If you’re ever in need of a little motivation, Noelle Stevenson is who to turn to. Her whirlwind career started on tumblr with her ‘hipster Lord of the Rings’ fanart and has gone from strength to strength since, starting with Nimona.
Nimona started life as a webcomic, an incredibly popular webcomic. Following the story of a young girl named Nimona who becomes sidekick to bitter and lonely (not that he would admit it) villain, Ballister. After winning the Slate Cartoonist Studio Prize for Best Web Comic in 2012 Nimona was published as a graphic Novel by HarperCollins. It went on to be a bestseller and rake in a ton of nominations and awards, including an Eisner nomination for best graphic novel. Nimona’s success was the first sign of one heck of a career and an ever growing positive effect on nerd culture.
Vulnerable and strong. Malicious and sweet. Loving but murder-happy. Damaged but whole. Stevenson’s unique characters have a special streak of originality and depth that make them extra special and easily recognisable. Nimona is a perfect example of this. She is multi-layered, mysterious but relatable. She lies over and over but you care enough to believe her again and again. She might rip your heart out but you want to trust her, as a reader you always want the very best for this mischievous, murderous little shapeshifter. Nimona is a wild ride of a story full of ups, downs and loops so quick and sudden you might get emotional whiplash but the recovery is so worth the pain.
With Nimona, Noelle brought something new to comics, more rusty and dusty than shiny but unwaveringly gorgeous. A story about a girl with a multi-faceted personality, a girl who can make you see her however she wants but holds her truth deep inside. Whether or not you can transform into a shark, Nimona is all of us at once.
This immense talent for creating layered and unique characters carried through to Lumberjanes, the wildly successful comic Stevenson co-created with Shannon Watters and Grace Ellis. Lumberjanes began as an eight issue mini-series from Boom Box!, an imprint of Boom! Studios but after only two bestselling issues an ongoing series was announced. Since then Lumberjanes has become one of the most important and loved comics on the shelves. Stevenson co-wrote the first 17 issues and her contribution is clear and wonderful. Lumberjanes follows the constant, perilous adventures of five campers at Miss Quinzella Thiskwin Penniquiqul Thistle Crumpet’s Camp for Hardcore Lady Types.
When the first issue hit pull-lists everywhere it instantly caused a ripple in the comics world. Full of diversity, friendship and perspectives usually absent from mainstream comics it set a new standard for all ages comics, and comics in general. A story focused on a group of girls who never falter in their love for each other, who support each other and appreciate each other was exactly what many had been asking for, and was welcomed with open arms and long-boxes. Lumberjanes is consistently hilarious, always sweet and full of truly hardcore lady-types. LGBTQIA representation can be hard to come by in comics but Lumberjanes has it in buckets, and in an ages book no less. The portrayal of two young girls discovering their mutual crushes slowly and adorably, an adored and respected leader who is also a trans girl and a beautiful love story with a winding past and hopeful future fill Lumberjanes not only with representation but with representation coated in happiness and optimism. In Stevenson’s 17 issues of Lumberjanes she blended nostalgia with hope, wrapped it up and made it accessible to everyone.
That ability to write kids and teenagers then came in pretty handy when she took the reigns on one of Marvel’s most iconic young teams, the Runaways. For the massive Secret Wars event she took the classic and beloved team of youngsters and shook them right up. The team changed but the dynamic stayed.
This time the kids are students at Victor Von Doom Institute for Gifted Youths where Battleworld’s most exceptional teens are being trained to join the Doom Elite. After uncovering some awful truths about the ominously named school a group of super-teens run away and try to make it on their own without being caught by Doom’s guards. Runaways is a perfect halfway point between Nimona and Lumberjanes. It has the fun and youthfulness of Lumberjanes and all of the depth and weight Nimona. In typical Noelle Stevenson style it also has all of the diversity. The teens in Runaways are an eclectic group lovingly written and wonderfully complete. Everything has an equal sense of importance, crushes and life or death situations are of the same urgency. It feels uncannily like being a teenager again, with a little extra death, destruction and robots. In her hands all characters are given the same importance, she gives readers characters from all walks of life and seems to have a deep understanding of all of them. No matter who you are or how you identify you can find yourself somewhere in her work, she’s a pro at inclusiveness, at making everyone feel welcome in her stories.
When comics are so full of hyper masculinity and harmful behavior Noelle Stevenson brings it back to true storytelling and fun. She fills it with colour, new perspectives and optimism.
Her characters show that anyone can be anything, identity has no limits, vulnerability doesn’t equal weakness and strength is not always obvious.
She will make you cry, that’s almost a guarantee, but you’ll never close a Noelle Stevenson comic feeling like you’ve lost anything, you will always close that last page feeling like you’ve gained something beautiful. It may not have been very long, but already Noelle Stevenson has made the comics world a better, more inclusive place and I for one couldn’t be more grateful.