Wednesday, August 10, 2016

What I Read: Nimona

Holy MOSES apparently I finished Nimona without talking about it?!
Image courtesy Noelle Stevenson/HarperCollins

I think the most interesting thing for me is: why did I love Nimona but loathe Fangirl? Rainbow Rowell and Noelle Stevenson seem to exist in a sort of mutual fannishness: they like each other's stories, and people who like the one usually like the other.

Except me. If I had read Fangirl before I read Nimona, the quote from Rowell right on the goddamn cover would have put me off. I don't think I would have avoided the boook; I probably would have enjoyed it even more, actually, because praise from Rowell would have lowered my expectations considerably. (So, um, maybe I should have read Fangirl first?) The more I think about Fangirl, the more I kind of really hate it and it's actually sadly put me off Rainbow Rowell forever. YOU DONE GOOFED.

So, since it's been a couple months since I finished Nimona and all of the thoughts and feelings I had immediately upon finishing it have been dimmed by time, I'll be comparing it with Fangirl as a way of focusing and recollecting my thoughts. Also, I am fueled by rage.

First of all, they are different mediums. Media? Nimona is a graphic novel and Fangirl is a traditional novel. While I don't think a visual medium would have smoothed over Fangirl's many, many flaws, there is the possibility that I enjoyed Nimona-as-graphic novel more, even much more, than I would have enjoyed Nimona-as-traditional novel. I think the story of Nimona is great, but Stevenson is maybe not a wordsmith; I can see how subpar writing would have ruined the story for me. (I'm not trying to imply that Stevenson can't write; I'm just saying I don't know if she's a good writer or not.) So Nimona goes into this with some advantage there.

Some reviews on GoodReads have been honest about Stevenson's art style not being for them, and I get that, but I quite liked it. My only beef is the lettering. Having read my fair share of comics and "classic" graphic novels (and also having kind of shitty eyesight), I do have kind of stuffy, traditionalist opinions about lettering. But I like Stevenson's quirky, doodle-y art style a lot, enough that I could work through the spidery handwriting of her lettering.

Second of all, Nimona is not a doorstopper paean to fanfiction and arrested development.

Third of all, Nimona has stakes. I get that not every story can or even should be about saving the world, but those also aren't the only stakes in Nimona. There's Nimona's relationship with Ballister, there's Ballister's relationship with Goldenloin, and there's Nimona and Ballister trying to figure out where they belong in the world, and there's Goldenloin questioning everything he's been taught as a hero. Even if you take out the "saving the kingdom" element of Nimona, there's a lot going on. The actual, interesting issues that Cath has—anxiety, inability to cope with her mother's departure, the stresses of being raised by a single, bipolar father, weird codependent relationship with her sister—aren't really explored so much as strategically deployed by Rowell to give a shallow, boring story about a shallow, boring person more gravitas.

And finally, Nimona doesn't have a neat and tidy ending. Kind of ironic that the fantasy story takes the gritty, realistic ending, while the realistic fiction story takes the deus ex machina "everything is magically better!" ending.

Moving on to more general thoughts now that I've warmed up:

Going back and reading other people's reviews to jog my memory, I've learned that 1) other people were seeing a queer subtext with Goldenloin/Ballister that I was not and 2) that this subtext is actually the Word of God and that Stevenson regrets not being more clear with it. On the one hand, queer representation is good, but on the other hand I never read Goldenloin/Ballister as gay; instead I thought it was nice to see The Power of Friendship between two men.

I think we need more models for close and emotionally vulnerable male friendships. Emotional vulnerability is always skirted around in those kinds of relationships—usually male friendship gets coded as snarky, ironic banter. (I guess here I'm thinking specifically of Clerks because that's my go-to male best buddies model.) But anytime a male friendship approaches something like serious feelings, it immediately gets read as some kind of homosexual subtext (and the shippers go CRAZY). And I don't know—I do think that men should stop worrying about being perceived as gay or effeminate or weak, absolutely, but I think we need to give men in media more space to be emotionally vulnerable to other men (who are not their father or brother figures) without making it a question of their sexuality. Anything else kind of reinforces the idea that default straight male is stoic and tough and "not in touch with their feelings" and that is bad news for everyone.

My other, final thought is that the physics and logic in Nimona's world was a little goofy. This is going to be super spoiler-y, so you have been warned! I'm not quibbling over the mass issues that come with shapeshifting—it's a goddamn fantasy story, Elsa that shit and let it go—but the whole last scene where Nimona's been split in two? And Ballister uses the doc's energy experiment to save/stop her? I feel like there was a lot going on there that I didn't understand. Sometimes you read a story and a character says, "Okay, we need to do this to stop the thing!" and you're like, "Yeah, that makes sense!"; sometimes a character says, "Okay, we need to do this to stop the thing!" and instead you're like, "Um, if you say so, I guess." That's how it felt for me. Maybe it's just a question of re-reading things.

End spoilers!

Overall I loved this little book and I'm glad I picked it up on a whim. I need to double check, but this might also count towards my 101 in 1001 list—I bought it long before I read it, but maybe not a whole year. Since Nimona is no longer available online, you'll have to get it in this dead tree version if you want to read it. But it's worth it, I promise! (Praise from Caesar is praise indeed.)


  1. I also meant to write about Nimona, but at this point its been a few months and I think that ship has sailed >_> I generally enjoyed it, but you liked it a lot more than me. I think Stevenson's art is cute but I'm not particularly drawn (heheh) to it. Like I never would have picked this up JUST FOR THE ART, which I learned is exactly what a lot of other people did. I like her writing more. She co-wrote the comic series Lumberjanes (she also illustrated the covers, but not the actual comics) which I really enjoy.

    I didn't realize the Goldenloin/Ballister thing until waaay later. I don't have anything against it, love is cool, but I also agree with you that a strong friendship would have been nice (which is what I originally thought it was, and really liked it). I feel like everyone has the need to ship everyone and everything now. Love stories are ok, but at this point I think real, strong friendships are harder to come by and are just as important as romantic relationships.

    Also the ending made no sense.

  2. >> I think Stevenson's art is cute but I'm not particularly drawn (heheh) to it.

    Ahhh punning!

    I've just spent so much of my comics-reading life with art that looks really same-y -- it's either superheroes or manga -- so I will eat up anything that's even a little bit different in terms of visuals (I mentioned this a while back with my review of Monstress). I think webcomics, and the movement to publish trade paperback versions of webcomics, has opened the door in terms of art variety.

    >> Love stories are ok, but at this point I think real, strong friendships are harder to come by and are just as important as romantic relationships.

    For real. In my own experience, it's been way harder for me to make and maintain close friendships than romantic relationships. And maybe it's a case of grass is always greener, since I've been chilling out in this relationship for like 13 years and have never struggled with anxieties over romance/finding love/whatever (or at least haven't since I was, like, 15 lol), but at the end of the day I think friendships are more important than relationships. I'd rather be single but have good friends than be in a relationship and have no friends. Even if it was an amazing perfect awesome relationship like the one I have now.