Tillie Walden ’16 is a current student at The Center for Cartoon Studies, graduating this May, 2016. By the time she graduates, she will have three books published: The End of Summer, I Love This Part, and A City Inside. A fourth, as-yet-unannounced book will be released later this year. I interviewed Tillie, my classmate, in the Schulz Library because A City Inside is debuting at TCAF this May, just after she graduates. What follows is the edited interview.
Angela: If you could choose any cartoonists living or dead as your thesis advisor, who would you have picked?
Tillie: Winsor McCay. Absolutely.
A: I knew you were gonna say that!
T: I know, it’s so obvious. It’s not because I feel like Winsor McCay would guide me, would teach me something new and exciting. I feel like just knowing a person who was so productive and who drew so beautifully and being able to draw next to him would be, like, insane. I’d also bring up, “Hey, Winsor McCay. Where are all the females in your strip? Why are they all princesses?” We’d have some frank conversations. So yeah, he’d be my thesis advisor. That’s a great question. I would also like Tove Jansson. Because I love her prose especially. And most of those stories are queer stories, so I love how she writes gay women. I would love to talk to her. Just to be like gay lady to gay lady, give me your wisdom.
A: Did you think about that when picking an advisor, or did you just want James [Sturm]?
T: No. The most important thing to me was being able to be comfortable with them. Because my thesis is so personal. I was not ready to open up to a stranger. And before I chose James as my thesis advisor, we were already friends, so it just made it so much easier. I chose him because I wanted someone I felt comfortable with and someone who I could trust.
A: What’s your favorite thing to draw? ‘Cause there’s like hair and smooching and buildings. . . .
T: Yeah, I’m gonna have to think about it. Hmmm. I love drawing snowflakes. I love drawing snow falling. Because it’s a really satisfying way to fill up a panel.
A: Do you draw, like, around each snowflake? Do you go Alec Longstreth on it?
T: Yup! You bet I do. You bet I do! No fill button in this girl’s life. But I love drawing people lying down. Or either curled up or on surfaces. Just showing them interacting with their environment. Either their head like sort of, like, leaning on something, or their legs are kind of tucked up. Because I feel like I’m always sort of making weird poses with my own body, and I like to sort of replicate that feeling.
A: So I read some of your interviews very briefly, and you said that you curl up in blankets and pillows to write . . . and draw?!
T: Yeah, it’s a little weird. My dad is the only one who can really picture it because he’s walked into my room as I was drawing and has seen me like that. But I can’t be cold while I draw. So I go to the extreme of, like, I put stuffed animals on my desk. And I put a couple blankets on my legs. I wrap one around my shoulders. And sometimes I put on my dad’s old hat. Just ‘cause it keeps my head warm. I just have to feel very grounded. Because when I feel the weight of the blankets holding me down to sit at my desk, I feel like I can just sit there and work. But if I’m, like, in shorts and t-shirt and I just kind of sit down really quick to draw, it doesn’t feel right.
A: What’s it like working with a foreign publisher?
T: One of the bonuses is when I go to visit them, I get to go to cons in the UK, which is really fun. I think I’m their only American creator right now. When I did I Love This Part, it’s very much a book about two young American girls, which I don’t think is something my editor knew a lot about. So I mean, still, he was able to edit, and we were still able to interact well on the project. But I think it’s nice that I’m bringing this new perspective. And then I learn things from him, just hearing stories about his own life. And you know, by just talking to him. I feel like we’re exchanging these cultural things that I wouldn’t get to otherwise. And I like saying that I’m internationally published!
A: So what’s the editing process? Are they editing just the text? Or just the images?
