Shapeshifters, magic and gay dads: NIMONA by Noelle Stevenson

nimona noelle stevensonI am very picky about my graphic novels. It comes, in part, because of my raging feminist nature – there’s not nearly enough female characters in most mainstream graphic novels and comic bind-ups for me to really love. It’s why I became so quickly obsessed with Rat Queens and Saga. But it wasn’t just the female characters I loved. Their worlds were fascinating and the plots hooked me in.

Noelle Stevenson’s Nimona doesn’t have a dark of a world as Saga and it doesn’t have as many characters as Rat Queens. But it’s fun and fierce, with characters that no reader will soon forget.

Nimona is a shapeshifter who decides that she needs to be the evil villain Lord Ballister Blackheart’s squire. Blackheart accepts (albeit reluctantly and only because Nimona’s murdering people left and right) and together they pair up to take on the Institute of Law Enforcement and Heroics and its golden boy Sir Ambrosius Goldenloin. Along the way, Blackheart discovers there may be more to Nimona than a girl with magical powers; Nimona discovers that Blackheart’s heart might not be black; and Sir Ambrosius Goldenloin looks fabulous and struggles with the guilt of deeds long past.

It’s an amazingly fun story and a wicked fast read. (I devoured my advanced copy of the upcoming printed version at a diner over ice cream. Reading Nimona with ice cream is the best way to read Nimona. Reading anything with ice cream is the best way to read anything.) I absolutely loved the dynamics between Goldenloin and Blackheart, and Nimona’s determination (and habit of shapeshifting into large destructive dragon-esque creatures) endeared her to me. I’ve been talking about the characters and giggling with other fans ever since I finished it.

Nobody should be surprised that Stevenson’s Nimona is so memorable. It was her first work and what landed her on the map. Now, with her comic Lumberjanes and her absolutely amazing Wonder Woman issues, those who haven’t read Nimona certainly need to go back and read it.

But perhaps the best thing about Nimona isn’t the comic itself, but how much fun it continues to be once you put it down. There is no bigger fan of Nimona‘s characters than Noelle Stevenson herself, and so following her on Tumblr and Twitter means that the series never really ends. She’s constantly sketching the characters in alternate universes, where Nimona is a little older, or Blackheart and Goldenlion are her gay dads, or the Director is a giraffe. (She does have an impossibly long neck.)

Nimona was originally a web-comic that could be read for free online, but with the release of the book in May, only the first three chapters are available online. But trust me – you’ll want to own this one.


Freaky Friday 2: A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night

A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, written by Ana Lily Amirpour with art and lettering by Michael DeWeese and Patrick Brosseau, is the comic book rendition of Amirpour’s eponymous film. In A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, the Iranian town, Bad City, is unaware that a vampire (The Girl) stalks their streets at night. The Girl seeks out criminals and perpetrators of injustice to fulfill her hunger.

 

Coven Book Club’s Kyle Cohlmia saw the film at the Oklahoma City Museum of Art and originally wrote about it on her blog The Dusty Soul. When Allison read that post she was hooked on the idea:

“The film brilliantly combines film genres such as the Western, horror, graphic novels, and Iranian New Wave. Spoiler alert: the vampire is a woman. And she is a badass. Almost serving in a Robin Hood-esque role for the female population of Bad City, run by a corrupt drug lord and his minions. Amirpour does so much with the content of the film, yet contains it within beautifully shot, minimalist, black and white scenes. Not to mention the play on the Iranian female hijab, which ironically looks like a vampire cape (especially in the dark, while skateboarding down abandoned alleyways).” –Kyle Cohlmia, The Dusty Soul

Minutes after reading this, Allison scrambled through the internet trying to find out where she could see the film and realized she’d just missed it at the St. Louis International Film Festival, and despaired. In doing so, she found that Amirpour was collaborating on a comic version of the film for RADCO. She practically forced Kyle to buy it so they could talk about it. They both loved it so Allison pulled CBC’s resident comics expert Annie D’Orazio in to talk with us about issues one and two, “Death is the Answer” and “Who am I”:

Kyle: What I loved most about AGWHAAN is the way Amirpour shot the film, in all black-and-white, displaying cinematographyDeath is the answerthat correlates with the aesthetics of the graphic novel. As the viewer, you almost melt into the dark contrasting shadows of Bad City, from abandoned alleyways to a looming physical plant. There was this one scene that really stuck out to me of the town’s drag queen twirling around with a balloon in slow motion after a night at a local party. It reminded me of a scene in a Fellini film, kind of grotesque but kind of beautiful, characteristics to which Amirpour seems to align with the “good guys” of Bad City.

Considering that this film created a new genre, the first “Iranian Vampire Western,” AGWHAAN’s plot, which I think comes with its own flaws, (e.g. a lot of open-ended stories) doesn’t push the edge so far that the central message from the comic is lost. Sheila Vand, who played The Girl, portrays her vampireness in a subtle way; despite her lack of dialogue in the film, The Girl comes with her own set of interests (outside of murdering and consuming the male villains of Bad City), including music, skateboarding,  and the ability to fall in love. Of course, I also love the underlying feminist theme in this story.

