When he was in art school, ND Stevenson developed the groundbreaking graphic novel Nimona, named for its shapeshifting protagonist who typically takes the form of a punky, angry teenage girl. Originally published on Tumblr as a webcomic from 2012 to 2014, Nimona follows the disgraced knight Ballister Boldheart and the eponymous character, who becomes both his sidekick and an invaluable friend. In 2015, when Stevenson was just 23, Nimona was republished as a graphic novel, which landed on the New York Times bestseller list and was nominated for the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature.
Since Nimona, Stevenson has continued to push boundaries with his characters. He went on to co-write the award-winning series Lumberjanes (2014-2020) and The Fire Never Goes Out: A Memoir in Pictures (2019). He’s also worked in animation, writing for Wander Over Yonder (2015-2016) and creating and executive producing the 2018 reboot of She-Ra and the Princesses of Power (2018-2020).
Now Nimona makes its big screen debut with a screenplay by Robert L. Baird (Big Hero 6) and Lloyd Taylor (Spies in Disguise). Directed by Nick Bruno and Troy Quane, also of Spies in Disguise, the boldly animated title boasts an impressive cast including Chloë Grace Moretz (Kick-Ass) as Nimona, Riz Ahmed (Sound of Metal) as Ballister, and Eugene Lee Yang (The Try Guys) as the most famed knight in the Institution, Ambrosius Goldenloin.
Stevenson spoke with Queue about Nimona’s shapeshift from graphic novel to animated film.
On the directors aiding the book-to-screen process
When [directors] Nick and Troy came on, they were really collaborative and open to my ideas. I know that every adaptation has to be its own thing. It doesn’t mean it’s always easy to let go, especially with a character as personal as Nimona. So it meant a lot to me that they spent that time to get to know me in order to get to know Nimona better. I’d visit the studio from time to time to watch the animatics and give feedback.
On keeping Nimona both evil and not evil at all
When you adapt something, there’s a truth at the heart of it that you have to understand and love. The essence of Nimona was this balance of chaos, punk rock sensibility, fear, vulnerability and the power fantasy of being a shapeshifter, but also her anger. If she were sanded down to a standard cute girl who didn’t have that edge, it wouldn’t be worth it to adapt Nimona. Nick and Troy seemed to get it right away. Watching the final movie, I was like, “That’s her.” She’s complicated and dark and messy and cute and evil and scary and not evil at all.
On Chloë Grace Moretz as Nimona
The first Kick-Ass movie came out around the time I was a senior in high school. I also remember [Moretz’s character] Hit-Girl took the world by storm. So to see it come full circle more than ten years later — of course she’s Nimona.
On Riz Ahmed as Ballister Boldheart
They had pitched me a couple others and then I heard that they were going out to Riz and I was like, “It’s obviously him.” I truly cannot say enough good things about his performance and him as an actor.
On Eugene Lee Yang as Ambrosius Goldenloin
I think Goldenloin is the character who changed the most from the page to the movie in a way that I feel really positive about; he has a lot more pathos and maturity, and Eugene just brings so much of that to the character. Eugene’s super funny, incredibly charming. How often do you see the bombastic blonde hero and you’re like, “I’d buy his sports drink. I love this guy.” That’s how I feel about him.
On how the book differs from the film
I’m really pleased with how they adapted parts of the book that were a hard sell, even in indie comics. In the book, it’s implied that Nimona has been adopting new identities and then having them fall apart for a really long time. But a lot of people didn’t pick up on it. A lot of people still think of her as a teenage girl, which she is from a certain point of view, but she’s something much more primal, a force of nature. The movie makes that a lot clearer, which is the coolest thing for me. This is an opportunity to take things further than the book did, like the relationship between Goldenloin and Boldheart, which was just hinted at in the book. I’m excited for people to get to know this new version of Nimona and Ballister and all the rest.
On what he hopes viewers take away
I’m excited for the new audience the film is going to reach, and hopefully, it leads them to the book. But even if it doesn’t, I’m just excited for these characters to have that new life. I hope that fans of the book find it really cool and they open their hearts to it the way that I did. I want to see people find a new hero in Nimona. I want them to be able to imagine that feeling of being infinite and having no limits. I want everyone who feels like they’re not seen or heard to know they’re not alone.
It’s a movie that came out of my own pain, and it was really cathartic to find an outlet through this story about how friendship can help you fight the darkest battles. I hope that the movie can be that for more people.