Webcomic/Graphic Novel by Noelle Stevenson
Release Date: May 12th, 2015
Nimona began as a webcomic by writer/artist Noelle Stevenson on her site gingerhaze.com. Stevenson had written Nimona as her senior thesis while attending Maryland Institute College of Art. Since the comic was released, she has also worked as a writer with Marvel, and as co-author and cover artist for the Boom! Box hit Lumberjanes,
Nimona tells the story of young woman who becomes a sidekick to the villain Ballister Blackheart. Blackheart is everything a good villain should be, with his dark hair and goatee, facial scar, and creepy mechanical arm. He has spent years hatching sinister plots that are constantly foiled by his arch-nemesis and former friend, Sir Ambrosius Goldenloin.
...Can we stop for a moment and take some time to appreciate these names? There's another knight who appears in a single panel named "Sir Mansley Girthrod." God I love it.
Anyway, Nimona happens to be a shapeshifter with the temperament of a bored teenager and, at times, violent psychopath. She fawns over Blackheart, but at the same time thinks he should really let lose, try some new tactics and, you know, actually kill people. Turns out that Blackheart isn't really as black-hearted as the world makes him out to be. Everything changes after a heist when they find out that the Institute, one of the leading authorities in the kingdom, has been doing some questionable (read: evil) activity. Hilarity and soul-crushing sadness ensues.
Nimona was nominated for the 2015 Eisner Award and longlisted for the 2015 National Book Award, and rightfully so. It didn't take long for the magic of the book to pull me in. Behind Blackheart's brooding and Nimona's child-like excitement was a complex story about trust, loyalty, and belonging. I fell in love with Nimona's characters, its modern and humorous dialogue, and Stevenson's strange world that combines Medieval European aesthetic with futuristic technology. The comic is also very queer-friendly, and the relationship in question is not added as an aside, but rather as an additional layer of complexity to the character's motivations.
This comic is a study in progress. Compare the first couple of pages to any section in the later half of the book, and you'll see real improvement in the quality of Stevenson's art and story development, while maintaining her signature style, humor, and characterization. Yet the development is so subtle and natural that you won't see it happening in real time. Many comic artists slowly change their styles over the course of years, and it's very interesting to see her advancement happening within an entire story. Stevenson's art is deceptively detailed. It begins as flat and geometric, but as the book continues, the art begins to take on depth and color. Her use of additional background details and shadowing are especially worthy of note, and there are some action scenes that really pop off the page.
There is an ongoing theme within Nimona about expectations. Blackheart and Goldenloin have fallen into their places as villain and hero because they felt that society had not given them any choice. Likewise, Nimona makes many decisions at the end of the book that reflect this belief, showing that she is everything that society thinks of her, even though Blackheart knows feels that's not correct. Meanwhile, it was my expectation as a reader that Nimona should be worthy of the attention and praise lavished on it, and I see now that it is all well-deserved. It is one of the coolest comics I've read in a long time, filled with wit, character, and emotion. It has a beautiful ending filled with bittersweet uncertainty, but I don't want to spoil any of it for you. I highly recommend picking this up.