"On A Sunbeam" Review

By: Robin -  

    “On A Sunbeam'' (by Tillie Walden) is an epic graphic novel about battles in space, a koi spaceship, and love across the galaxy. But it’s also full of amazing BIPOC and LGBT+ representation without making it the main focus of the story.

The Story

    The art was absolutely gorgeous, and I wanted to sit and leaf through this book for hours- each page was just so beautifully intricate and captivating. The color palette was constantly changing and contributed to the story’s striking and emotional tone. But the plot was really what blew me away. In this comic, a group of kids go on space expeditions to repair and restore buildings. Throughout this story, the main characters' pasts and present time are slowly blended together in this almost dreamlike way, with flashbacks and places for the reader to fill in the blanks. At the climax, Grace and her crew set out on a dangerous but powerful quest for love. I was left at the edge of my seat and wanted to burst out crying multiple times 10/10   (you know a book is good when you have to put it down and silently scream before resuming). It’s an intense and action packed comic about traveling across galaxies for love.

    But there were also moments that weren’t about kicking-butt I want to highlight. Words can’t put how genuine and moving this book is. There were panels where nothing was said, and it was just 2 characters looking at each other, or embracing, or kissing. But it held an emotional weight- sometimes silence is what speaks the most. In layman’s terms, Tillie Walden doesn’t f*ck around. It’s a really touching and serious story at times. There are heavy moments where characters process together, and it isn’t toned down or brushed away- the characters interact and move forward in realistic ways. In a way this comic left me hopeful- all these characters showcased incredible bravery and the best of humanity. And it’s rare I see that in diverse media.

“I’ve seen a few snippets of all the big popular space movies, and they always bore me. Why are they so full of white hallways and white men?”


Representation And The Future

    “My initial goal with Sunbeam was to create a version of outer space that I would want to live in. So of course that includes tons of queer people, no men (did you notice?), trees, old buildings, and endless constellations.” Walden writes about her comic. The main character, Mia, is an Asian girl with 2 moms (this is mentioned offhandedly). She has a crush on Grace, an African American girl made fun of for her formal speech and lack of social skills. As an Asian who rarely sees themself represented as the lead in novels, and as a neurodivergent person, it felt amazing to see Walden treat them with respect and honesty. The rest of the cast includes females, POC, queer people galore, and a mute nonbinary person who uses they/them pronouns. There’s a scene in here where the characters talk about the importance of respecting people’s pronouns that made my day (for context, I use they/them pronouns)- most novels don’t seriously acknowledge or talk about how much misgendering hurts, so it really means a lot when it happens.

    And all of this is done offhandedly in a kickass space adventure! Very rarely do I see diverse media that doesn’t center around the struggles of being a minority. I agree, it is definitely important for our struggles as marginalized people to be shared and documented for the world to learn- but I also think there should be media for us to just have fun and let loose. We deserve to kick ass in space just as much as a heterosexual-whiter-then-a-snowstorm “Star Wars” or “Guardians Of The Galaxy,” where sure they’re super fun franchises to watch, but I also have to put up with all the casual sexism in a world where all women and minorities are mysteriously missing. In the words of Walden herself, “I’ve seen a few snippets of all the big popular space movies, and they always bore me. Why are they so full of white hallways and white men?” 

    I want people like me to have complex stories that exist across genres whether it’s romance, mystery, horror, drama, animated, etc. I want to be able to check out LGBT+ fiction that doesn’t center around being queer or only contain white people, and not have to scourge frantically through the “YA LGBT+” section it. I want it to be just as normal for a kid to see an Asian space captain save the world and kiss her girlfriend as any other show on Saturday morning cartoons.

“Wait, it’s free?!”

    Yes, ALL of it is completely free online! Here’s the link: https://www.onasunbeam.com/. You can always check it out at your local library, but in the meantime I will definitely be checking out Walden’s other works. She is an incredibly talented and unique storyteller. In summary,

Stay safe!

-Robin (they/he)


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