Monday, February 15, 2016

YALSA top ten GNs 2016: Nimona

Written and drawn by Noelle Stevenson
Published by HarperTeen (2015)

The titular Nimona is a young shapeshifter in a magical kingdom, who sets out to become the sidekick of evil villain Ballister Blackheart. Except that it turns out that Blackheart isn't, well, that black of heart. Years ago he had been training to be a hero at The Institute, until an "accident" happened, and he lost his arm. Since The Institute didn't want a one armed hero, he turned to villainy (and built himself a rad robot art). Of course while Blackheart hates The Institute and wants to bring about its downfall, he doesn't actually want to kill anyone while he's doing it, though Nimona has no such compunctions. Of course, even if Blackheart is not quite the villain he seemed at first, Nimona has some secrets herself.

Stevenson has two books on the 2016 YALSA list (this one and Lumberjanes, though she only co-wrote that one), which is impressive enough. It's even more so when you realize that these are her first two published books. Despite this, Stevenson clearly has comics down, and there's a reason why Nimona has received so much acclaim. Blackheart and Nimona are great characters, who are both more than what the first seem to be, while the world that they live in is fascinating.

While theoretically a D&D style fantasy world with magic, dragons, people wearing medieval armour, and jousting competitions, it's so much more than that. Blackheart is a scientist (albeit an "evil" one), along with all the computers, advanced technology, and weapons that that entails. But there are also TV channels, bank machines, modern doctors, and tea bags (only invented in the 20th century). And while I'm sure this sort of anachronistic world will bother purists, I love it.

Plus, this book is just funny. The first page I ever read was Nimona and Blackheart watching a bad horror movie, and out of context it's amusing, but left me wondering just what this comic was even about. However, looking back on it that page does get at what this comic is about, because at it's heart this comic is about the relationship between Blackheart and Nimona. While Blackheart may hate The Institute, he clearly cares about many of the people around him, and despite Nimona constantly bothering him, and going against his orders, he seems to have hopes that he can help raise her into an adult with, at the least, a slightly better moral compass. In between all the humourous scenes, Stevenson definitely manages to include a fair chunk of pathos in this story.

Stevenson's art is great. It's not going to win any awards for realism (everyone's hands and feet are tiny and weird, most people's eyes are just dots, etc.), but she's incredibly good at showing how the characters feel through their body language and facial expressions. Nimona is constantly moving, even during basic conversations, and this really helps to share her personality with the readers. Stevenson's colours are fairly flat compared to a lot of modern comics, but it works perfectly well for the story.

Nimona started as a webcomic, and while the first three chapters are still online, most if it was taken down when the print volume was released. I feel this is kind of unfortunate, both because I doubt having the whole comic online would prevent people from buying the comic, and also because the art is presented at a larger size than in the print version (which is printed unfortunately small). Keep in mind though, that some (all) of the comics still online were redrawn for the print volume.

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