Review by Lily Reeves
Tillie Walden’s On a Sunbeamis the lesbian space epic you’ve been waiting for—
The first time I read Tillie Walden’s On a Sunbeam, when it was a recently completed webcomic, I stayed up all night to read it in one sitting, crying my eyes out. The second time, when it was released as a physical graphic novel, I did the exact same thing.
On a Sunbeamis a tender gut-punch of a science-fiction romance. It tells the story of Mia, a young woman fresh out of high school, who joins up with a small, spacefaring, building restoration crew. It also tells, in flashbacks, the story of her freshman year, and how she fell in love with her mysterious classmate, Grace. As Mia grows closer to the crew, and more comfortable with her new life, you learn more about her past, and how it led her to this point—and how everything is more connected than it seems.
While Mia is the clear protagonist, Grace and the restoration crew—the methodical captain, Char, her hot-tempered wife, Alma, the larger-than-life Jules, and the enigmatic Elliot—have their own storylines as well, and they all tie together beautifully. In fact, Walden gives every minor character that shows up in the comic so much personality that you feel like you know all of them.
On a Sunbeamis the type of book that science-fiction gatekeepers love to hate. This is not a story filled with lore and hard science. Rather, it seamlessly blends the fantastical with the science-fictional in a way reminiscent of Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time.Small plots of land that look like they were scooped off of contemporary country roads float untethered in space. Foxes made of vapor traverse a poisonous moon and are worshipped by human settlers. Every spaceship is a giant metallic fish, gracefully swimming through the stars. No, there are no explanations for these things, no concessions to the demands of logic. They just are, because they’re lovely and atmospheric and help tell the story.
Some people may also take issue with the lack of men in the story. (Let’s be honest: it’s probably the same people.) There are no male characters in On a Sunbeam:no side-characters, none in the background, none even mentioned by anyone. Nothing suggests that this is a sci-fi universe in which men have gone extinct though—Mia and Grace attended Cleary’s School for Girls, which would be a useless distinction without other genders, and the restoration crew own a male cat named Paul—they just never come up. So if you’ve been waiting for an epic space romance with only female and non-binary characters, this is the book for you.
Tillie Walden has crafted a beautiful love story, for every definition of the word “love.” Love for your friends, your family, or your outer space high school girlfriend—love that drives you to sacrifice yourself, to save yourself, or to travel to the edge of the known universe just to see someone one last time. Every aspect of the book, its story and its art, upholds its core function: to tell the story of how Mia learns to love life.
Published by First Second on October 2nd, 2018
Instagram: @ tilliewalden