[There are many great comics out there. There are many free comics out there. And my reduction, there must be many great AND free comics for readers to experience. Will The Beat make it to 365 links this year? Don’t bet on it, but we’ll be trying in this series.]
Let’s kick off our free comics series with On a Sunbeam, possibly the most obvious choice possible. It’s the creation of Tillie Walden, the 20-year-old wunderkind CCS graduate who is setting the comics world on fire. Winner of the 2016 Ignatz as Best New Talent, Walden has already turned out three full graphic novels as a teen – The End of Summer, I Love this Part and A City Inside – all published by Avery Hill. In October First Second will release Spinning, her full length graphic memoir about her days as a competitive skater. In the meantime, On A Sunbeam is a fully immersive, massive story that provides rich layers of storytelling for free each and every week. It’s the best bang for your buck in comics.
The roughly SF tale involves Mia, a young woman in a space faring future. There are two separate storylines. In one, an older Mia works for a company that goes to planets to restore forgotten buildings. She accompanied by a small crew that has its own secrets and relationships to work out.
In the seeming past, a younger Mia is in a boarding school and learning about life and a single relationship.
ON the about page, Walden tells us:
OAS will be 20 chapters long in total, and if everything goes according to plan the comic will end in February 2017.
OAS updates every Wednesday evening at 8pm CT. The comic will first be uploaded on to this site and then portions of it will go on social media. I am on Tumblr, Twitter, and Instagram and I will post about updates right when they happen.
She’s already 13 chapters in so it’s a perfect jumping on point to roll with the last few weeks to finish the story. In an interview with The Verge Walden named some influences: Sam Alden, Jillian Tamaki and Irish novelist Tana French.
In its two parts, Walden indeed echoes classic comics genres while rendering them in her own unique visual language. The school storyline recalls Tamaki’s Super Mutant Magic Academy and countless manga. The SF part, with its focus on the architecture of huge and forgotten spaces, recalls Walden’s earlier End of Summer, but also the European comics tradition of stories about protagonists in beautiful, deserted places, from Corto Maltese to Fires to The Speed Abater.
Walden is supporting this work with a Patreon and a donation campaign. For only $3 you get Walden’s daily diary comics which are as well drawn as anything she’s done and qualifies as an insane bargain.
At her young age, Walden follows in the footsteps of other teenage comics tyros like Joe Kubert, Steve Dillon, Trevor von Eeden, Colleen Doran and Kyle Baker. While continuing what all those great artists did, Walden also has a kind of “Tiger Woods” feeling about her work: she’s an evolutionary leap forward in cartooning, fearless, assured and, most astonishingly, just getting started.
There’s more about On a Sunbeam in this interview at Broken Frontier.
I’m not a huge sci-fi fan so I really don’t know much about the genre and I’ve found that because of that all my ideas feel very fresh and bizarre. I purposely tried to design the world in a way that wasn’t typical. I saw Star Wars for the first time about a year ago and thought it was really boring. And it seemed like such a waste to take a space setting and make it be full of dull machinery and dust. Also silly clothes. Oh god I’m gonna make people angry. But the point is, is that to me space is limitless. And it seems like the perfect place to fill with everything my imagination can come up with. I don’t care that trees can’t exist in space; my space world has tons of them. Also fish ships. That’s a whole thing.
And here’s a preview of the first chapter, reprinted with permission from Walden:
Heidi MacDonald is the founder and editor in chief of The Beat. In the past, she worked for Disney, DC Comics, Fox and Publishers Weekly. She can be heard regularly on the More To Come Podcast. She likes coffee, cats and noble struggle.