On a Sunbeam (2016)

Synopsis

Mia joins a group of space-faring restoration experts as they retrofit abandoned buildings on alien worlds. Intercut with this are Mia’s reflections on her days in school and a relationship that altered the course of her life.

Notes on This Title

There is an incidence of misgendering of which sensitive readers may want to be aware.

Awards

2017 Eisner Award for Best Digital Comic - Nominee
2018 School Library Journal Best Books

Reviews

Starred review: “Walden’s (Spinning, 2017) swirling, atmospheric artwork is phenomenal: she plays with darkness and shadows in captivating ways perfectly in keeping with the light-poor space atmosphere, and swathes of luminous, saturated color only emphasize that darkness. There aren’t many planets in the inky black, star-speckled backgrounds, but architectural structures float freely, and they’re set together at weird, surprising angles, unconstrained by gravity. There’s an organic, familiar quality to the spaces, with trees, rock formations, window seats, cathedral ceilings, and messy rooms, but the starry expanses outside every window are a stark reminder of their interstellar location. The sparking interplay between familiar and foreign is utterly mesmerizing, and the story carries that through as well: the sf components are inventive and compellingly strange, but the romance between Mia and Grace, not to mention the warm, teasing affection among Mia’s crewmates, grounds the story in a heartening, recognizable place. A remarkable, stunning comic.” (Source: Booklist Online)

Starred review: “In this sprawling, wonderfully original space jaunt by Walden (Spinning), the depicted characters are all female or gender nonbinary, and the diverse protagonists inhabit cluttered and homey quarters aboard a fish-shaped starship. Teenage Mia joins the close-knit crew of the spaceship Aktis, who travel the galaxy restoring old buildings that float untethered in open space. Flashbacks chronicle Mia’s freshman year at boarding school—bullies, sports, and all—and her doomed romance with the mysterious Grace. When Mia discovers her crewmates’ unexpected connection to Grace, the crew embarks on a dangerous mission to a forbidden planet to find her. The exquisite art foregrounds simply lined characters against intricate architectural constructs, and Walden’s distinctive layers of flat color create temporal cohesion and emphasize themes of memory and family. As Walden develops the relationships, and drops tantalizing hints about the vast universe this graphic novel inhabits, it becomes clear that the meandering, atmospheric journey—and the growth it affords each character—is the point. With a gratifying conclusion, this masterful blend of science fiction–inflected school drama, road trip, and adventure is nothing less than marvelous. Ages 12–up.” (Source: Publishers Weekly)

Starred review: “Gr 7 Up–Walden illustrates two time lines in this meditative space epic on romantic and platonic love—and explores the value of closure. Mia, along with her newfound family-cum-shipmates, travels the universe restoring abandoned structures. Walden’s cast of female and nonbinary characters, most of who are lesbian, are simply lined and often set against astonishing, detailed views of space. Teens will savor this graphic novel, returning again and again.” (Source: School Library Journal)

“Whether they are at an all-girl’s school, a secret underground colony on a moon, or revitalizing abandoned architecture, the characters appear almost entirely female. That’s not to say there aren’t butches, there are, including Alma — who with her partner Char are the bosses/parents to a small band of traveling restorationists who are far more family than employees. The single exception to the all-women rule is possibly Elliot, the apparently-assigned-male-at-birth character who is nonbinary and uses the pronoun they. Ell’s origins play a critical role in the plot and climatic scenes, but the heart of the story revolves around Mia, the newcomer to the family, and her deep-seated need to find her first love, Grace. Pulled apart as school girls, Mia needs to know if what they had was real, and if Grace is happy where she is now (her leaving wasn’t entirely her choice). This being a family, the others (there’s also another girl, Jules) come to love Mia enough to risk everything to reach Grace. The art is dreamy, sci-fi with one-, two-, and three-color images that hold you captive through-out the epic tale.” (Source: Advocate)

“Tillie Walden’s work is some of my current favorite; it’s just plain terrific. I love her single-story online comics and books, and a few months ago I wrote about how excited I am for her next book, but until that comes out, I’m extremely happy to have her new webcomic On a Sunbeam to read. This webcomic focuses on a young girl, Mia, who’s a freshman in what seems like outer space high school? And no matter what she does, she can’t quite seem to keep out of trouble. The story takes place at two times: in the current story, Mia is working with a crew of other young people to restore space ruins, and in flashbacks we see her when she was still in school, in what looks like the events leading up to why she’s now working with that crew. The whole comic is completely gorgeous and very wonderfully written and takes place is a gorgeous and fascinating world. Tillie Walden is amazing and I’m so glad this comic exists for us to read.” (Source: Autostraddle)