T: So it’s changed a little bit with each project. For The End of Summer, which was our first one, it was a little different because we were sort of testing the waters. But I worked with my editor, Ricky, on first sort of a general layout, like this is what happened in this part. And we talked about a couple plot points. Then he asked me if I would do a script. I said “no” because I hate scripting. So I penciled the whole book. And then he edited the pencils, like “Oh, this scene seems rushed,” or “Oh, wait. Let’s fix this.” He would look at the dialog, the pacing, the placement of characters. He really did a complete job. He’s a great editor. I need him at this point. And once the whole book was drawn, we went back with a fine-toothed comb, and he was like, “Hmm, this section, let’s fix it up.” And at that point, working on The End of Summer, I was like “I completely trust this guy.” Like absolutely.
And then on I Love This Part, the book was thrown together so fast that I took a stack of, like, 40 sheets of paper and a pen, and I just loosely drew the entire book. It’s really funny to look through [those pages] because it’s like looking at a poorly drawn version of the book. When I sent that to him, that was when he was like, “Oh, I love this. I love this part.” Haha. Joke. And we decided to do it. I just drew it, and then we futzed around. And we found this really great way of working together on I Love This Part where normally we go back and forth with so many emails, and it was such a drag. But on I Love This Part, we Skyped. And I was Photoshopping stuff as he was like, “Oh, fix that nose” or “Switch these pages, update the PDF, and see how it looks.” It was so much more fun, you know, because we were bouncing ideas off of each other really quickly. And then we did that for this most recent book as well. Every book we work on we’re more comfortable with each other, and I think being comfortable and close with your editor, having him as a friend, is really cool.
A: Can I ask about plans to branch out to larger publishers?
T: I do have plans to branch out to larger publishers. Plans that have been very successful so far. Yes, I have a couple books in the works right now that I can’t talk about. . . .
A: More than one?!
T: Yes. And, uh. . . . Yes. I do have plans. And you know, my biggest goal with bigger publishers is that I just want to reach more people. You know, I love Avery Hill, but I really want, like, gigantic distribution. ‘Cause that’s my biggest goal for a publisher.
A: So how’s the distribution been on the American side with Retrofit?
T: It’s been good! In fact, they run out of books really fast, which is a really good sign. I met Box [Brown] when he came to the school [as a visiting artist lecturer]. And he was great, and it was, like, really cool to put a face to Retrofit. And I’m happy to have US distribution because I think some people do think I’m British. And also in The End of Summer, we definitely edited it to have, like, UK words. Haha. So, yeah. I’m not British. I’m American, so it’s nice to have my books here in America, too.
A: Do they print them in the UK and then ship them here?
T: At the moment, that’s how we’re doing it. I think eventually the situation may change? Because right now I Love This Part is in it’s second print run, and The End of Summer is about to be. So you know. The print runs are getting bigger. The print runs are moving faster. So I think we’ll have to sort of adjust with that.
A: Can you talk about working with an agent?
T: I’ve had an agent for . . . a few months now? And it’s been great. I was a little nervous because it seemed so official and real and scary. I feel like I’ve learned, after working with Avery Hill Publishing, to sort of communicate, like talking about your comics, talking about the business. And so when I got to work with my agent, I was ready to really talk to him about what I wanted, where I wanted my comics to go, and he was very enthusiastic about everything. I don’t think having an agent is for everybody. But I think having an agent is great for me.
A: So have you ever really self-published? I know you put stuff online.
T: Yes, my only self-publishing has been publishing my work online. And I will always have free comics on my website. I want people to just be able to read those comics, and I plan to keep making short comics. I do have some plans in the future to self publish some work. You know, I’m very close with Dave Humphreys ’16, who—for those of you reading this who do not know—with his wife Mel Joulwan self-published very popular cookbooks called Well Fed, and I’ve talked to them a lot about the benefits of self-publishing. I would love to be able to draw a book and put it all for free online and then say “Hey, I have print copies if you want print copies as well.” And I think the perfect balance for me would be to be self-publishing some things and publishing other things. And sort of having those multiple revenue sources, as well, would really help me out financially.
