Tillie Walden is only 26, yet she has the awareness and maturity of a long-time author who has seen, lived and experienced everything. You speak of drawing as a great adventure to get to know yourself and others; and of writing as a visceral, extemporaneous process that cannot be harnessed in the moment. As she talks about herself, she looks beyond her: she looks at the things she has done, at the people she has met and at the many lessons that she, in her career, she has learned. Her style is unique: clear, linear, full of inks and blacks. And, at the same time, it is delicate. As if suspended in the air, light. In some ways, even welcoming.
For Walden, comics are a constant: it’s his job, his life, what he loves and what he knows how to do. Clementine, published by Saldapress, is the first issue of a trilogy and perfectly embodies his ambitions and vision of her. It is not, trivially, a zombie story set in the universe of The Walking Dead; it is a story of growth and rediscovery, and – more importantly – of humanity.
“I’ve always known about The Walking Dead,” he says. “When I was a little girl, my father used to read comics. I started reading them when I was perhaps too young. But I had never heard of Clementine. For me, there were only the TV series and comics ». Video games, she says, came later. And it was in this way that he met the character of Clementine. «The first to tell me about it was the publisher. They contacted me and offered to do a comic about her. So I played the video game ».
Was it fundamental?
“I had to understand. They didn’t just ask me to do a comic, but to do a three-volume miniseries. And it’s a big commitment. I liked the video game, and in the end I said yes ».
Where did it start from?
“In my opinion there is no worse story than a story focused solely on the plot. Creating contact with the reader, trying to express precise emotions, are two fundamental aspects of the story. I prefer to know that someone cares about my characters for who they are, not for the action or the surprise of the story. Another contact needs to be created. And it is a contact between me and my audience ».
It feels extremely intimate.
“I love movies, but sometimes they go too fast. With comics you can stop. You can focus on a single cartoon for as long as you want, and make that thing yours – get to know that character, study him, even try to understand him. “
What is the best thing about your job?
“I can’t help but ink. Usually, when you make a comic, you write it, draw it and only at the end you pass the ink. For me, inking is the moment when I can really feel free, when I can have fun. There is something that attracts me: maybe it’s the lines, maybe it’s the color of the ink itself. I could never work digitally, never ».
“Because it doesn’t allow you to feel present at the exact moment you are doing something. But when you work on paper, every gesture, even the smallest, counts. And it takes on a different weight and meaning ».
Do you think you have changed in recent years, since your first comic?
“Absolutely yes. I can’t list all the changes I’ve gone through. But even now, between the first and second volumes of Clementine, I have become another artist. On the one hand, I feel I have improved. But on the other hand, I am convinced that I still have to learn, that I don’t know everything; and so there is always something that does not convince me, something that, for me, is not perfect. It is not possible to make a book and not change ».
What is the most important aspect for you? The plot or the characters?
“Space. With Clementine I started from Vermont and from that particular setting. These are the places that allow me to find the right atmosphere for the story. Only then do I build the rest. I try to draw the whole book without stopping, panel after panel. Obviously in the editing phase I know that it will change, and that it will change substantially. But I can’t write the script or the lines first: it’s something I hate, it’s so boring. I want to experience what my characters live in the exact moment they experience it. Not before. Even when I switch to inking, I keep changing ».
And how do you understand, at this point, that a comic is finished?
“A book, in my opinion, is never really finished. And that’s my big problem with publishing. There is always something, as I said, that can be improved or changed. And publishing, in a certain sense, means to stop insisting; it means to be satisfied ».
Gender is often just an excuse: a way to talk about other issues and other aspects. In Clementine, where is the center of the story?
“There are many books that use this same genre; the apocalypse and zombies are still very popular. Probably because our idea of an end, in recent years, has sharpened. For me, however, the genre is just a gateway to stories. Clementine could have been anything else. Even with zombies, the same arguments remain. The only really interesting thing for an artist is the ability to change and invent. After the apocalypse, there is no creative limit. We can start again ».
How did you come to this job?
“I never thought I could become a cartoonist. At first, I wasn’t that good as a designer. What immediately struck me was the opportunity to talk about things I usually didn’t talk about. In the comics, I’ve always been free. Even my being gay, an aspect of my life that I hardly told about, took on another dimension. Since I’m comfortable with my sexuality, being a cartoonist has found another meaning. And, honestly, I still wonder what it is. I feel this constant urge to move forward, to draw. Maybe if I didn’t do what I do, I wouldn’t feel complete. “
Everything comes from passion?
“For a long time, I was figure skating. I have always given my best. I was very disciplined. I approached comics in the same way, and I try to follow a similar path: I draw and give my all. Everyday. It is also perseverance ».
When he was younger, he attended a workshop with Scott McCloud (cartoonist and comic theorist, ndr). What impact did it have on you and your career?
“It transformed me. Before that workshop, I didn’t know much about comics. I knew them, of course. But I didn’t know anything about the work of cartoonists. In the beginning, my father had to go. But he was working, and so it was my turn. I remember doing a terrible comic; and I remember Scott walking up and complimenting me. He was lying, of course. But hearing an adult, for the first time in my life, support me and treat me like that changed me. After that workshop, I did nothing but comics. From 15 to 17 years old. I didn’t go to college precisely because I wanted to go this route. And at first, I confess, I didn’t think I could do it all my life. And instead I was lucky ».
She is also a manga reader. What was the most important influence?
“Probably Osamu Tezuka. He did Astro Boy, yes, but also other incredible comics. I am thinking, for example, of Kirihito and The Song of Apollo. Comics that can be truly obscure. I read them when I was very little. The most surprising thing about Tezuka’s work is her ability to change style, to go from delicate, almost sketchy characters to extremely realistic pages. Without Tezuka, today I would not be who I am ».
What relationship do you have with your readers?
«I often think about it, I tell you the truth. Some readers feel particularly attached to me because of what I tell. But I don’t know them, and they don’t know me. I’m not just the author of my comics. There are so many other things that I keep out: my things, private things. I am obviously proud of this affection. And I am especially proud of the closeness of the younger audience. Sometimes, however, meeting my readers can be difficult ».
What do you mean?
“I can’t understand, not really, what they feel about me and my stories. I know: everyone talks about the challenge of overcoming criticisms and negative opinions; but even this, even receiving compliments and being appreciated, can be complicated to understand. Meeting readers widens my world, but I remain a shy and introverted person, and all I want is to be able to help and take care of them. “
Do you feel responsible?
“Sometimes yes. My audience is very young, and I feel I have to be realistic and honest. I don’t go around things. I try to be direct and kind at the same time. I haven’t always had good experiences with adults. And I know how it can feel. With books, I try to be optimistic. And ultimately my comics say exactly that: everything will be fine. Despite the problems. Despite the darkness. Despite the ugliness. Really: everything will be fine ».
When you get stuck and can’t move forward in a story, how do you find inspiration?
“It happens to me all the time. One of the things that allows me to move forward is the awareness of not having to answer all the possible questions with my book: the awareness of not having to make a revelation of every page. A book can, and must, talk about simple things. Walk, wait, eat. It is important to remember that we are not perfect, that not everything can be perfect, and that what we do – simplifying as much as possible – are comics. And I try to remember something else too ».
“This is my job, and I have responsibilities and duties; I have to deliver, respect my commitment and I can’t stop. Some days are simply bad days: but they pass, they don’t last long ».