Noelle Stevenson invites everyone into comics
Noelle Stevenson wants you to know the world of comics is not off-limits to you.
A writer and illustrator whose recent projects found her entrusted with comic mainstays Wonder Woman and Thor, Stevenson has seen her work nominated for three Eisner Awards this year, including best new series for the all-girls adventure series “Lumberjanes,” and film adaptations of “Lumberjanes” and her debut series “Nimona” are in the works. It’s an impressive feat for anyone, let alone a 23-year-old who did not always feel she had a place in the comic book world.
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“I kind of understood inherently — and I wasn’t really conflicted about this — that comics were not for me or by people who looked like me,” Stevenson said. “That was just something that I accepted about the world.”
Eventually Stevenson found a home in comics — online.
“It was not until Web comics that I saw stories about women and stories by women and things that were aimed specifically at female readership,” Stevenson said. “It was just kind of this free-for-all that was achieving something amazing with creativity. That was where I got my start.”
Stevenson, based in Los Angeles, first garnered attention online for her fan art of pop-culture characters from franchises such as “Lord of the Rings” and “Doctor Who” by posting on Tumblr (under her moniker Gingerhaze) and other social websites. She has more than 39,000 followers on Twitter.
In 2012, Stevenson decided she wanted to show the world what she was made of. She kicked off “Nimona,” a Web comic about a shape-shifting sidekick who in searching for an outlet for her villainy aligns herself with Lord Ballister Blackheart, a supervillain on a quest for noble vengeance.
The story, set in a mash-up medieval world of magic and science, subverts the idea of what makes a person a villain, a sidekick or even a hero.
“Who’s the villain, and who’s the sidekick here?” asks Lord Blackheart early on in their acquaintance when he realizes Nimona’s penchant for violence and mayhem disregards his honor code.
The series’ acclaimed two-year run led to a 2015 Eisner Award nomination in the digital/Web comic category and print publication in May as a collected volume, with a second printing announced in June. Fox Animation is set to adapt the series as a feature film.
In addition to raising her profile in the comics industry, “Nimona” also helped Stevenson explore her creative voice. A graduate of the Maryland Institute College of Art, Stevenson considers children’s book illustrators among her primary influences.
“I really liked Quentin Blake, who did all of Roald Dahl’s stuff,” she said. “I don’t think I really got Quentin Blake as a kid, but as I grew older I really appreciated the kind of knowledge and the skill that went into those seemingly effortless drawings, and I really wanted to capture some of that in my own work.”
Indeed, “Nimona” readers are treated to Stevenson’s own seemingly effortless and whimsical visual style.
It was while working on “Nimona” that Stevenson co-created the breakout all-ages series “Lumberjanes” with Shannon Watters and Grace Ellis.
The acclaimed comic, which 20th Century Fox is developing into a live-action movie, stars best friends and bunkmates April, Jo, Mal, Molly and Ripley, who stumble upon supernatural mysteries surrounding their summer camp for “Hardcore Lady Types.” Within the first few issues, the girls encounter hipster yetis, a bear woman and even velociraptors — all while trying to earn merit badges.
For Stevenson, who initially joined the creative team to help with character design before taking on a writing role, “Lumberjanes” fills a “very glaring hole” in the print comics market — a lack of diversity that often turns potential readers away from the medium. She cites the series’ positive reception as a sign of how much the market was thirsting for such a story.
Stevenson also applied her creative voice to more tradional superhero fare, taking on a two-issue arc of “Sensation Comics Featuring Wonder Woman” that saw a teenage Princess Diana escaping Paradise Island to experience the modern world. Stevenson also contributed a story to the “Thor Annual” issue, in which the new Thor is challenged to prove her worthiness and she plays along just to show off. And she was also tapped to write the “Runaways” tie-in for Marvel’s “Secret Wars” event.
“We can make this industry and this environment and comic book shops and comic book conventions and comic books themselves, we can make them a thing that is accessible to everybody,” Stevenson said. “So that nobody feels unwelcome and nobody feels like this isn’t their place.”
I’m not a monster. I’m @tracycbrown on Twitter.
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