INTERVIEW: Tillie Walden Discusses Her New Graphic Novel Memoir, ‘Spinning’

Tillie Walden’s new book, Spinning, is one of the best graphic novels we’ve read this year and it finally comes out today! I cannot speak highly enough about this book and I’m very excited for it to get into the hands of readers everywhere. I was incredibly moved by this book and it stuck with me a long time after I had finished it. It’s a truly beautiful book.

If you’re not familiar with the book, Spinning is graphic novel memoir which Walden both wrote and illustrated in its entirety. And at about four hundred pages long, that’s quite the impressive feat! Even more impressive, however, is how open and honest Walden is throughout her story.

Spinning is one of the most relatable books I’ve read in a long time. Walden tells a very personal coming-of-age story that will resonate with readers for years to come. You can read our full review of the book here

We had a chance to talk with Tillie Walden about Spinning ahead of the book’s release. We talked a little bit about what inspired her to tell her story, the process in putting the book together, ice skating, and more.

Check out full interview below! 

What inspired you to tell such a personal story?

Tillie Walden: For a school assignment (I was at the Center for Cartoon Studies in Vermont) I decided to make a short comic about my skating. But when I actually tried to draw it I was completely overwhelmed. I realized there was a lot going on inside me with skating but I had never really dealt with. And the comic I had been planning to draw at that point was supposed to be a humor comic, believe it or not. A few months later I decided to dive into myself and deal with it in this graphic novel.

At what point did you realize that you weren’t really writing a book about ice skating any more but something much deeper and more emotional?

I realized it as soon as I started drawing the final pages. I noticed it because when I was drawing I was much more focused on all the non-skating aspects. So, rather than thinking about what the skates looked like, or what move I was doing, I was preoccupied with what expression I should put on my face, or how I could make the rink look as scary as it felt. That’s when I realized there was a lot more going on.

Were there any characters or moments that you weren’t sure you wanted to include in the book?

I had my share of doubts along the way, but ultimately everything I put in the book was something that I decided was necessary for the story. Memoir is a risk, but it’s one I’m willing to take.

What was the process like both writing and illustrating your own memoirs? Were there any parts of creating Spinning that were more difficult than others? Were there any that were easier?

Ah there were definitely parts that were easier than others. The early years, when I was a little tyke skating in a vest and getting yelled at by coaches, was surprisingly easy to get through. Mostly because there’s a lot of distance. The part of the story that takes place in my teenage years was much more emotional to go through. It was a slog, pure and simple.

How long did the process take? How did that length of time compare to your work on earlier projects?

The actual drawing process only took about three months. But to be fair, I was working non stop for those months. But I had spent a few months before that writing and flirting with the story. At the time, this was the most time I had ever spent on a project. But since finishing Spinning I’ve spent longer on my webcomic. It was strange, it was a surprisingly fast book to make but the work itself was so all encompassing that it felt like I was drawing it for years.

I absolutely love the chapter title pages and how each one includes a particular pose or move in skating. Was it difficult to go back and remember all of them or did they all come back to you naturally?

SO naturally. I could literally feel my muscles tense up while I drew those moves. When you do something for as long as I skated, so much stays with you. The motions feel engrained in me, so they weren’t hard to recall.

What are you hoping that readers can take away from Spinning?

That’s always a hard question, because I want everyone to take whatever it is they need. I guess I would hope that readers who are in competitive sports like I was can see that there’s always a way out, and you always have a choice. And I would hope that any LGBTQ readers could feel a little less alone after reading this.

There has been a lot of early buzz about this book. What has it been like hearing back from readers and seeing what people have had to say so far?

Bizarre. A little weird. Awesome. Scary. Everything, all the emotions. It’s so weird, I really can’t describe it. I have no idea how I’m going to feel when it actually comes out.

After going through and writing your childhood memoirs as a young artist and author, do you ever think you’d ever want to write another memoir at some point in the future?

At the moment I have no interest in doing another memoir any time soon, but never say never. I try not to plan too far ahead. I want to leave my future career open to all possibilities.

Do you have any advice for young artists who are trying to break into the comics industry?

Finish what you start. Don’t be afraid to share your work. But the finishing thing is the most important. Everyone has ideas, and you can stand out by taking your ideas and actually doing something with them.

Is there any question about Spinning, your earlier work, or really anything else that you hoped we’d ask?

Haha I love when I get asked questions like this. It’s like turning the camera around. Hmm, I would love to be asked more about ice skating media in general. I can really rant about how ridiculous I find most skating movies, and how they set up such unrealistic images of the sport. I guess I’m always looking for an opportunity to yell about the problems I see in the sport, especially from the perspective of a gay female ice skater. All the stories about gay ice skaters are focused on men. But female ice skaters face a lot of different challenges, and they rarely get talked about. Ok, I’ll stop. I can really go on about this.