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On a Sunbeam is a must-read comic about boarding schools in space

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Tillie Walden

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.

Hailing from Texas, Walden recently graduated from the Center for Cartoon Studies in White River Junction, Vermont, and just began publishing a new webcomic, On a Sunbeam. Four installments in, and it’s clear that this is a beautiful comic that has a ton of potential. 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.

Tillie Walden

"Sam Alden is a big inspiration," Walden told The Verge in an email. "I find his work very atmospheric and that definitely played a part in On A Sunbeam." Alden is best known for It Never Happened Again, Wicked Chicken Queen, and Lydian, and also for his work on Cartoon Network's Adventure Time. She recounted other influences, such as Canadian artist Jillian Tamaki and Irish novelist Tana French. "[French] is a crime writer and there isn’t actually any crime in the comic, but the way [she] writes girls and their relationships with schools and vocations was a huge influence."

Walden noted that she first inks the comic by hand with a fountain pen straight onto bristol board before scanning the page onto her computer, where she uses photoshop to add in the colors. "I normally work in batches — so I’ll ink a bunch of pages at once then color a bunch later."

Tillie Walden

Walden noted that the comic came about from two sources. The first was due to her experiences at a "boarding school for summer camp when I was a teenager," a place she likened to an island on its own in the world. The second was her fascination with old buildings and architecture. "So both of those ideas kind of melded together for me to make this story."

Each installment of On A Sunbeam uses an interesting framing angle: one part is set in the present, while the second is set in the past, exploring Mia’s days at a space-based boarding school. "I don’t think I wanted Mia to be an obvious character," Walden explained. "I didn’t want her roots and her growth to be apparent right off the bat. And I do have big plans in future chapters for how these two stories connect, because they do have a direct connection (which will be discovered later on.)"

Tillie Walden

As to what that future entails, Walden isn’t saying, but she noted that her initial plot has since changed quite a bit. "Basically, I know the ending. I know exactly what the end is going to look like, I even know the last words of the story." What is for certain however, is that things will get bigger. "I’ve introduced the world that Mia is in currently and things are going to shake up and expand. The road ahead is not a comfortable, simple one."