Nimona, by Noelle Stevenson - book review

Harperteen £7.99

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The Independent Culture

There are few graphic novels that ably demonstrate an artist’s rapid creative growth alongside a terrific and unique story that is as charming to children as it is hilarious to adults – Nimona is that rare treat. Noelle Stevenson began a biweekly webcomic three years ago, exploring a concept she hit upon in a short art-school experiment, with an audience that snowballed until it became the most talked about comic in the industry and was snapped up for publication as a book.

The tale follows the eponymous heroine as she offers her service to the local evil genius and fan of science, Lord Ballister Blackheart, as he clashes with his arch-rival Sir Ambrosius Goldenloin. The two men, once friends, now occupy different ends of the hero and villain scale, but their gentlemanly spats spiral out of control thanks to Nimona’s predilection for destruction.

Stevenson turns fantasy and adventure stereotypes on their heads as Blackheart becomes increasingly uncomfortable with proceedings and Goldenloin is revealed to be less virtuous than his name might suggest. Nimona’s special ability – to shapeshift into any creature from kitten to dragon – turns the power dynamics of the faux- medieval setting upside down, and Stevenson is especially sharp when commenting on the trials of friendship, individuality, and the complexity of good versus evil.

In contrast to the much-maligned “strong female character” archetype, Nimona herself begins as a humorous and teasing sidekick who is literally the strongest person within her world. That strength and her unique ability to blend in with her surroundings, disguise her own leanings into the dark side. While she begins as apprentice to a so-called villain, her own cheerfulness positions her as heroine of the tale before things fall sideways. As far as morality tales go, this is a subtle subversion of the usual princess or witch position for a female character within fantasy fiction.

Since finishing the story at the end of last year, Stevenson has gone on to write the critically acclaimed Lumberjanes, and Marvel’s announcement that she had joined them as a writer was seen as the ultimate coup for the publisher.

Nimona though is where it all began, and where Stevenson’s most pure artistic expression is to be found. What begins in simple panel layouts and shark jokes, turns through expressive colour palettes into playful design and incredible characterisation that matches the dark evolution of the story. Stevenson has prioritised accessibility above radical composition, with simple but effective transitions and easy to follow dialogue bubble paths. This is perhaps why Nimona is as popular with new comic readers as it is with long-time fans.

Always funny and tremendously gripping, Nimona soon becomes an incredibly intense ride of emotions with some deeply touching moments. The Monty Python-esque humour and questioning of authority keep this book on the light side of dark, as does the overall impish feeling of the plotting and those expressive characters. It’s no surprise that Nimona has shot to the top of bestseller lists around the world, and this is the perfect summer read for teenagers and adults alike.