Once upon a time, a bored blogger was endlessly scrolling through Tumblr when she came across some really awesome fanart. She checked out the OP and was pleased to discover a gem of a webcomic. The blogger was immediately hooked and spent the next few hours devouring everything the artist had ever created. She reblogged the artist’s mini-comics, bought copies of her fanart, and devoured her webcomic with the kind of single-minded intensity she usually reserved for 40,000+ word fanfics. Even though the webcomic has come to an end, the blogger still keeps the RSS feed on her bookmarks toolbar, because every now and again she gets a craving.
And now it’s time for you, dear reader, to fall in love with Nimona, Ballister, and Goldenloin just as your fair blogger did…
Nimona is set in a medieval/futuristic world of handsome heroes, sinister villains, and a crazy mix of magic and science. Trouble is, the good guys and bad guys aren’t so easy to identify. Ballister Blackheart is a low-grade Big Bad whose evil plots are routinely foiled by swishy-haired Sir Ambrosius Goldenloin. The two men used to be friends (and maybe more…) way back when, but when Ballister lost his arm in a fight with Goldenloin, the Institute and his friend relegated him to bad guy mode. One day, a girl named Nimona breaks into Ballister’s lair and anoints herself as his sidekick. The first few chapters follow their exploits and growing friendship, but eventually Nimona’s bloodlust-y side puts her and Ballister into conflict with Goldenloin. The Institute wants Nimona executed and sends Goldenloin to do it. Ballister wants to protect Nimona and bring down the corrupt organization. Nimona has her own vengeful plans, and unfortunately for Goldenloin, he’s little more than an obstacle in her way.
Noelle Stevenson created Nimona as a school project, then expanded it into a full webcomic for her senior thesis. She’s the artist for the equally fantastic Lumberjanes, is a writer for the Disney cartoon Wander Over Yonder, a contributor to the upcoming Thor Annual #1, and is the creator of some of the best Hobbit, Hunger Games, and Guardians of the Galaxy fanart out there. Nimona ran from June 2012 to September 2014, and is set to be published in print by HarperCollins in May 2015. You can read the whole glorious thing online right now for free.
To Pull or Not to Pull
Stevenson’s artistic style is VERY unique and VERY quirky, and I mean that with the highest praise. I much prefer an artist wholly themselves who doesn’t look like anyone else. Stevenson embraces her style and runs wild with it. The first two chapters of Nimona are pretty clunky, but in a twee rather than off-putting way. By the third chapter she starts to take some real chances with her art, and by chapter five it’s an absolute joy to look at. You can literally see her technique improve with every page, both in terms of art and storytelling. I love her work so much that I bought two of her illustrations.
Speaking of Stevenson, she herself is a large part of why I love Nimona so much. Besides being an outspoken feminist, she has an active Twitter and Tumblr presence. I may not agree with everything she has to say, and I don’t always like the same things she does, but I love hearing her opinions anyway. Her feeds and fanart are half random weirdness directed at whatever pop culture she happens to be consuming at the moment, and half takedowns of the patriarchy, with a dash of delicious shipping and pics of her dog.
When asked how she got into comics in an interview with ComicsAlliance, Stevenson said, “Webcomics are what got me into comics. It was a lot of people who weren’t being paid much attention to by mainstream comics, and even alt comics didn’t have much interest in female perspectives. It’s no accident that so many webcomic protagonists are female—there just wasn’t much out there for people who wanted those stories.” Nimona has a female lead who isn’t stick thin, doesn’t have beach ball breasts or pouty lips, or long flowing Charlie’s Angels hair, and two gay secondary characters, one of whom has a disability. There are PoC characters who aren’t relegated to the sassy friend or soon-to-be-killed-off girlfriend to give a man tragic motivation. A woman runs the Institute, another is a brilliant scientist, and a third is a journalist. More importantly, no one ever implies these women are brave/stupid for stepping outside some arbitrary gender roles. The world of Nimona doesn’t play by our rules, and thank Hera for that.
There’s this great quote by Gillian Flynn in response to people complaining about Amy from Gone Girl: “A male author can write about unlikable male characters. They’re called anti-heroes and it’s called a novel.” The same could be said about Nimona. She isn’t a hero, no matter how much the reader connects with or likes her. And she’s pretty easy to like. I mean, she turns into a shark the first time we meet her. In the beginning she’s sweet, charming, and adorable. She’s the kind of teenager who could warm the cockles of a villain’s heart. She’ll turn into a ferocious fox to protect the person she loves and later will fall asleep on the couch tucked under his cape. But as the chapters tick by, it becomes increasingly clear that while she’s the protagonist of the story, she’s most certainly not the hero.
Ballister and Goldenloin live in a world with clear distinctions between good and evil—even if the people occupying those positions shouldn’t actually be there—but Nimona is a whole different can of worms. If Ballister and Goldenloin are moral and the Institute immoral, then Nimona is amoral at best. If Amazing Amy was a teenage shapeshifter, she’d have an awful lot in common with Nimona. (Alright, so she’s not quite that bad, but you get my point.)
It’s rare to let a woman lead a story, and even rarer for her to not end up suffering from Trinity Syndrome or getting fridged. I’m sick to death of Strong Female Characters. I want complex women, women with dimension and depth, women who can fight and women who can’t, women who kill, who defend, who don’t care either way. Give me more Annalise Keatings, Sansa Starks, Mako Moris, Amy Santiagos, Abbie Mills. Give me more Nimonas.
Alex Brown is an archivist, research librarian, writer, geeknerdloserweirdo, and all-around pop culture obsessive who watches entirely too much TV. Keep up with her every move on Twitter and Instagram, or get lost in the rabbit warren of ships and fandoms on her Tumblr.