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Radar Replay: ‘Nimona’ is a liberating experience made for the LGBTQIA+ community

For this year’s Pride month, revisit “Nimona,” a science fantasy graphic novel by American cartoonist Nate Diana “Indy” Stevenson. A New York Times bestseller and winner of an Eisner Award, a Cybils Award and a Cartoonist Studio Prize, the comic delves into the challenges and inequalities of being different with the spunky and punk main character Nimona. It also became a hit movie on Netflix, garnering a cult following and becoming a beacon in queer representation.

One prominent narrative theme was  exploring the workings of societies. Almost always, communities hinge on rules and laws — maintaining order to prevent crime and harm to innocent community members. From small organizations to vast kingdoms, this kind of protection feels logical and crucial for fostering a healthy, functioning community. 

This is especially true when considering how important communities are to people, a sentiment theorized in psychologist Abraham Maslow’s third tier in the hierarchy of needs, which emphasizes the need for “love and belonging.” By following guidelines and respecting established values set forward by group leaders, collectives are prone to stay within this safe bubble.

However, these societal rules, laws and norms can be too restraining for some, and this is especially true for the queer community. Even in today’s more progressive age, many members of the LGBTQIA+ community still face discrimination for their identity. The disparities between non-LGBTQIA+ and LGBTQIA+ individuals are still a problem in every space — most notably in health care, employment, housing and public spaces. Promoting queer media representation is a crucial start to carving out a safe space for the LGBTQIA+ community. 

Set inside a world where magic and science clash, the laws of society were created by the Institution of Law Enforcement and Heroics (dubbed the Institution). The story centered around Nimona, a magical shapeshifter who insisted on becoming the sidekick of Ballister Blackheart, an exiled knight turned villain. Together, the duo sought to change the world around them in their own ways, providing a compelling allegory for how the queer community has been courageously pushing to create safe spaces for themselves.

Villainy became a great theme that Stevenson wielded to explore how Nimona responded to her environment, which was against her shapeshifting, a metaphor for her fluid identity. Nimona and Blackheart were initially posed as an antagonistic force that was going against the Institution, but as the story progressed, we saw how Blackheart unveiled the corruption of society and Nimona as a victim of historical hate. As more layers peeled back, readers understood how the misguided history and traditions of the world created a hostile environment that moved against queer-coded characters.

In that regard, viewers also saw how both characters tackle their exclusion from society differently. Where Blackheart sought to work within the system and try to fix it, Nimona intended to break it entirely, exclaiming, “What do you mean, there are rules? Why would you follow the rules? Isn’t that the whole point of being a villain, that you don’t follow the rules?” These different approaches introduced much nuance in how they interacted with the laws of society and its social inequalities. Moreover, it was further complicated by Blackheart’s pursuit of science that entangled itself in Nimona’s seemingly unexplainable magic, providing further commentary on the tensions of the biological discourses surrounding queer identity.

Furthermore, humor in the graphic novel was also an amazing component of the narrative. Nimona’s punk and comical attitude was incredibly endearing, uplifting the more serious themes of the novel with an optimistic, zany perspective. Nimona shined bright here, and Blackheart shared that spotlight as well with his quips against arch-nemesis and secret lover, Ambrosius Goldenloin. The three characters’ personalities amalgamated into a comedy style that imbued the work with a fun, fresh outlook on queer identities.

Overall, the powerful narrative and humor, complete with a fantasy art style, created an unforgettable reading experience. While many may rightfully gravitate towards the newer adapted and highly regarded Netflix film, the graphic novel is more than deserving of a revisit as the two differ a lot in their tones, themes and endings. This Pride month, “Nimona” is the next read that will make you laugh, cry and think — encapsulating the queer experience and capturing the power of queer media.

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