The City Inside (Avery Hill Publishing)

ACI Front CoverFor the follow up to her Eisner-nominated story I Love This Part, indie sensation Tillie Walden has concocted a surreal and dream-like tale called A City Inside. Focusing on a nameless protagonist it looks at life, love and living in the clouds to create a book that is completely unique and helps to further develop Walden’s place as one of the most exciting voices on the indie comics scene.

ACI Front CoverPublisher: Avery Hill Publishing
Writer: Tillie Walden
Artist: Tillie Walden
Price: £7.50 from Avery Hill Publishing

Our rating: [star rating=”4″]

A City Inside begins with a female figure lying on a a cushion, relaxing with a cup of tea before being pushed/enveloped by the cushion and then the story begins.

We’re assuming this represents some kind of hypnosis or past life regression, but it’s never really made clear what the journey we’re about to go on is or who the protagonists are. The remainder of the book sees our nameless narrator describe her dream-like life from childhood in the Deep South of the USA through a relationship and on to old-age, before waking up and returning to the real world.

It’s a very curious read, with the whole thing told in the past tense as if it is a life already lived. As with Walden’s other work it has a lilting dream-like quality to it (which works perfectly in this context), as it meanders from key moment to key moment. What makes Tillie’s work so unique though is the way that it revels in the quiet times rather than shouting and making a noise about what it is trying to say. Although this makes for a story without traditional narrative beats it also makes for a thoroughly compelling and original read – especially when read multiple times, and it is definitely a book that warrants repeat reads, if only to drink in the detail of the visuals.

This is because the artwork features what are becoming one of Tillie’s trademarks – her incredible use of buildings. Ranging from a rural opener to some fantastic fictional cityscapes, her eye for detail is stunning and a real contrast to the simplicity of the rest of the panels. She also seems to have added a Studio Ghibli like feel at times with some of the characterization and moments of magical surrealism, such as when our main character lives in a house in the sky.

The story also features familiar themes from Walden’s other books, most notably a same-sex relationship at the story’s heart. As in I Love This Part this is handled in an incredibly intelligent and empathetic manner which makes it utterly believable, in no way sensational or attention-grabbing. and gives the whole story a beautiful core to build around. If anyone ever tells you there is no diversity in comics, then be sure to give them one of Tillie’s books to prove them wrong! (The characters even seem to be racially ambiguous, featuring a real mix of ethnicities without focusing on one outright).

Compared to the relative simplicity of I Love This Part, A City Inside is a much more surreal and meandering tale that makes it slightly more difficult to get an immediate grasp on as a result. Her unique mix of melancholic whimsy and genuine emotional depth, is a real delight to see develop from one story to the next, and A City Inside helps to further develop the growing portfolio of one of the most distinctive and imaginative voices in indie comics.