Biographies are no stranger to SelfMadeHero’s catalogue, but in the few years I’ve been fortunate enough to cover the publisher, the biographies I’ve read have an air of detachment about them. Indeed, many of them have no qualms being biographies rather than autobiographies. Haddon Hall, The Trail of Roger Casement and An Olympic Dream are such titles where the writer and subject matter are two separate characters. Even Ruins and Irmina are ‘inspired’ by events and characters close to the author, rather than exploiting the autobiographic nature fully. It’s a joy then to embrace Tillie Waldon‘s debut comic Spinning, a sparse, lengthily, unfiltered encapsulation of Waldon’s teenage years growing up with ambitions of being an ice skater.
What strikes you the hardest when reading Spinning is its fragile execution, in both story and artwork. Throughout the comic, characters and landscapes appear incomplete, whilst being illustrated in a minimal mixture of purples, blacks and yellows. It feels as though we’re caught somewhere between dusk and dawn. That sense of incompleteness arcs over the story, as we follow Walden’s teenage years with a stop-start mentality, shifting from people to people and moments to moments who impact on her life.
At times, coupling Spinning‘s melancholic attitude with numerous traumatic events in Walden’s life, such as her parents discovery and apparent disdain for falling in love with another girl and abuse from a personal tutor, can make for tough, uncompromising reading. However, it’s a testament to Walden’s craft as a storyteller that Spinning never looses its cohesive tone. Each fragmented piece of story builds on the last one, culminating on Walden’s eventual decision to abandon her ice skating career. Countering the comic’s previous moments of angst, Walden happily letting her career slip from her grasp gives Spinning some welcome levity. However, the moment isn’t without its own intimate level of heartache.
The language used in Spinning feels as though it’s from two different worlds. Dialogue is sparse, but the narration, from Walden herself, is clear and acute. It almost reads less like narration and more like Walden’s internal thoughts, like they’re occurring in real time with the comic’s story. That juxtaposition between near-mute teenage speak and far deeper, precise inner thoughts adds credence to the incomplete theme, as if these thoughts are trying to escape, but for now, can’t.
Spinning is a comic that weaves a concise, compelling journey out of confusion. It isn’t the warmest comic you’ll ever read, but you won’t find yourself smothered by its constant angst. It’s too tender for that. Instead, you’ll find yourself calmly enveloped in Spinning‘s masterful ability to pull narrative and emotional clarity out of a raucous period in Walden’s life.