A: One of the things you’ve been asked about is writing I Love This Part being your first gay comic, and I was wondering if the CCS community helped you feel comfortable with that or if it was just age and time. ‘Cause you are so old and wise now.
T: I’m so old right now, you guys. . . . I think it was a combination of both because this was the first place where I’ve ever been completely out of the closet. In the past some people have known and others didn’t. And I couldn’t really talk about it in most cases. But here, you know, I’m not the only queer person here, and it was just so accepting right off that bat that, you know, I think I was able to just live for a while as a gay person. And then after I did that here, I was just like, “This is cool. So I’m gay. So why don’t I just draw some cute gay people.” And it just sort of naturally flowed into that. And it’s been great. It’s hard to describe the feeling of drawing gay characters. Because it’s something I never thought I would do. I just shied away from it so hard because I didn’t think it was possible. And here it’s so simple, and it’s so obviously possible because you can just draw gay characters, and everyone reads it, and then they clap. And that’s fine. I think CCS will always hold a place in my heart as that first place where I got to just sort of be like, “Hey that girl’s super cute,” and no one minds.
A: So do you think you’re gonna be doing more gay lady comics?
T: Yeah. In fact, I mean obviously whenever I draw comics about myself, there’s gonna be a gay girl in that. Haha. We’ll put that in there. I think I touched on something in I Love This Part that I really wanna expand on. Because I really like I Love This Part, but there’s a lot more that I want to talk about than just their experience. I do think it’s gonna be something I continue to explore. And I can’t really see myself doing a book that doesn’t have at least one gay character at this point. Because in general, it makes sense to me now; why wouldn’t I put characters who reflect who I am in my work. It’s just . . . it’s obvious, now. And now that I’m comfortable doing it, I’m just going to throw those gay characters out there.
A: So, unlike most of us here, you came to CCS without a bachelor’s degree, like straight out of high school.
T: Yeah, I left for CCS the day after graduation.
A: Sheesh. So why did you make that decision, I guess? I mean, it makes sense but also sounds kind of frightening.
T: Hahaha! Yeah, it’s weird. But it’s also not something my parents were prepared for. Because, you know, it seemed very obvious that I would just go to a school. And I did apply to colleges. And I got into a lot of them. I got scholarships, and it seemed right. But something hit me in twelfth grade where I was making comics all the time. Something was going on inside me where I just felt like I couldn’t go somewhere and do this part time. I knew I could go to college, and I would learn a lot, and I’m sure I would have a cute girlfriend, and I’d have all that life experience or whatever people do in college: beer pong in dorms, or whatever. It was a really hard decision to make because everyone around me told me that college was an important experience. And I know that, and I listened when they said that to me. But at the same time, I knew that coming to CCS could still be a formative experience for me. And I just had this gut feeling that I needed to draw comics all day every day. And then after coming here, I was talking to my mom, and she was like, “Absolutely you made the right choice.” It’s very clear now that I don’t want to slow down. I love what I’m doing. And I like how the timing worked out. Because if I had gone to college and then come to CCS, I wouldn’t have been in this class. This group of people at this time. And I feel like I like where I landed.
A: So another thing I saw on one of your interviews is that you get 10-12 hours of sleep a night. So how many hours a day do you typically draw?
T: You know? Less and less actually. Yeah, because I’ve gotten so much faster that actually most days I only have to draw, like, half the day. I mostly draw in the morning, and I’ll have drawn like 3 or 4 pages. And then I don’t need to draw for the rest of the day. Because it’s done. And I’ll, like, do other things. I’ll do email, and I’ll just edit. Most days I never feel over-worked because so much of the day I leave to down time. So by the time its 8pm, it’s like “Oh, I can go to bed now. No one can stop me.” I get my energy by sleeping. And also eating well and exercising. . . . But sleep is so important. And I think it’s really important for my drawing arm and my hand and my shoulders and my neck and all that stuff. I can feel my hand, like, just relaxing as I sleep. Because I am very cautious of over-use. And I haven’t sustained any injuries or had any big problems so far. But I think that’s because I will stop if my hand hurts.
