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Nimona by Noelle Stevenson

Nimona by Noelle Stevenson
Book Name: Nimona
Author: Noelle Stevenson
Publisher(s): HarperTeen
Formatt: Hardcover / Paperback / Ebook
Genre(s): Fantasy / Webcomic / Comic Book
Release Date: May 12, 2015 (US) September 10, 2015 (UK)

The popularity of Noelle Stevenson’s 2012 webcomic Nimona led to its release as a printed graphic novel earlier this year, which immediately leapt to the top of the New York Times’ bestseller list.

Charming in its playful deconstruction of genre tropes and visual humour, the young adult (YA) comic may initially appear to be a light, if intelligent, read, but there is a progressive depth waiting in disguise beneath Stevenson’s hilarious dialogue and accessible artwork.

Lord Ballister Blackheart is a supervillain whose nine-to-five is disrupted by the arrival of a young woman who claims to have been sent by the “agency” to be his sidekick.

In a universe where there could well be a dark lord sidekick agency, shapeshifting Nimona is reluctantly accepted into Blackheart’s trust. Revealing his dastardly plans with a flourish, Blackheart is visibly miffed when Nimona pitches him her ideas for increased destruction, introducing him to a new level of villainy.

“We could do with more general chaos,” she says. “I’m talking fire everywhere.”

Because of its origins as an art school project turned webcomic, Nimona’s narrative increases in complexity as it goes on. The first chapters are short; a few pages that give some insight into the characters but are mainly centred around a single punchline. But what begins as a playful comic strip becomes a darkly humorous epic as momentum forces the revelation of Nimona’s true nature and pits Blackheart against his own moral code.

The backdrop of Nimona and Blackheart’s fight against the Institute of Law Enforcement and Heroics is a world where science fiction and fantasy tropes rub against each other with an ease that defies logic. Magic and technology blend together to create an unpredictable setting of science fairs and jousting contests, chemical explosions and dragons, which perfectly complements the story.

While battles rage over the flipped coin of good and evil, Stevenson takes every opportunity to sneak in subtle sub-plots that draw attention to the diversity issues she is known for addressing throughout the comics industry. Body image, anxiety, and a same sex couple with different life goals all appear throughout the story, and are handled with a delicacy that is easy to miss in a genre that often puts its campaigns front and centre.

Thematically, Nimona concerns itself with labels, examining the roles of good and evil through the amusing frame of career progression.

“Hold up there, villain! We’ve got to fight because that’s my job,” Blackheart’s rival Ambrosius Goldenloin cries. This highlights the issues of self-perception and the responsibilities that come with it that are so relevant to a teenage audience, while its overt expression reveals the absurdity of cliques and boxed identities.

What is particularly interesting is Nimona’s understated shapeshifting ability. She uses her power extensively but always returns to her “real” form; the body that she has linked with her own identity. Slightly chubby and inviting frequent labelling as a “little girl”, the constant return to this body is an empowering statement.

The reach of the web means that changing how we are perceived by the world is perhaps easier than ever before. We can choose how we present ourselves in a whole new way and essentially transform into whoever we want to be. As a webcomic, Nimona utilises this message to explore what that really means in terms of body image, personal branding and identity.

Stevenson’s simple yet emotive illustration style is recognisable from her work on the kids’ TV show Adventure Time. Her sketch-like artwork lends itself perfectly to the oddness of the world she has created and the development of her personal style is clear as the story progresses.

The introductory panels are less complex in their use of colour, but the dark turn of the story is reflected in the artwork, with more intense detail and colouring implementing the shift in tone beneath dialogue that remains sharp and quippy. Often, comics rely on characters’ eyes to convey emotion but Stevenson uses close ups sparingly, relying instead on body language and narrative structure to garner the reader’s emotional investment.

The only problem with Nimona is that it has to end. Fortunately, an animated film adaptation has already been announced. Patrick Osborne, director of Disney’s Oscar-winning short Feast is set to direct.

Made up of edifying substance and progressive style, Nimona is a masterpiece of its genre. World domination is imminent.


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