“Tillie Walden has been putting out new books at a remarkable rate for the past few years, but On A Sunbeam delivers a story and art that are just as evocative and even more delicate than her previous work, defying concerns of burnout. It’s difficult to pin down a genre for On A Sunbeam, which is suitable for young adult readers but has enough emotional weight and intricately detailed artwork for adults, too. It’s a love story, but not exclusively romantic, and while the book is set in space it has fantasy elements that make it fall in line with tales of magical boarding schools. Ultimately what makes On A Sunbeam such a wonderful read is the work that Walden puts into her characters. There is sweetness in each of them, and affection for one another, but more importantly there’s also steel in their spines; they don’t always agree on what the right thing to do is, but they do act on it.” (Source: AV Club)

“While the buildings and the fish-shaped spaceships are purely fantastical, Walden sinks her characters’ roots deep, building solid foundations for them to stand on. Girlhood is the universal thread that binds all her work together, and this book is no different. While the main characters are all young adults in the current timeline that is presented to readers, Mia in particular features in a lot of flashbacks as a young teen, falling in love with her classmate, Grace. It’s a gentle and careful telling of a deeply traumatic and cathartic story, which is squarely in Walden’s wheelhouse. Mia’s story unfolds faster than the rest of the cast’s, but their stories are no less important, and are just as well thought-out. There’s real affection between the crew of the spaceship they’re traveling in, and the real frustration that comes with caring about someone when they do things you don’t like. Mia’s transition from girlhood to womanhood is mapped out on the pages of the book, growing slowly and organically through her relationships with the rest of the cast. It’s not immediately evident, but maturity in this world is measured by emotional competence and understanding consent and respect, which is a powerful message to act as the underpinning for an epic love story.” (Source: AV Club)

“Walden’s (Spinning, 2017, etc.) diverse cast of queer characters includes Char, a black woman who co-captains the reconstruction crew with her white wife, Alma; Mia’s past love Grace (a black woman); and Elliot, a white nonbinary person who communicates nonverbally. While Mia’s journey is central, every character experiences a moment of growth over the course of the narrative. The timeline alternates between Mia’s memories depicting the progression of her relationship with Grace and the present. At times both gently romantic and heartbreaking, the story ultimately celebrates love and the importance of chosen family.” (Source: Kirkus)

“The chapters alternate in time, developing young Mia’s relationship with Grace while simultaneously exploring her relationship with the crew and, in the end, bringing those two threads together. With as much reflection as it has action, On a Sunbeam takes the reader on a quiet, thoughtful journey through all different shades of love as well as the risks worth taking for it. It’s a meditative and domestic project, human above all even while showing people’s rough edges.” (Source: Tor)

“Every now and again, there’s a comic that will stop you dead in your tracks and consume your time until you take in every last page and dialogue bubble. That’s the case with Tillie Walden’s fantastic, ongoing webcomic, On A Sunbeam. The story follows a girl named Mia after she’s assigned to a spaceship and tasked with rebuilding old structures, while the story flashes back to her past.” (Source: The Verge)

“Mia is fresh out of high school when she gets a job doing deep-space building restoration, joining a crew consisting of curt foreman Alma, shy captain Char, silent technician Elliot, and ebullient iconoclast Jules, travelling in a koi-shaped starship to fix up old buildings free-floating out in the abyss. It’s a lush and dreamlike setting peppered with beautiful and inexplicable background elements and following a set of rules that only Walden knows. Windows open harmlessly to space, train tracks stretch between planets, gigantic cats play and hunt among the stars, and gravity doesn’t exist except when it does. It’s delicious and odd and I’ve never seen its like.” (Source: Yes Homo)

Interviews

Bookish: “The Next Frontier: Tillie Walden’s Webcomic On a Sunbeam Will Be Adapted to a Graphic Novel”

ComicsAlliance: “Why Tillie Walden’s ‘On a Sunbeam’ Makes Outer Space a Warm Place”

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