Required Reading is DoomRocket’s love chest, opened twice monthly to champion a book that we adore. This week Arpad recommends Tillie Walden’s ‘On a Sunbeam’, available now from First Second Books

On a Sunbeam

Cover to ‘On a Sunbeam’. Art by Tillie Walden, design by Andrew Arnold/First Second Books

by Arpad Okay. Mia is a fuck up. She scrapes by at her private school, risks lives at her job restoring old buildings. Mia is just driven enough to sleep through the stuff that doesn’t speak to her, to explore the corners she’s not supposed to see. She’s passionate. She’s uncompromising. She’s always five minutes late.

Grace has secrets. Power. Stories she’s written, a solution for nearly every problem, damn cool shoes. She’s different from anyone else Mia has ever met. Shy. Strong. Irresistible. They’re kids in love. Their story, and the story of the re-builders, are crossed before and crossing after, built upon shared foundations and odd coincidences. A house to be put back together, full of hidden stories, bathed in the rays of cosmos.

On a Sunbeam is set in space. The buildings Mia refurbishes are cult cathedrals, office buildings, odd structures that are lit by stars and moons, only accessible by the odd, giant flying koi that serve as spaceships. Sealed-off worlds in a bubble, full of ancient, forgotten history.

Tillie Walden captures it all. The joy found in discovering what’s lost, the satisfaction in kicking against the pricks. The chosen family we create as we come into ourselves. And, despite devotion, how chance holds sway on the direction of our lives. Mia’s new family has a secret past of serving as freedom riders, refugee seekers — the perfect people to help her search space to find her girlfriend again.

On a Sunbeam is a delicate dance about our connection to the past. Recognizing and respecting the beauty of the things that have come before us but also moving beyond the anachronisms that hold us back. The rebuilders have broken the rules, taken responsibility for the repercussions of their actions, and then broken the rules again.

The soaring, triumphant moments they experience are like real life: speak truth to power and you change, the world does not. It’s a celebration of individual growth, shifting the personal paradigm, and the structures remain unmoved. But fuck it. The past remains unchanged. We change, and the future shifts with us.

Walden’s visionary trappings flesh out the world without the burden of explanation, amuse-bouche as quick to delight as they are to vanish. They play to the strength of the characters and their bonds as much as the veracity and depth of the world. On a Sunbeam, though dazzling, appeals not to our sense of wonder, but to our experience.

The art in On a Sunbeam is luscious, murky, inscrutable. I’m utterly enthralled by the color palette. Ripe fruit and old bruises, reinforcing that everything in space is sealed rooms lit by artificial means and heavenly bodies. Five minutes past magic hour, impossible to photograph, still lit, but lost, a blue/black awash in red and orange and purple, the burning last gasps of a star close enough to call home slipping out of reach.

The linework is superb, the height of underground indie simplicity with a serious shit-ton of work put in. The faces have features that are little more than ovals and strokes, yet communicate raw emotion. Like Jordan Crane’s Uptight married to the architecture of Lina Bo Bardi.

The settings are open, angular, inorganic spaces shot through with nature. Trees growing in buildings, howling expanses held at bay by window walls, the crumbling forgotten places. The celestial backdrops to boarding school and cosmic renovations are beautiful. Long, silent sequences in service to character growth hit perfect beats, show off the otherworldly elements sunk into the narrative, blow up with ethereal sorcery.

I had you. I lost you. I found myself. I found I wanted you still, and I would travel to the end of the galaxy to see you again. On a Sunbeam is a story of passion, purpose and agency for all the wanderers, the builders, the liberators. The friends, the family, the lovers. On a Sunbeam is crossing the boundary from immature to mature, and discovering there’s still a place for the crucial aspects of your youth in your adult life.

First Second Books/$21.99

Written by Tillie Walden.

Illustrated by Tillie Walden.

Colored by Tillie Walden.

Lettered by Tillie Walden.


Check out this ten-page preview of ‘On a Sunbeam’, courtesy of First Second Books!

More Required Reading…

‘Tumult’ a warped love story told with unparalleled vision and an excess of ink

Bold, frightening ‘Infidel’ a battle of faith and vision, of optimism against pessimism

‘I Am a Hero’ a zombie epic with maggots, teeth, broken bits — and at its center, a beating heart