Feb 21, 2013

Webcomic Spotlight: Nimona!

By Paul Krueger

Since its debut in the summer of 2012, Noelle Stevenson’s Nimona! was named one of io9’s top new webcomics of the year, got shortlisted for Slate’s Cartoonist Studio Prize, and landed a publishing deal at HarperCollins.  That all is impressive enough, but it’s not even the tip of the iceberg: Stevenson’s still in art school, and Nimona! is her senior thesis.

Yeah, I feel inadequate, too.

Nimona! follows a shapeshifting young girl by that name after she hires herself on as the sidekick of Ballister Blackheart, the world’s most notorious supervillain.  Formerly a valorous knight, Ballister was betrayed by the system he used to uphold and morphed into a classic Villain With Principles.  Nimona, a fan of his work, volunteers her services and immediately shows even more enthusiasm for villainy than he does.

Stevenson does everything right.  I was floored when I found out she was still in school, because seeing her work makes me wonder what else a school could possibly have to teach her.  The world she’s created is a crazy stew of medieval, modern, and mad science, where the logical countermeasure to arrow fire is a giant raygun.  Few details about the world’s inner workings have been revealed yet, but they don’t necessarily need to be; the comic has a bubbly, just-roll-with-it vibe where wildly disparate ideas (dragons, cloning, bad zombie movies) come together without ever ringing falsely.

The characters that populate her world are equally well-realized.  Nimona is an interesting spin on (and subversion of) the Manic Pixie Dream Girl archetype, wholeheartedly throwing herself into the pursuit of villainy with a grin on her face and a glint in her eye.  Ballister is every bit her perfect counterpart: surprisingly moral where she’s wild, visionary where she’s impulsive, and snarky where she’s ebullient.  Their designs are even complementary: Nimona’s made up of rounded lines and dynamic poses, while Ballister’s all angles and a rigidly stiff spine.

Which brings us to the art: simple and expressive to its very core.  Stevenson’s looser, more cartoony style seems on the surface as if it would only play well with comedy, but the few times when genuinely dramatic moments crop up, not a line or shading feels out of place.  And while she often relegates Nimona’s shapeshifting ability to the spaces between panels and pages, occasionally she’ll treat us to a view:

No solid lines, no shading, only two colors, and yet the end result is a panel that excellently conveys the process while leaving most of it to the imagination of the reader.  The old adage of “show, don’t tell” is mostly applied to the craft of writing, but Stevenson expertly employs it as a storytelling technique in her line work as well.

As I mentioned above, Nimona! is slated for publication by HarperCollins in 2015.  I don’t know if this means the series has a solid end point towards which it’s working, or if it will only be the first of several volumes.  Whatever the series’ long-term plans, at the moment it makes for a nice place to go between checking your email and checking your Facebook in the morning.  And as a bonus, while most webcomics work on a Monday-Wednesday-Friday schedule, Nimona! updates every Tuesday and Thursday, allowing it to easily fill gaps in your reading rotation.

So, yeah.  You have no excuse.  Hop to it, noble readers.

Nimona! is written and drawn by Noelle Stevenson.  It updates every Tuesday and Thursday.  It may be found here.

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