"The Sci-Fi Comic That Reimagines Utopia"
April 13, 2019 12:24 PM   Subscribe

On a Sunbeam is a science fiction webcomic by the Eisner Award winning comics artist Tillie Walden. The story, 20 chapters long, is complete, and has been published as a book, but remains free online. Stephanie Burt raved about it in the New Yorker, calling it "the kind of story that adults can and should give to queer teens, and to autistic teens, and to teens who care for space exploration, or civil engineering, or cross-cultural communication" and "also a story for adults who were once like those teens."
posted by Kattullus (15 comments total) 56 users marked this as a favorite

posted by evilDoug at 1:41 PM on April 13

I really loved this book, and I also had some misgivings about how the nonverbal character was portrayed. I tried to find commentary on that from folks who are nonverbal and/or on the spectrum, but couldn't find any. If anyone has come across anything, I'd be interested to read it.
posted by ITheCosmos at 2:17 PM on April 13

Wow, beautiful. Can't wait to dig in.
posted by Ten Cold Hot Dogs at 2:38 PM on April 13

Absolutely recommend it. It’s rare to see a fantasy author create such a unique visual vocabulary.
posted by cricketcello at 3:21 PM on April 13

I read the book earlier this year. The visuals are stunning and I love the inclusivity, but I did find some of the plotting and themes to be, how shall I say this, ... Tillie Walden is still pretty young. I think there's a lot of stuff in the book that would be different and deeper if she was two decades older. NEVERTHELESS I do recommend it.
posted by seanmpuckett at 4:42 PM on April 13 [2 favorites]

This looks nice but I sure am having trouble actually *reading* the thing, between her cramped handwriting and all the characters looking pretty much alike except for the one with a darker skin tone.
posted by egypturnash at 5:10 AM on April 14 [2 favorites]

The speculative fiction book club I attend read this one at our last meeting. First graphic novel for some of the attendees--or second (with something along the lines of Maus or Persepolis as their introduction to the genre). It was really interested to hear how some of the older folks in the group were like 'this isn't sci fi!' because it wasn't all technology and how the future works. Sure, I got into the Martian, too, and read through a ton of Assimov as a teen, but seriously? THERE ARE FISH SPACESHIPS. IN SPACE. How is that not science fiction? The comic geeks in the group really got into the use of color and how Walden didn't give any of her characters their (I forget the term) color throughout? That the characters were had certain shading (so-and-so's hair is always the darkest hue, this other character's the lightest etc.) but they always reflected palette used in the scene.

What I most enjoyed was the dreamy quality of so much of the artwork and plot. And how it was such an explicitly queer book.
posted by carrioncomfort at 7:32 AM on April 15 [4 favorites]

It feels depressingly realistic that a future space society would still screw up someone's pronouns because they don't care.

Also, yeah, the characters are rather samey even if the art is quite pretty.
posted by Going To Maine at 12:46 AM on April 19 [1 favorite]

Finished! I have lots of little beefs (the fox comes out of nowhere, the Ell story is underdeveloped) but in general this was a really enjoyable romp! I want a fish spaceship that has an inside like a funky house...
posted by Going To Maine at 9:39 PM on April 19 [2 favorites]

O also: I'm not sure when I last read an adventure story in which the protagonists were so often overcome by tears. It was a nice change.
posted by Going To Maine at 9:55 PM on April 19 [1 favorite]

I also had some misgivings about how the nonverbal character was portrayed

The Ell reveal that their non-verbality is less a product of trauma and more choice after a traumatic event seemed muddled, as the rationale for that choice isn't clear. (Trauma had previously been acceptable, if not really given a good theoretical basis. ) It's a children's book, so the idea that a character might just take an oath of silence seems fine. Also, the declarative way that Ell is introduced -they're non-binary, and they don't talk- creates a certain expectation that these traits might be linked. For them to be so suddenly decoupled - one is an identity, the other is just this thing they are doing - is jarring.
posted by Going To Maine at 8:42 AM on April 20 [2 favorites]

(Similarly, it seems really weird to me that the New Yorker took Ell's silence as an opportunity to run with "this book is good for autistic kids." It might be good for that crowd, but that doesn't seem to be anywhere in Walden's intent.)
posted by Going To Maine at 5:55 PM on April 20 [2 favorites]

I read Grace as a neurodivergent character but can't find any authorial backup to that.
posted by carrioncomfort at 6:23 AM on April 22 [1 favorite]

Just read Spinning - it only uses a two color palette, which gives the general art-style a bit more of a unified feel. It’s worth a read, and there are some beautiful one-panel pages. The memoir is more disjointed than On A Sunbeam - more a set of connected bubbles of time. A memoir is obviously a different beast than a novel, with different merits, but I do think her growth between the two as a writer is palpable.
posted by Going To Maine at 10:43 PM on May 12 [1 favorite]

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