We recently brought you the great news that our very own Intern Grace will be working on a new amazing-sounding comic series entitled Lumberjanes with a team of other awesome people. In order to better prepare y’all for that series’ upcoming epicness, I’m going to focus on the webcomic Nimona by Lumberjanes co-writer, Noelle Stevenson. You might know Stevenson from her tumblr mini-comics about movies like The Hunger Games, Lord of the Rings and The Avengers. She’s famous for her instantly recognizable detailed yet cartoonish drawing style, unique ideas and witty humor. You also might already be familiar with her spectacular webcomic Nimona, but if you aren’t, let me tell you about it.
Nimona is a shapeshifting girl with an awesome alternative lifestyle haircut. She’s cute and often funny, but tough and even dangerous. The world she lives in seems to be populated with villains and heroes who operate under a strict set of rules and traditions about how they deal with each other. One such villain is Ballister Blackheart. Nimona first shows up uninvited to Ballister Blackheart’s evil lair and proclaims herself his sidekick. At first he’s reluctant, but once she shows off her shapeshifting powers by transforming into a very enthusiastic shark (complete with boobs), Ballister starts to come over to her side. She seems a little naive about the whole villainy thing, and while that can be charming, it also makes her even more unpredictable. Nimona certainly throws herself headfirst into fighting the bad guys (who are actually good guys), killing several of them her first time out, only to have Ballister rein her in.
We meet another main character, Sir Ambrosius Goldenloin (Blackheart’s arch-nemesis), during a flashback where we also learn Blackheart’s tragic origin story. The two of them grew up together and were once friends (or perhaps more) before they went their separate ways. Goldenloin is an old-fashioned hero; he just wants to duel against Ballister while exchanging witty barbs and insults. When Nimona shows up, she throws a wrench in all that. Goldenloin obviously enjoyed the encounters he had with Ballister and up until now, he was never really a threat.
For a while the comic follows Ballister and Nimona as they commit crimes, uncover some nefarious goings on at the Institute (which is supposed to be the where the good guys are from) and get to know each other. Ballister’s science and Nimona’s magic combine to make them one unstoppable crime-committing team. They break into a lab, rob a bank and raise the townsfolk’s suspicions about the institute. They even share some bonding time when Nimona tells Ballister about her origin story, they watch a movie and later play a board game. Ballister and Nimona have a great dynamic- in a lot of ways it’s like a father with his teen daughter, except that they’re both villains and she’s an impossibly powerful shapeshifter, they also have a dynamic sort of like a cat and it’s owner (and other times a dog and it’s owner, and other times a dragon and it’s owner). Nimona is a shapeshifter and it seems like even when she’s in human form, she is in some ways, part creature. They’re relationship really shows off how talented of a writer Stevenson is. Sometimes they’re interactions are sweet and tender, other times they’re funny, other times they are deadly serious.
We later learn she is more powerful than we originally thought. Also the good guys aren’t very good, they order Goldenloin to kill Nimona, who, as far as they know, is a young girl. They’re gathering large amounts of jaderoot, a deadly poison that’s hard to control. Things start getting interesting when Ballister and Nimona go to a science expo that’s sort of like a farmer’s market and they meet Dr. Meredith Blitzmeyer and her Anomalous Energy Enhancer. She says that it runs on the same energy field that sorcerers use, and when Nimona gets near it, the Enhancer shuts off and then releases a burst of light and Nimona seems to get stuck in cat form for a little while. After they get back to Ballister’s lair, Nimona starts to worry about losing her powers and changes her hair and outfit. Then, in a battle against an upgraded Goldenloin and his soldiers, Nimona’s head is chopped off. Everyone else in the room seems to be 100% sure that no one, not even a shapeshifter could survive that. Nimona does. And she becomes even more terrifying and monstrous than ever before. Not even Ballister knows who she is or if he can trust her any more. Nimona continues to change her look and is acting even more angsty and mysterious than ever before. She refuses to talk to Ballister about it and it causes a rift in their relationship.
It’s interesting having the two heroes of the comic be a super villain and his sidekick. While Nimona seems hellbent on destruction, murder and chaos, Ballister tells her early on that “there’s no profit in assassination or pointless violence. There are rules, Nimona.” What’s more, the rules that govern his villainy aren’t rules made up by the mysterious Agency or Institute that seem to be in charge of all the heroes and villains in this world, the rules are his own. He may be a super villain, but he’s clearly not evil. When we learn about some of the lengths the Institute is willing to go to, the lines between good guys and bad guys become even less clear. This comic isn’t just a fun sci-fi/magic story about a shapeshifter, it’s an interesting look at morality and power structures.
The comic is full of Stevenson’s classic style and fun eye for detail. Although her character’s eyes are often just circles and their arms seem to have no bones, you never get the impression that she hasn’t put a lot of effort and purpose into drawing them that way. It’s amazing how she’s able to draw such simple figures and fill them with such character, and her backgrounds and the details are just amazing, you can tell she puts a lot of thought and effort into each panel. You have to be a truly skilled artist to make such simple drawings look so good. The early comics have a slightly different look than current ones, with the current colors being more vibrant and the lines more defined compared to the old comics which have a warmer pencil-drawn style. Stevenson quickly found her pace and Nimona is currently one of the most stylish webcomics that I read. She has ideas that are like the webcomic equivalent of earworms- once you’ve seen her version of the Thranduil the elf king from The Hobbit (nicknamed Party Dad Thranduil) you can’t forget it. And Nimona is no different. She’s created a wonderful world that is a mixture of medieval and science fiction with characters that have both looks and personalities that make them stick in your mind always wanting more.
Stevenson usually updates Nimona twice a week on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Nimona was nominated for a Harvey Award for Best Online Comics Work last year and won the Cartoonist Studio Prize for Best Webcomic of 2012. The comic is going to be published in book form as a YA graphic novel by HarperCollins in 2015. If you want to buys some awesome Nimona merch, Stevenson has a Nimona-specific shop where you can buy everything from apparel and jewelry to prints to stickers, as well as a general art shop.
Welcome to Drawn to Comics! From diary comics to superheroes, from webcomics to graphic novels – this is where we’ll be taking a look at comics by, featuring and for queer ladies. So whether you love to look at detailed personal accounts of other people’s lives, explore new and creative worlds, or you just love to see hot ladies in spandex, we’ve got something for you.
If you have a comic that you’d like to see me review, you can email me at mey [at] autostraddle [dot] com.
Header by Rory Midhani
Header by Rory Midhani