Sometimes, people are so used to seeing superheroes duke it out inside panels that they forget comics can deal with any topic, often better than words alone can. And, depending on how you view sequential art, it may be the most ancient form of storytelling, dating back to cave paintings. Poetic, beautiful, and tragic, Tillie Walden‘s A City Inside is an experimental indie comic, one of the many vibrant ones that push the medium’s boundaries. The story has elements of fantasy, but its personal tale and emotions make it all too human. Told with unique narration and a sparse design, it’s a bit more avante-garde than most indie comics.
The story is bookended in a surreal therapy/meditation session, where our main character relives her life while lying on a cushion. The story weaves through her journey from growing up a lonely girl in the South, until she leaves for the city, and then, in a surreal twist, lives in the sky in a floating mattress-pod. She meets her soulmate in a village among the stars, and the story proceeds to take dramatic and fascinating turns from there. Walden tells the story in second person narration, which is typically taboo for writers, but she pulls it off expertly. The “you” at the start of each sentence makes the story more personal for the reader and puts them more in the main character’s shoes. Through in a fine-spirited cat named Nancy, and you have everything needed for an entertaining story.
Walden’s art is both quaint and emotive. The entire graphic novel is done in black and white, which allows her to create stark contrasts and also makes the tone a bit more somber, despite the forays into magical realism. The comic’s text is in a handwritten font, which makes the story have a personal touch and tone. Walden’s lines are thin and her character’s expressions simple, but she doesn’t shy away from complex emotions. We see everything from someone lying in bed, contemplating their whole life, to someone eating bread. She’s also not afraid to commit entire panels to the page, which gives the narration a leisurely pace that lets the reader soak into her art. She fills the panels with great detail, even drawing individual raindrops, or committing to detailed drapery designs.
When someone challenges the idea that comic books can’t be art, show them A City Inside. This short, but poignant graphic novel explores someone’s entire life, from moments of sheer joy to moments of lonely despair. The patient storytelling, mixed with beautiful designs, craft a delicate tale that leaves you feeling as if you understand the main character and everything she’s been through. Tillie Walden has a talent for both words and images, and her effortless combinations of the two show that graphic novels, comic books, sequential art, or however you want to call it, is filled with talented storytellers.
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