The First Second booth was bustling when Tillie arrived early for her interview and book signing exclaiming “if you are on time you are late.” Tillie has a terrific energy about her and an easiness that makes you feel like you are chatting with a friend instead of interviewing an award-winning author.
I always like to begin light so I asked Tillie what her favorite music is to cut loose to. “I am very into musicals, really, really, I listen to them when I am working and when I am not working. Recently my roommate and I have been listening to Waitress nonstop but I love the modern musicals Spring Awakening, Next to Normal but then I like West Side Story, Cabaret, all of it.” Are you singing and dancing throughout your house? “Little bit, little bit, yeah there’s a lot of that and then my roommate is actually a singer and actress so she does the harmonies so it’s fun, it’s really fun.” I think it’s a good way to destress. “Totally, when I was in middle school RENT, my twin brother and I went to see RENT and that just blew my little mind. It was the first time I think I saw a lesbian couple on stage and that was like whoa. And they were singing about it. I was like we can sing about gay things!”
With your book Spinning you have said that you want to get a copy into every queer teenager’s hands. “Yeah, absolutely.” I have shared my book with a number of people and recently someone commented to me that they could really relate to your story. Do you get a lot of feedback from people about relating to your coming out story and how it has helped them? “I do. I hear quite a bit. I don’t think I can really share specifics because often people get so personal with me but I do get a lot of feedback from younger and older audiences. A lot of it is people who are connected to some sport in some way, gymnastics, ballet skating a lot of those come in a similar vein. From queer kids, queer adults, parents of queer kids I mean all across the spectrum but yeah a lot of feedback. And it’s all wonderful. It’s all really, really good.”
You’re trying to push a positive message and trying to help people process their feelings. How do feel about or are you aware of #comicsgate? How do you feel about those that are using their platform to push our negativity? “I am not that aware of it. I have someone that does my social media so I am very disconnected from it. Can you give me a low down on what it is?” It’s a lot of people attacking a female forward story, transgender or queer story and they are really being quite visceral. “Sounds like they are very insecure people because at the moment women, queer people, people of color are making the best comics right now so I am not surprised that such a thing is happening. I imagine there is a lot of insecurity, jealousy and fear of anything that is new and it’s stupid and I hope the creators that are getting hate are finding a way to drown that out so they can do what they need to do. That’s awful.” I see a lot of the fans rallying around the creators and trying to support them. “Good – good.” But I wonder as an industry what can be done. There was talk at the Oscars about inclusion riders, is there something of that nature that comic and graphic novel writers could do? “I think a lot of it is in the hands of the gatekeepers because there is an abundance of great work being made but not an abundance of people sharing that work and spreading around and paying for it. So you know the money that publishers give to creators needs to be going to these kinds of people and these kinds of work and it’s tough because you have the line of agents, you have these big publishers and it can be very difficult to get into that world. And that is where I think we need to be opening more doors and realizing that honestly this is where the money is. Because people want to read this stuff, it’s amazing work! People want to hear these stories and I think the higher ups in this industry need to realize that.”
You focus a lot on love in your books, do you consider yourself a romantic? “No. Strangely enough I don’t. Your right I do in my work, quite a bit but no, not at all really. For whatever reason when I write I am sort of enamored with talking about relationships and emotions and love and falling in and out of love but yeah in my day to day life I am not in a relationship. I don’t really have much of an interest in it. You know what I say that but I feel very romantic towards my friends and my family. I feel a lot of this constant connection and wanting to care for people and keep up relationships but as far as romance, no. Which is strange.” Do you believe in love at first sight? “I believe in something at first sight. I don’t know if it’s love. I don’t know if I can know yet. I am only 22. Ask me in ten years to see what I say.”
What was your inspiration for your new book, On a Sunbeam? “I wanted to do something in outer space and the sci-fi genre is so full of like dudes on cold white space ships. You know it’s all kind of somber and masculine and kind of boring. I find myself being very bored by a lot of sci-fi. So I wanted to take back the genre and do it in kind of a new way where it wasn’t masculine and it wasn’t cold and where we could have nature, warmth, architecture, interesting buildings with interesting ships and interesting relationships and dynamics. Basically everything that I want to do in a story just in outer space. I just kind of took that concept and ran with it. More ideas kept coming to me and On a Sunbeam is very much about found family. It really felt very liberating to just do something that was sci-fi only for me. I don’t even really think it’s a sci-fi book because it’s not really science oriented at all. They breathe in outer space, there’s trees, I don’t know. I am not worried about it.” It’s other worldly. “Yeah, it is other worldly. It’s so fun to me to combine other worldly kind of fantastical places with the very authentic, real relationships and moments. I think that is such a great pairing and I wanted to try and do that with this book. Take moments that people can relate to but give them the chance to look at something that’s much more beautiful than a convention center or their house or their school or their street. You know something much more beautiful.” Were you into sci-fi as a kid? “I never even saw Star Wars and when I did finally see it, it kind of bored me to tears.” Don’t say that too loud around here. “Well you know I have dug my own grave its fine. I was really obsessed with the idea of space and the idea of other planets and other life and leaving because that is what I thought about when I thought about space. It seemed like a place that people left and that was very interesting to me. My Dad was really into sci-fi and he gave me all these books and I was like Dad I can’t read these.” These books are so long and the text is so tiny. I was like no way. He read like Dune and a lot of the classics. My dad was kind of a nerd.” The big, thick Dune book. “Exactly. Like I am never going to get through this. I wish I had. It would have been interesting to see how it would have influenced me.
I want to ask you a little bit about the color palette you use in your books, because I really loved how you used three tones, the purples and the yellow which I felt you were using to call out these specific moments. “That’s exactly what I was doing.” To highlight anxiety or fear and so it is really an interesting palette across all your books. “It’s always very intentional.” It’s not the full rainbow which everyone is always using, is this a learned technique or something that you have developed on your own? “It’s something that I have developed. Color is very difficult to do. A lot of people will think that if you know how to draw you know how to color too. They are actually quite different skills and I always felt very uncomfortable doing color because I didn’t understand it so I wanted to start with a limited palette to kind of learn color and then I realized that when you are only working with just a few colors your color can be a lot more intentional. You can really make an impact with where and when you choose to use these colors so it sort of developed into something that I would do with intention and I like how it looks. I like how less colors look than I like full color. It focuses us. Especially now where we are always constantly looking at something that’s usually very colorful like I look at my phone in gray scale now just because I need less stimulation. I think we can focus more when we have less being thrown at us. Color is a great way to do it I think.” You use a lot of contrasting colors which I really like. “I do. Yes, I love that. I had an assignment in ninth grade art class where we had to draw something. I think I drew scissors and use contrasting colors. I remember I used blue and orange and I was like wow this really interesting. The rest of the class I didn’t really pay attention but that one thing I really did take form was the contrasting colors, something in our minds really notices it. We really pick up on it.” I think it really makes something pop. “It the same with purple and yellow, they both fight and work together. I mean yellow ifs a great color. My favorite color is orange and yellow is very related to it.”
As we wrapped up I asked Tillie one last question: Who are you looking forward to seeing on the con floor? “I was very excited to go see Jason Lutes. He just finished Berlin this book series for Drawn and Quarterly which is this epic, I guess its historical fiction about Berlin and World War 2. Jason was my teacher at the Center for Cartoon Studies when I was there and he was very much the mother figure for all of us. We all just wanted to make him proud and I hadn’t seen him in a while. It was wonderful, it’s strange to see your teacher after you’ve left school and found success. A rush of emotions hit me and it was great to see him finishing his own work. So I got to see Jason. (said with a big smile).