Saturday, November 10, 2018

On a Sunbeam

On a Sunbeam was originally published as a webcomic (still available to read online in its entirety here), and it is a fantastic science fiction comic experience. It features two narratives, one set in the present that follows a group of outer space archaeologists/restoration experts as they travel from job to job, documenting and repairing abandoned sites across the galaxy. The second one is told through the eyes of Mia, one of the space archaeologists, about her days in boarding school and of her first love with a classmate named Grace. Fifteen years separate the narratives, but the past still has a massive influence on the present.

I do not really want to delve more into the plot, as I feel it will not be done much justice with a recap, but I will tell you about my three favorite characteristics about this book. First, it is a piece of science fiction but it is more in the vein of fantasy/science fiction, as the future here is not cold and stark but rather more warm and organic. The spaceships resemble giant flying goldfish, and the interiors more like giant cathedrals or castles. I love the kind of world-building used throughout the book, which  you can see from this excerpt:
Second, although this is ostensibly a sci-fi tale, it is more about people's relationships to each other than influence of scientific invention on people's lives. And my third point follows from those relationships, in that the characters in this book are fully rendered both in terms of the art and their roles in the story. They are bold, nuanced, and complicated. They really left their impression on me, and this is a book that has been in my mind long after reading it.

This book's creator Tillie Walden is one of my favorite comics creators. Even though she is a relative newcomer, she has already racked up a few huge accolades, including the 2018 Eisner Award for Best Reality-Based Work for her graphic memoir Spinning (also one of my favorite books of the year). On a Sunbeam was nominated for a 2017 Eisner in the category of Digital Comic (even though it is technically a webcomic). You can learn more about her work on this webcomic/book in this interview I helped conduct on the Comics Alternative podcast.

All of the reviews I have read of this book have been glowing. In a starred review, Publishers Weekly concluded that "this masterful blend of science fiction–inflected school drama, road trip, and adventure is nothing less than marvelous." Kirkus Reviews called it "An affirming love story full of intriguing characters and a suspenseful plot." Caitlin Rosberg summed up, "It’s hard to imagine Walden continuing to put out books at the pace she’s had for the past three years, but comics are richer for it, and hopefully there’s many more years to come of her beautiful work."

On a Sunbeam was published by First Second, and they offer a preview and more information about it here.

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