The End Of Summer
The End Of Summer is the debut graphic novel by Tillie Walden, a young artist currently studying at the Centre for Cartoon Studies in Vermont. She’s not been drawing for very long, but there’s no way you could tell that, as her talent is simply extraordinary, and her début is pretty much the best thing I’ve read all year.
There’s a fabulous story on the press release of Avery Hill first contacting her in 2014 to do something with them and her very sweetly, very sensibly, declining their offer to finish High School. Yes. She’s that young. Having said that, in the intervening year and a bit, I’ve no doubt she’s made incredible leaps in her work.
So, a debut graphic novel, the longest thing the artist’s done to date. Inside she tells a tale of twins, Lars and his sister Maja, it’s a beautiful and poignant tale. A massive fantasy, but in the closeness of the twins there’s a lot of autobiographical elements from Walden and her own twin brother. Best of the year? Well I reckon it will make the list.
It opens on a secluded castle, uncertain time, but we’re drawn to thinking of the past, with the beautiful, ornate buildings and the period dress. A young boy, obviously ill, the doctor’s ministrations something he’s more than used to.
“I’m going to die before the winter ends.
It’s my heart.”
Those are the opening lines. It should give you some idea of the mood of The End Of Summer, that sense of a young life cut short, of lost potential.
And then this..
Now. I have to admit, when I first read this, my eye was so taken with the ornate surroundings, the high ceilings, the spectacular glass walls, the luxurious four-poster bed… that I actually missed, for just a few moments, the massive cat curled up in the corner.
Yes, that’s Nemo. The cat. Although the name, the beautiful vaulted ceilings, the four poster bed, the sheer openess of the rooms certainly has something of the spirit of Winsor McCay about it. And there’s a Game Of Thrones epic sense to it as well, even though it all takes place within the confines of the giant home. All takes place in a secluded castle, ahead of a winter meant to stretch out for three years, the idea of being on the cusp of something terrible all through the book. It comes out with Lars, the terribly ill child, bored and trapped inside, it comes out with the family, the confinement bringing out all the simmering bitterness so common in families. A confinement that will see things change, as adults grow older, tensions simmer, children grow to adulthood, all the problems of adolescence magnified by confinement.
Page after page we see the mood shift, we see a drifting ennui take hold, then tensions build, the year passes and things come to a shocking head, all goes wrong, as you always felt it would.
Walden’s storytelling is superb all through, her control, panel to panel, beat to beat, page to page is quite breathtaking. A set of pages early on set the tone, with Lars narrating a choice series of moments, the art picking up on them and expanding them. It’s quite beautiful You want a comparison that came to me immediately, the same sense of control over time across unfolding panels? I’d say Bryan Talbot in Luther Arkwright. Completely different in tone, in content, but the skill, the breathtaking skill is the same. The compression in panel to panel transitions is excellent, perfectly establishing the timescale, the end of summer that takes so long, a long, long three years confined.
Within a mere sixteen pages, the entire tone and mood of The End Of Summer has been set in stone, all the ennui coming through, that sense that three years of this, day after day, nothing more to do than explore these rooms, no matter how huge they’ll run out of mystery long before the end of winter, the fleeting joy of play will be long gone, the niceties of family wont last. The end of summer leading to something life-changing, terrible, heart-breaking.
There’s a tightening in your stomach from that point on, a sense of impending calamity, something that you can feel, palpable, driven, and it’s all down to Walden’s incredible control of things.
What makes it so incredible is the speed in which she’s put it together, something you can see on the page. She works fast, in pen direct to the page, her line dominated by the flowing penmanship.
According to the Avery Hill PR that came with the book Walden’s idea from the book came from her “obsessive need for detail and my twin brother. We’re extremely close, and our relationship is where my main characters came from. And I wanted to make a place that was everything I wanted. Huge rooms, oversized cats, indoor pools and playgrounds, and intricate patterns over everything. Basically, my ideal home.”
The End Of Summer really is that rarest of things, a debut that springs fully formed and as near to a perfect read as makes no odds. An epic tale of sorrow and loss, of growing up, of human nature. It’s a book that not only rewards repeated reads but pretty much demands it. Excellent and highly recommended.