Tillie Walden of Norwich was sworn in by Governor Phil Scott during a legislative meeting as Vermont’s Cartoonist Laureate. In attendance were representatives from Norwich and Thetford celebrating the appointed Norwich resident as the fifth person ever to hold this prestigious title. The Cartoonist Laureate title is very special to Vermont, as it is the only state to regularly appoint someone to this role that includes a three-year term of creating art for the state.
Walden is a cartoonist and illustrator who currently teaches at the Center for Cartoon Studies in White River Junction. The bulk of the lessons in her comics class are on how to make a ‘good comic,’ including writing and drawing techniques. Her sold-out 2023 summer class entitled “Queer Comics” is an in-person workshop where students not only will learn about creating comics but attend a workshop specifically for the design of queer comic stories. “It’s a really delightful class,” Walden said.
Walden now succeeds Rick Veitch of West Townshend, who was appointed in 2020. Since the 2011 appointment of Vermont’s first Cartoonist Laureate, Burlington resident James Kochalka, the Cartoon Laureate has been tasked with creating comic depictions of noteworthy events happening in the state throughout their three-year term.
Walden had heard of the Cartoonist Laureate position previously, noting that “There is a big drawing entitled ‘The Seal’ by Ed Koren (the state’s second official Cartoonist Laureate) at the Center for Cartoon Studies, so it sounded official but I never would have expected it [for myself].”
Walden was really surprised to be selected, and said, “It’s a huge honor and I am very excited about the next three years of cartoons, getting to collaborate with the VT Humanities and make comics about life in Vermont.”
Walden has been making comics for over ten years and has published more than ten books, many of which have been award winners or nominees for outstanding achievement. Some of her most notable graphic novels include Are You Listening?, which earned Walden the distinction in 2018 as the youngest winner of the Eisner Award – she was only 22 years old – the first of two Eisner Awards for her. This graphic novel was also nominated as a Harvey Award winner in 2020 for “Book of the Year”, one of the most prestigious awards in the comics industry.
Her professional works also include a trilogy entitled Clementine, which is set in the apocalyptic Walking Dead television series universe. The story finds a pair journeying toward an abandoned ski resort in Vermont (which may be our very own Killington!).
Another recent book project came about rather randomly, about four years ago, according to Walden. The Canadian indie pop duo, Tegan and Sara, were writing a middle grade graphic novel and asked Walden to illustrate the book, titled Junior High. “I said yes immediately!” Walden recalled. They began work on the story during the pandemic. “They were lovely to work with. Both Sara and Tegan really trusted me to do my thing, make edits, and interpret the words in my own way,” Walden said, “They made my job easy, though; their script was so full of heart and laughter.” Walden is now working on a second book with the duo.
One may be surprised to learn that Walden’s graphic novel and childhood memoir Spinning, published in 2017, has since been banned in some southern states, including Texas, where Walden was born. The book is a coming-of-age tale that chronicles Walden’s years as a competitive ice skater, navigating romance, bullying, trauma, and coming out. Walden expressed that “It’s disappointing, weird, and upsetting to keep these stories away from kids, especially since they have done well critically.” Referencing her own life as an open book, Walden has found a strong calling to create works highlighting queer themes and depicting queer characters.
Walden wholeheartedly commends Norwich and Thetford for being such a wonderful and welcoming community for her growing family. Walden is married to cartoonist Emma Hunsinger and they are expecting the arrival of Walden’s first baby. The couple co-created and published a children’s picture book last year titled My Parents Won’t Stop Talking! So while Walden is preparing to take on a new role with the State as a working artist for the three-year term, she is also beginning the lifelong adventure as a parent.
A collection of Walden’s awards to date also include Best Graphic Album-New A Chicago Public Library, Best of the Best Book of 2019 by National Public Radio (NPR), Best Book of 2019 by O Magazine (Oprah Magazine), Best LGBTQ Book of 2019, One of The Comics Beat’s Best Comics of 2019, A Lambda Literary Award Finalist, and also she has been a Harvey Award nominee for Best Book of the Year, On a Sunbeam.