The Book: A City Inside flashes backwards and forwards through the life of a lonely child as she becomes an adult and struggles to deal with the world around her – and how she shares it with the girl she falls in love with.
The Review: As I was writing this review, the news broke that Tillie Walden had just received a richly deserved Eisner Award nomination for her last comic with Avery Hill called ‘I Love This Part’ ( you can read a review of it here). It’s a book I love – but I think A City Inside betters it.
Just the cover itself speaks to the emotions and themes of the story itself. A child climbs onto a widow ledge, to stare out of her sparsely decorated world inside her house at the bright world outside; a cover with minimalistic line work and framed with heavy block blacks. The sunlight illuminates the world with gentle summer yellows as the loneliness of the child carries on the breeze towards the reader.
It says so much through style and mood that you cannot but be struck by its simple beauty.
As you leaf into the book itself, the first interior page is of a sky at night, full of stars. The cover and this inside page image counterpoint each other and clarify that the world of the interior gives way to the outside, the shared world, a world we all have to deal with as we grow up: scary, uncertain, yet beautiful and often unreachable.
Tillie has told a story that is incredibly personal. It is layered with the moments of introspection and uncertainty that we all feel as we grow up, but scatters elements of the strange and fantastical within the panels. It’s a storytelling device that leads toward an easy comparison with Little Nemo by Winsor McCay. In common with McCay’s work, we see flight as a dream, a character soaring into the sky alone while tucked up in bed. Yet Tillie draws from this the world of the interior, the dreams and thoughts of someone with only their own thoughts and fantasies for company.
“You gave up the sky for her”
As Tillie’s central character grows, she has to cope with the decisions that adults make. She meets a girl and falls in love with her. In doing so she has to give up a little of the “interior world”, a little bit of her own self. She learns that to grow you must change and allow the outside events of the world to overtake the inner thoughts and dreams that you’d previously occupied and felt comfortable within.
The world changes. The life and introspection that we held onto in our formative years is lost to a certain respect. Can we, or should we, hold onto the interior?
We let the world inside give way to the movement and clatter of the world outside and we grow to share and cope and love and move on with our lives. Yet often a little bit is lost, yearned for as our lives speed up around us. Tillie communicates this through her art and words so deftly that the world will stop as you read.
As with Tillie’s previous work, A City Inside deals with sadness and discovery. The characters learn about themselves in snatched moments of time. They communicate both internally and externally in a style that is stripped down to the bare minimum – and because of this the story uses language that is gorgeously impactful as the moments turn into a life.
The art makes use of large panels that are more often than not wordless. Each opens your eye more to the story, the characters world and their fears of sharing and losing a little of themselves. The black and white line work is the creator’s most accomplished to date and reminds me in certain panels of a looser and freerer version of Terry Moore’s work from Strangers in Paradise fame or, perhaps, Alex Robinson’s from Box Office Poison.
But Tillie is one hundred per cent her own creator, with a vision that although only three graphic novels in has a life and a vibe all of its own. The timing of each panel is breathtaking. It has a pause that will break your heart in its sincerity and incitefulness.
Avery Hill are a company that put out quality time after time. Tillie and the Avery Hill Mob are the perfect team-up. I cannot wait to see what they do next.
This book is getting a release on Free Comic Book Day next Saturday, 7th May. If you are in the London area you can even pop down to the launch party between 7.00 and 9.00pm at Gosh Comics, 1 Berwick Street, London – find more details here. )
Many thanks for reading.
Antony Esmond is a comic reviewer and writer – his hips don’t lie.