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ND Stevenson on how he's changed alongside his 'Nimona' series

ND Stevenson at the NY Special Screening of <em>Nimona.</em>
Roy Rochlin/Getty Images for Netflix)
ND Stevenson at the NY Special Screening of Nimona.

Who is he? ND Stevenson is a cartoonist and animation producer, best known for creating the web-series turned graphic novel Nimona.

  • The Nimona series was optioned in 2015, but Blue Sky Studios was acquired then shuttered by Disney. But the animated feature-length film was resurrected, and released on Netflix this week.
  • The story follows the wild and unapologetic shapeshifter Nimona, who uses her powers to transform into anything and anyone she wants to be, as she seeks out chaos and adventure and teams up with wrongfully accused knight, Ballister Boldheart.
  • What's the big deal? Stevenson created the original webcomic as a 19-year-old art student with no idea of the phenomenon that would follow.

  • The webcomic started around 2011 and was officially adapted into the eponymous graphic novel in 2015. 
  • As Nimona went through changes, so did Stevenson. In 2020, he came out as trans and non-binary, and has since reflected on the elements of Nimona that spoke to his own gender identity, as well as many of the series' fans.
  • Nimona is an inherently queer story – with the romance between knights Ballister Boldheart and Ambrosius Goldenloin made a pivotal plot point in the film.
  • What's he saying? Stevenson sat down with NPR's Scott Detrow to discuss growing alongside Nimona.

    On choosing what to change and what to keep the same:

    I always knew that things were going to change about the story, and that they should change because I made the comic that I set out to make, and now it was going to be something new. It was going to do its own little shapeshift, if you will, and become a whole new thing. 

    But Nimona [the character] to me really felt like what it is about the story that makes it special. So in a lot of ways it's very recognizable. It has a lot of familiar elements of heroes, villains, monsters, this medieval world, but it's set in the future with some tropes associated with both of those kinds of extremes.

    Want to listen to the full interview with ND? Click the 'play' button at the top of this page.

    On telling queer stories in the current political climate:

    I come from a very conservative and religious background that I found very constraining growing up. And when I became an adult, there was a lot of figuring out what I believed about the world.

    So the comic is in many ways a reaction to that. It's asking about, if there's someone who feels that they are definitely the hero, that they can do no wrong, that they are in pursuit of a righteous cause, and they use that as an excuse to dehumanize others. Is it really righteousness? Are the heroes really heroes? And are the villains really villains? 

    And that's at the heart of what the story is. And it's in reaction to that very rigid and very prescriptive kind of worldview. 

    We are seeing this very reactionary backlash, this moral panic about people like me who are just living our lives. 

    I think that that is at the heart of where the story came from. But it's also something that I think that kind of gained a new meaning in the telling of this story. And so I'm really hoping that the story can start constructive conversations about how to love the people in our lives and how to be the person that they need us to be.

    On their journey of self-discovery aligning with the evolution of Nimona:

    I was many years out from starting to put any of the pieces together. Some people know right away and some people like me need a little bit more time to sort of stumble through and end up in the wrong place a few times before you start really putting things together. 

    But I think for me, fiction and creating stories has always been a way of exploring those parts of myself before I may be able to really look at myself with that clear vision. 

    And Nimona certainly is kind of everything; she can be anything she wants and she's still her. But all of these different things are a part of her. And she does take on male alter egos at various points throughout the story. And that was something that just spoke to me back in 2012 when I was first working on it in a way that I didn't really understand yet, but in a place that had started making a little bit more sense over the years.

     But I also feel that there are many different parts of myself that I need to express. There's a line in the movie where Nimona sort of talks about that and how she has to shift. Her not shifting is not true living for her. She has this amazing power and she needs to do that in order to be herself. 

    And that's the world that I live in as well. I have many different parts of myself. And it's often a joyful and wonderful thing to explore. And I think that so many people, whatever their identity, have something like that in their lives, some way in which they are not what the world thinks they are, or they go against the labels being put on them, or they know that there's more to the story than maybe someone's first instinctual take on them.

    And that's really what this story is about. I've seen the way this story connects with people across such a wide range of identities, and I think it's a really universal story in the end.

    So, what now?

  • Stevenson on the ethos of the Nimona movie: "I think it really is about this almost radical acceptance of seeing someone, not necessarily for all that they are with a character like Nimona, who is almost impossible to know every part of her, but telling them that you will be there for them and that you believe in them and that you're always listening and looking."
  • Nimona is now available to stream on Netflix.
  • Learn more:

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  • Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

    Manuela López Restrepo
    Manuela López Restrepo is a producer and writer at All Things Considered. She's been at NPR since graduating from The University of Maryland, and has worked at shows like Morning Edition and It's Been A Minute. She lives in Brooklyn with her cat Martin.