A: So when you finish a book, are you already ready to start your next project. . . .
T: I always have an idea. Rumbling around in the back. But they’re usually very undeveloped. Like right now, I finished one book, and the other book is kind of being quiet for other reasons I can’t talk about, but I’m sort of rumbling with my next book. And today? I haven’t drawn today. I wrote a little bit. And then kind of went on a walk and watched TV. But then when I’ve decided I’m going to start this project, I start laying out pages. I start laying out all the notes I need. I email my editor. And then I go straight into it. But I always have, like, five book ideas rockin’ around.
A: Cool. No stoppin’ any time soon.
T: Yeah, I like it cause it feels good. Cause there’s always a new thing to look forward to.
A: Yeah, me too. You’ve been touted as a “future great.” I’m wondering how, being 19, that feels. Because it sounds stressful.
T: Yeah, it’s a little weird. Honestly, I try not to think about it too much. ‘Cause I think it’s just too . . . strange to have other people try and gauge my potential. It can be a little nerve-wracking. And the more books I put out, the more anticipation I see for the next one. And I really have to push myself to not think about it. Because it can be scary to try and like live up to these expectations. And I also don’t want my career to just be this bubble of like, “Oh, she was 19, and she was great, and then, I don’t know what happened.” You know. I’m in this for the long run. And I get so many mixed responses about my age because some people find it fascinating. Some people really get angry because they think like, “Oh, this little precocious talent right here.” It’s like, “Get her out.” But the universal thing I get is that everyone feels the need to mention it. But I do wish people wouldn’t. I guess I don’t really want to think about people saying how I have this great potential. Because I just want to know it for myself. Especially after the Steven Universe comic went viral. . . . I mean I get a steady stream of feedback from people all the time, and it’s great, but it’s also bizarre.
A: So how has it been going to cons? Have people been doing the same thing but to your face?
T: Yeah! Yeah. And especially . . . people drink at cons. Like, a lot. So I’ve had a couple situations where some very loud drunk people have been talking with gross booze breath in my ear about how I’m amazing but I hate you for it. In general, it’s been lovely because people just come up, and they’ll kind of gush. And that’s wonderful to hear. It’s like, oh, you really do like my stuff. That’s so cool. And they see me, and I see them, and it’s like this weird connection. But most of the time, it can be freaky. Because some people can be very up front about how they’re like, “Aw, she’s too good for her own good.” You know, “Aw, you’re leaving no room for the rest of us.” And it’s like, I am not trying to threaten your career. I promise.
A: Is it better because it’s limited to the convention?
T: Yes. In a way it is because just getting messages on tumblr and email, it can be, you know, that’s the whole wide world who can talk to me there. And also at cons I’ve been at with my publisher, I stay close to my editor, and he’s very protective! Haha! Heehee, which is helpful.
A: You have a lot of really good people to work with. So . . . what’s your favorite book in this library and why?
T: That’s tough. So if I had to, there’s a Nancy collection over there [in the Classic Comics section] that I read when I was a kid. They were just so important to me. I’ll always have such a huge spot in my heart for Nancy. I love the drawings! I love the humor! I love . . . I love everything about Nancy. But right now, my recent favorite book would definitely be Sunny by Taiyo Matsumoto, which is a series that I had heard about but I would not have read if I had not been perusing the Manga section in the library. I read all the ones that we had. And I just . . . I love it. I love the drawing style. It’s so dreamy and atmospheric and raw. And the stories, of course, are heartbreaking but wonderful. The characters are great. I love everything about Taiyo Matsumoto. It’s wonderful. And then I ended up reading more Taiyo Matsumoto after reading Sunny, and it’s just so great! But yeah, Sunny takes the cake right now.
Interview by Angela Boyle.
Photos courtesy of Abe Olson.