Spinning by Tillie Walden (SelfMadeHero)

Thanks to critically acclaimed books like Endless Summer and I Love This Part, Tillie Walden has become one of the most interesting voices on the indie scene today. But for her follow up to the surreal sci-fi of our Indie Comic Of The Year In A Sunbeam she has opted for an auto-biographical tale about ice skating in Texas. Will this be a gold medal winning performance or will it fall flat on the ice?

Publisher: SelfMadeHero
Writer: Tillie Walden
Artist: Tillie Walden
Price: £14.99 from Amazon

Spinning follows Tillie’s pre-teen years growing up in Texas after her family move there from New Jersey. She uses skating as a way to make friends and build relationships in her new hometown, but as is often the case in those formative years, they don’t always come as easily as the skating does for her. Especially when you add in a sense of loss at leaving her life (and coach) on the east coast behind, the teen angst of both her and her peers, and the issue of a blossoming sexuality – which is cut and dry for Tillie but more challenging for those around her.

As with her previous work, Tillie’s gentle touch both narratively and visually, make Spinning into an utterly delightful read. Even without the giant space cathedrals or huge empty palaces you can see the themes from her previous work like isolation and loneliness or the struggle to fight an inescapable destiny in challenging environments, permeate the book. In many ways it feels like by writing this personal story Tillie has revealed the true heart of her writing, instead of hiding behind metaphors and allegories. In doing so she has created the ultimate Tillie story, one that rewards long term fans but also creates a fantastic intro to her unique world view.

The artwork as always is stunning, with Tillie dispensing some of her more elaborate compositions to create a very grounded and real style. The artwork feels slightly tighter in composition and more realistic (which may just be a sign of her growing confidence), and by mixing tight panelled pages with wider spreads (plus the wonderful skating diagrams at the start of every chapter) it creates a sublimely paced read.

For some this pace may seem fairly slow and lacks a sense of immediacy in the story-telling, but this is something which we see as a positive. As with all great autobiographical books it has an intimacy and depth to it that allows you into the author’s world to share their emotional journey, both good and bad. And for that reason it needs time to breathe. Certainly the scenes involving Tilie’s relationship with Rae are heart breakingly raw and feel very real, as do those with her parents during her coming out. But they aren’t played for sensationalism with splash pages and exclamation marks signalling key emotional moments. Tillie just lets the words and pictures tell her story and you can’t help but be swept along with it – it definitely helps that she is such an engaging narrator. If you are a teenage girl, or a parent of teenage girls, struggling to find their place in the world, then you could not ask for a better book to discover than Spinning as it tackles the issues of teen sexuality and identity in such a powerful but sympathetic way.

While it may lack the fantastical events that made her early work so distinctive, it is not completely without its quirks. The skating world, although rooted in reality, is still pretty strange with its pre-teen team politicals, fake hair, fake, tan, secret rules and cliques that Tillie has to negotiate and it is the minutiae of her skating routine and training schedule which pull you into her world and make you feel so engrossed in the story. As well making the key emotional moments feel more important as you have grown to know and understand the character of young Tillie through her day to day activity.

For long time fans, Spinning feels very much like the culmination of her journey from aspiring writer to indie superstardom. And while it may lack some of the uniqueness that made us fall in love with her work in the first place, this feels like such an important story for Tillie to tell that you must read it to appreciate her work as a whole. However, if this is your first experience of Tillie’s work then you could not ask for a better introduction. An intimate portrait of the struggles of youth, set against the unconventional backdrop of figure skating in Texas, and told by an artist with a deft and beautiful touch. Spinning sees one of the indie comic scene’s most important writers truly find her voice and execute that medal-winning routine to perfection.