tried to lean into that quality and let the memories just be.

There are a handful of scenes in Spinning where you reveal that you had a difficult relationship with schoolwork: opting to hang out with your brother instead of finishing an assignment, forgetting to complete “special” homework before morning skating practice, and experiencing some difficulty with reading to yourself. How does your academic past impact your creative process now?

I like to think that it doesn’t really impact my process now. I think the biggest hurdle that I had to get past was just learning to believe in myself. I struggled to keep up in school and that left me feeling very much like I was not smart enough to ever be successful. I had to get past that to be able to work in a creative field because so much about finishing a graphic novel is about believing in your own voice. I still can’t really spell and I still don’t really understand grammar, but that can’t stop me anymore.

How do you see the world of graphic novels and comics evolving in the years to come? Where do you see yourself in that world as it changes?

I think it’s evolving as we speak, and I’m optimistic about where it’s headed. I think comics are becoming more and more diverse, and I mean that in the sense that the creators are becoming more diverse. Graphic novels are finding their way into the mainstream book industry, which is an awesome thing because the book industry has money! I hope that comics will become more lucrative for the people involved in the years to come because right now its a real challenge to make a full time living doing this.

I don’t really know where I see myself in the comics world as it moves forward. I’m just going to draw what I want, and whether or not that fits in with where everyone else is doesn’t really matter.