Cartoon Honors

A prolific cartoonist’s vivid and expressive images gain her local recognition.

When Tillie Walden first arrived in Vermont to attend the Center for Cartoon Studies in White River Junction, she only had a couple of years of cartoon creation behind her. “I started making comics when I was 16, which is kind of late compared to a lot of other artists who spent their whole childhood drawing,” says Walden, 26, who earlier this year was the youngest person to be appointed Vermont’s Cartoonist Laureate, a position that has been held by only four cartoonists previously.

Now a celebrated cartoonist and a professor at her alma mater, Walden originally discovered her talent through a short workshop. “My dad signed me up for a comics class with Scott McCloud because he was a big fan of his books, and the class totally changed my life,” says Walden, who grew up in Texas and New Jersey. “It was just two days of drawing comics, but I found the medium so engaging and interesting.” She says that while she had read comics, especially Japanese Manga, growing up, she never really considered making them until that class. “Since then, I really haven’t stopped drawing!”

Walden has published 10 books, including her graphic novel memoir Spinning, for which she won the 2018 Eisner Award for Best Reality-Based Work. In addition to Manga, whose intricate details and intriguing stories inspired her, she says she has always had a “big love” for movies and television. “My mom worked at HBO for 30 years, and I remember watching Six Feet Under in middle school and realizing that stories could help you cope with mortality,” says Walden. “It had a profound effect on me.”

She says she also appreciates the work of her contemporaries, such as Jillian Tamaki, Eleanor Davis, Dan Nott, Robyn Brooke Smith, Jarad Greene, and Daryl Seitchik. “And of course, Emma Hunsinger’s work!” Walden laughs, cheerfully mentioning that she and Hunsinger are married and expecting their first child later this year.” She is truly an inspiration!” In fact, Walden and Hunsinger published a children’s picture book that they wrote and illustrated together, entitled My Parents Won’t Stop Talking

Walden’s output has been fast and furious, but her complex and colorful images offer quiet introspection and deep emotional insight into adolescence, relationships, and, more recently, the apocalyptic world of The Walking Dead. She has also collaborated with Canadian musicians Tegan and Sara and delved into science fiction webcomics.

Vermont is the only state to name a Cartoonist Laureate regularly, and the honor came as a total surprise to Walden. “I know I’ve made a lot of work, but I didn’t think Vermont herself would acknowledge me,” she says. “It was a wonderful feeling. As an artist, you never expect much to come your way. It’s a hard career, so it’s wonderful to feel appreciated!”

Being from Vermont is not actually a requirement for the Laureate position, but Walden has embraced her adopted state passionately. “I moved to Vermont when I was 18, literally the day after high school graduation, and I do think living in the state and being committed to it is an important part of being the laureate,” she says. “I do dearly love living here. It’s been a wonderful place for my wife and me to build our home and family.”

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