by Noelle Stevenson
2015 (originally published 2012 to 2014) • 272 pages • HarperTeen
When last I reviewed a web comic turned graphic novel (Allie Brosh’s Hyperbole and a Half), I brooded upon the fact that blogs are living things while books are fixed. In that situation, I had the benefit of having followed Hyperbole and a Half for quite some time beforehand. I had experience with it as both a web comic and a graphic novel.
Not so in the case of Nimona, Noelle Stevenson’s senior thesis turned complete comic. I knew about it when it debuted, having, alongside with most of fandom, fallen in love with Stevenson’s witty and thoughtful sketches on her tumblr. By the time I decided that I did want to read the web comic, I knew it was going to be published by HarperCollins, so I decided to wait.
And I think I’m the poorer for it.
Over the last few weeks, I’ve been thinking a lot about how I consume media. I recently binge watched 30 Rock and, despite enjoying it immensely, feel strangely bereft in its aftermath. I’m still formulating more conclusive thoughts on the matter, but I think the optimum way for me to experience serialized media is to space it out so I can live with it more. Had I binged watched all of Sailor Moon in college, as I’d intended, instead of watching it in weekly installments via its current Hulu release schedule, I don’t think the show would have the same weight to me.
Everyone experiences media differently, of course, and there are some people for whom binge watching is the greatest thing ever invented. (Or recently given a snappy name by mainstream media.) That said, for me, Nimona didn’t hit as hard as it could have had I begun reading the comic from the beginning. Had I watched these characters develop over a span of weeks and months, begun to have suspicions about Ballister and Ambrosius’s relationship, and missed Nimona when she wasn’t there, I would have developed more of a relationship with the text.
This, of course, is no burn on Nimona and Stevenson, of course, but just an observation on how I generate meaning out of texts. Out of its context as a web comic with a small but fervent fandom, it’s a wonderful comic. Stevenson’s stark, sketchy style is soft and approachable, to the point that you’ll suddenly realize that the setting is both fantasy and science fiction long after that concept’s been introduced. (Stevenson has dubbed it “monkpunk,” but it’s important to remember that superhero comics influenced the comic as well.) It engages with topics like government control, propaganda, and agency lightly but not flippantly. It centrally features a young woman who examines and rejects the idea that people like her must be “saved.” (Speaking of comics, Faith Erin Hicks sees Nimona as a response to the Dark Phoenix saga. I am inclined to agree.) And, over the two years it took Stevenson to tell the story, the comic evolves with her art style, but still remains consistent—things that may seem like jokes in the first few chapters are later revisited and dealt with seriously.
There’s a short epilogue, some cleaned up art in the first few chapters, and some art exclusive to the graphic novel, but there’s not a lot of commentary. I find that to be a bit of a shame; I know Stevenson commented on each page, like a lot of web comic artists, but that’s now lost to the sands of time. It’s part of what inevitably gets lost in translation from living web presence to fixed book presence.
I really wish I had more to say about Nimona; it’s one of those books that I recognize as desperately, terribly important (I am, on several levels, a “grown up” monster girl and I could have used this as an angry, scared child), but didn’t hit me where I live. That doesn’t mean I’m beyond it; that means that I didn’t come to it the way I needed to.
I rented this book from the public library.