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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
<i>Alone In Space</i> is a pensive retrospective of Tillie Walden’s early work

Alone In Space is a pensive retrospective of Tillie Walden’s early work

Popular cartoonist Tillie Walden's new collection showcases the emotional depths of her early output

Image: Tille Walden (Avery Hill)

Alone In Space collects three Tillie Walden graphic novels previously published by Avery Hill (The End Of Summer, I Love This Part, A City Inside) as well as some shorter stories and webcomics created when Walden was between 16 and 20 years old. Usually, retrospective collections like this one are reserved for fading stars and artists closer to the end of their careers, as academics and superfans move beyond the big books and begin to dig into an artist’s lesser-known work. For this reason alone, the collection already stands out: As accomplished as she is, Tillie Walden is still at the beginning of her career, and her star shows no signs of fading. So Alone In Space is of interest not so much because curious fans might want to see some incidental pieces, but because her work is extraordinary.

The first republished story in the collection, The End Of Summer, is stunning in its scope and scale, about a young boy with chronic illness facing the end of his life during a years-long winter, as his enormous cat Nemo prowls through marble halls. I Love This Part is a fan favorite, touching on two women’s first romantic relationship and the fallout that comes with being young, queer, and in love. A City Inside, probably the sharpest of the three, tells the story of a woman coming to terms with what she’s willing to give up for a relationship. A few shorter stories, along with some reprinted webcomics that showcase Walden’s early experiments (if one could call fairly mature work experiments) with different styles and approaches.

For those who are less interested in the breadth of work by Tillie Walden, this collection will most likely read as confusing and disjointed. The stories have no obvious narrative or thematic link, and the differing styles don’t quite work together to paint a larger picture. And for Walden fans, the bulk of this material has already been published elsewhere. There is just enough work that hasn’t been in print before, however, to make this collection feel worthwhile.

Plus, there’s another use for this collection: to unpack the themes and motifs that interest Walden as an artist. Among those themes, Walden’s innate understanding of space, and how depictions of space can represent inner life, feels like the central through line of the collection. Nearly every story expresses unbearable levels of emotion through impossibly beautiful (and sometimes just impossible) architecture and landscape, as Walden tells stories about loneliness and the many different types of love.

In addition to that through line, what really gets spotlighted in this compendium is the artist herself. The cover of Alone In Space depicts a cartoonist floating in the clouds above a forest filled with capsizing houses, putting forward an image of an artist separate from the world, working silently and quietly satisfied. The framework is a reminder that Walden is the secret central figure of Alone In Space, though she only appears briefly in a cartoon Q&A at the end. This collection, with its peek at Walden’s early work, feels like a short exploration into why Walden is an interesting creator, as well as a promise of what’s to come from one of comics’ most talented and exciting artists.