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“Nimona” is an ongoing SF webcomic by Noelle Stephenson, updating on Tuesdays and Thursdays. It’s the story of Nimona, a teenage shapeshifter with a tragic past and a bombastically plucky personality; and how she joins forces with Ballister Blackheart, a former knight-turned-supervillain scientist whose aim is to exact vengeance on the Institution whose corruption cost him his right arm and turned Sir Ambrosius Goldenloin,* the love of his life, into his archnemesis.

The comic is funny, touching and fast-paced. The relationship between Nimona and Blackheart becomes a sweet father-daughter type friendship as well as a partnership. Nimona always swoops in to save Blackheart’s life and provide firepower for their schemes, and Blackheart gives counsel and tempers Nimona’s axe-crazy tendencies with his more sober taste in plots. “Merry Christmas! I turned into a sheep and knitted you this scarf with my wool,” says Nimona to Blackheart in the Christmas strip.

The world in which the story is set is hilariously anachronistic: Sir Goldenloin’s plate armor has a built-in radio on his wrist, which he uses to call for archers as reinforcements. Elements of magic and science blend seamlessly, and modern elements of society blend with more medieval/fantasy ones as well—there’s a “king” mentioned, but the real power seems to come from corporate entities. Surprisingly, this works so well that when it isn’t hilarious, it feels so natural that it flies right under the radar.

The art is beautiful and polished-looking, and although it does improve over the length of the comic, it has more consistency than many webcomics do. It also has a command of body language rarely seen even in published comics; surprise or cheerfulness show in a character’s posture and not simply in facial expression.

So overall, it’s a delightful read! It’s hosted at http://gingerhaze.com/nimona, and a book release by HarperCollins is planned for 2015.

* “So have I mentioned lately that the knights choose their own names?” says the note after one comic. Sir Coriander Cadaverish and Sir Mansley Girthrod are two more examples. Commenters have speculated that Goldenloin’s name is connected to the prominent codpiece of his burnished gold-tone plate armor.

Nimona
By Noelle Stevenson
HarperTeen, 2015

Nimona was a webcomic... but as part of the publishing deal with HarperCollins most of the webcomic was taken down, leaving only the first three chapters on-line as a teaser for the graphic novel.

The good news is, the graphic novel is quite good. For the most part the novel contains the same content as the webcomic, although some of the early art and dialogue have been tweaked to look more polished and to reflect Stevenson's current artistic abilities.

As a young child Nimona was bewitched into a super-powerful shapeshifter and, coincidentally, her family was killed by raiders. Left alone with no one to care for her, she naturally hunts down the premier evil villain in the land, and demands that he take her on as his sidekick. He is dubious, but is intrigued in her ability to turn into a talking, bipedal shark... and also, dragons and stuff. They team up, on the condition that she stop trying to kill everyone (and that he try to be less boring). Wacky hi-jinks ensue.

There is a fairly involved plot, with the good guys turning out to be bad guys turning out to be... well no spoilers. Very few things are as they initially seem, and the characters are well-developed and pleasingly shifty. The story walks a fine line between silly, dark, and intriguing, and does it well.

Being a graphic novel at just 256 pages in length, this is a fairly quick read. The art is clearly comic art, but it is detailed and well composed, and the dialogue is well balanced to the medium, without large chunks of text and without skimping on the story. The book includes a few bonuses (Christmas specials as they appeared on-line and some sketches), but I don't believe that it includes anything that wasn't originally available on-line.

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