Tillie Walden Threads a Needle in the Potent, Poignant Clementine: Book One

Clementine: Book One is the open to a trilogy by cartoonist Tillie Walden, a series that focuses on the lead from Telltale’s The Walking Dead video games, someone who doubles as one of the most beloved characters in the recent history of that medium. While it’d be difficult to find a more natural pairing of creator and character than Walden and Clementine — Walden excels at telling stories of young people going through difficult times, something Clem certainly fits — it’s also a complicated one because of the tension at the individual poles of that marriage.

If you’re a fan of Walden, maybe you wonder why the renowned cartoonist is tackling a for-hire project that continues the video game side of a multimedia empire. After five graphic novels and a collection of her exceptional webcomic, On a Sunbeam, Walden’s rightfully earned a reputation as one of the strongest voices and most talented creators in all of comics. Is going from original work to a Walking Dead universe story something her readers might bristle at?

Similarly, the fans of the video game series could question Walden’s decisions with their beloved Clementine and the fit of her art for the world. I say could, but one quick look at the GoodReads profile for this comic reveals that this isn’t a potentiality, but an actuality. Hardcore supporters have ripped on the book, mostly based on their own desires and Walden’s initial Clementine story from Skybound X #1 rather than the story itself, it seems. Will this graphic novel get a fair shot given the wants (or, in their minds, needs) of the Telltale supporters?

It’s a difficult project for some to assess, if only because like Clementine herself, we all carry baggage with us no matter where we go. Fans — of cartoonists, of video games, of whatever — cannot help but have expectations for what something could or should be like, look like, feel like. Anything that’s created is measured against those hopes. Even if the work itself isn’t lacking, failing to live up to expectations can be enough to ruin something for a reader, player, or whatever. Subjectivity reigns supreme, even if it wears the disguise of objectivity.

That’s where my subjectivity comes in. I’m predisposed to being a fan of Clementine: Book One, both because I adore Walden’s work — she’s truly one of the greats — and because Clementine is a pantheon-level character for me. I love the Telltale games and the cartoonist’s graphic novels equally. Entering my read of this book, I had the same hopes and dreams as those other groups, except I carried both together. Serving those goals at the same time would be a tough task for ordinary creators. For Walden, it’s another day at the office.

Clementine: Book One finds a singular talent threading a needle, making this graphic novel feel like a Walden original and a natural continuation of this character’s journey. That’s difficult to do. Lean too far in one direction and it loses its identity, one way or another. Walden’s rare gifts allow this book to simultaneously feel just like another season of the Telltale series — albeit with some differences in story approach, given that this is a comic rather than a graphic novel — and its own thing in one tome. It’s the best of both worlds, resulting in an exceptional read that stands tall next to the rest of the cartoonist’s formidable bibliography.

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