Allison: Me too (of course!). What struck me most about the comic so far is the way a story that’s ostensibly about a vampire, turns out to be something I think most women will relate to. Shame about our bodies, our base needs and the dark secrets we keep all drive The Girl’s story. In that way, I think the story is really relatable. We’re all worried about those things.

Annie: Definitely. There are a few things that really impressed me about this comic. First, it’s black and white and makes use of that; it’s not just an aesthetic choice. (Is anything really ever just an aesthetic choice?) Yet, there are these scenes that remind me of Sin City and The Crow–not necessarily because of the content, but because of the almost unbearable visual weight of the black-and-white illustrations.

There’s a greater degree of visual clarity at work here as well. The Girl’s sense of morality and purpose seems to echo this aesthetic. We can get into all kinds of debates about morality, blah, blah, blah, but look who she’s eating. Look who she’s wWho am Iatching. I have a feeling that the comic will deliver some “But wait, it’s not so clear” moments, but for now it’s, no pun intended, pretty black and white. Plus, DeWeese’s line quality has a bit of a hard edge to it without losing kinetic energy, which represents The Girl and her needs. Also, she goes out into the desert alone, looking for death and finding the one truth: She is hungry. I think this touches on Allison’s observations about our base needs and desires and the kinds of head-breakers women go through around them.

I read that Amirpour likes David Lynch. I haven’t seen the film. Kyle, does that come into play in any ways you want to talk about?

Kyle: Annie, I was just reading about Amirpour’s connection to David Lynch! One article I read talked about the drag queen scene I mentioned. Personally, it reminded me of Fellini, but this author said it was alluding to Lynch’s Blue Velvet, and that she uses other Lynchian themes like “stark expressionism and black pools of industrial sound design.”

Annie: How great is the title, too? We are always told not to walk anywhere alone at night. The Girl does. Granted, she’s packing some pretty sharp teeth and supernatural strength and speed, but she still walks alone at night.

Allison: For me, the cool thing about the title is that it indulges in a fantasy I think any woman who’s ever felt scared walking alone at night has had: being able to turn around and be the real monster. I know I get a vicarious thrill from the fact that The Girl may look like “just a girl,” but she’s dangerous. She’s out for blood. Literally. As women, we spend so much time thinking about how we can protect ourselves from physical harm, that it makes the idea of the kickass lady vampire pretty attractive.

Kyle: I LOVE the title. I LOVE that, contrary to my first thought, AGWHAAN is about a girl who not only walks home alone at night, but is the perpetrator for bad men who are walking home alone at night. And I LOVE that Amirpour uses the hijab as a weapon; The Girl’s head piece and cape serve as symbol of power, not repression.

Annie: Yes! I think many portrayals of the hijab, or at least ones we frequently see in the States, are reductive. Notable exceptions in comics include Dr. Naif Al-Mutawa’s The 99,  Wilson et al’s Ms. Marvel, and Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis.

There is an image in issue one in which The Girl is perched on a streetlight Batman-style, and her hijab looks like a superhero cape and cowl. We see a bit of this in the latest incarnation of Ms. Marvel, too, but The Girl brings the dark, night-stalking, scary badass element to the forefront.

Allison: I think in the end, the first issues of AGWHAAN reinforce something a lot of CBC contributors have noted in past weeks: embracing your monstrous side is empowering. The Girl is equally repulsed and emboldened by her vampirism. At the heart of AGWHAAN, the connection between femininity, blood, power and anger is a potent combination. I’m really excited to see where they take the story in upcoming issues.

Thanks so much for talking with me about this, ladies.

We encourage you to see the film, which will be available on iTunes and DVD on April 21, 2015 and is on a limited run schedule in theaters. See if you can catch it! You can procure the comic here or at your local comic shop.

Being a middle-eastern woman herself, Kyle Cohlmia looks up to Iranian female vampires and aspires to fight (albeit nonviolently) for gender equality at night as well as during the day. She would also love to learn to skateboard but will stick to her yoga running for now. She is a poet and blogger for her personal blog The Dusty Soul and other art-based blogs in her home state of Oklahoma as well as CBC. Follow her on Twitter for updates!

Annie D’Orazio, as a former skateboard-pushing child, would try skating again if she were a vampire. (She mostly pushed around and jumped off of things to great injury.) For now, she’s happy to be in her fleshy mortal coil, especially with great friends and colleagues like Allison and Kyle and the CBC crew. You can say hello to her on Twitter. She really likes the comics blog Comics&Cola. Go check them out, too.

No skateboarding for Allison Carr Waechter, no matter what. But should she ever becoma a vampire, she promises you she won’t be as noble as The Girl. She’ll just bite you, grin and move onto her next victim, drunk with power. Until then, she’s living out her mortal life on Twitter and her website, just like the rest of the internet.


Welcome to Lit Witches

Welcome

It’s our launch day and I’m so excited. If you’re not familiar with what we’re up to here at Lit Witches, here’s the rundown: we’re a bunch of ladies who support women authors. As such, we’re here to share recommendations for texts we love. Those texts could be poetry, books (of all kinds!), comics, cookbooks, you name it, we’re here to share the reading we love with you.

This week, we’ll see recommendations for Erin Morgenstern’s, The Night Circus, Aimee Bender’s, The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake and Lynda Barry’s, 100 Demons.

Pull up your favorite familiar, pour a cup of tea and let’s get started,

a.c. waechter (current, head-witch)