As ND Stevenson’s NIMONA film adaptation has finally made its way into the world — thanks for nothing, Disney — I thought I would revisit some of his prior works.
If you haven’t read NIMONA but have designs on watching the film, I highly suggest that you watch the film adaptation first and then circle back to the book. You’ll thank me later.
I was lucky enough to start reading ND Stevenson’s NIMONA as it was doled out online. It’s was a webcomic tale that takes place in a future-medieval-ish world focused around a young mercurial shapeshifter (the titular character Nimona, often defaulting to the appearance of a teen girl) who — right out of the gate — immediately imbues herself on the most prominent supervillain in the land: Ballister Blackheart. The two of them go up against the tyrannical Institute and Ballister’s “ex-bestie” Sir Goldenlion who — worth noting — cut off Ballister’s arm. Matters escalate in a brazen way.
Then it was released as a colorized graphic novel, and it shot to the best-seller lists, and rightfully lit the world on fire.
NIMONA is grounded in a way that I feel is rare with most fantasy works. While the story takes place in a fantastical land, that land is mostly ancillary to the story; what really matters are the relationships in the story: Nimona’s push-and-pull with Ballister, trying to feed his worst impulses while also trying to understand why he pushes against them; Ballister, meanwhile, has no idea what to make of Nimona, doesn’t know whether he’s taken her under his wing, or whether she’s taken him under her wing (both literally and figuratively).
While NIMONA started off as a college art project, it is confident out of the gate. Does it have all of the trapping of an old-school webcomic? Yes: 1) It focuses on the type of characters eschewed from most mainstream comics 2) It immediately cuts to the chase and lays everything out swiftly instead of indulging in the sort of visual storytelling decompression that’s been all-too-popular as of late, 3) The character design is so exacting and memorable with its shapes and sizes, even though one of the characters is a shapeshifter, and 4) It is first-and-foremost an outlet for what the author is dealing with.
It’s very difficult to discuss NIMONA without noting that Stevenson has gone through quite a bit since he started working on it over a decade ago — he is trans — I am not the right person to discuss it, so I’ll let you read about his experiences revisiting his notes and sketches and process of creating the work instead.
Since NIMONA, Stevenson has gone on to a number of other projects — most of which also has him on art duties — but he’s become better known as a writer and show runner (see: Netflix’s SHE-RA) and rightly so. He has a very unique voice that manages to be glib and hilarious but also meaningfully contains so much subtext and pulls at your emotions.
However, I really miss his art. I love his scratchy thin line-work, his effortlessly energetic layouts — how he mapped out Nimona’s transformations across the page is seamlessly eye-popping — and simply how he captures so much emotion and agility and expression in the slightest, and largest, of character poses. I’ll also note that the original webcomics were in black-and-white, but he did such an amazing job imbuing his works with what may look like simple flat colors, but are so vivid and shine volumes. It’s comics at its finest.
If you didn’t take my advice and read this before watching the film: again, please watch the film again after reading the collection. I’ll have an addendum with my post about the film in which I’ll detail the ‘why’ but I’d rather save it for that as opposed to this work.