Can you have a black Walter White or a female Lex Luthor without making an uncomfortable political statement? Can you have a epic, doomed gay love story like Titanic where you’re not just playing into the tired “tragic gays” trope? Can the character lose a fight dramatically and it not be seen as them being inherently less competent or valuable?
Check out previous interviews in the One Thing Leads to Another series here.
In the grand scheme of things I’m a relatively new member of the fan club. Other than sort of intermittently following Looking for Group, I wasn’t clued in to the wonders of web comics until a friend linked me to a random (and perfect) comment about Sky High, which lead to me poking around on tumblr and finding this and this and this. And this. I joined immediately, for the pop cultural references, social commentary, comics and, of course, Nimona. You probably should too, if you haven’t already. The intermittent Scooby-Doo commentary alone is worth it.
And now here we are, a couple of years later, and Nimona is a real book that I can give to So Many People this holiday season (who are hopefully not reading this intro where I just spoiled their gift) and Noelle Stevenson has won a couple Eisners and been short-listed for the National Book Award (the first ever web comic to be nominated.) Nimona and Lumberjanes have already starting popping up on multiple end-of the year Best lists, including nominations for YALSA’s 2015 Great Graphic Novels for Teens, Quick Picks, and Popular Paperbacks honors. Not to mention her work on Wander Over Yonder, Runaways (!!!), and in various anthologies (teenage Wonder Woman! Goddess of Thunder!) In other words, if you haven’t had the pleasure, do yourself a favor. Seriously. I dare you to read the interview below or to check out any of Noelle’s work and not go full fangirl or fanguy immediately. It’s impossible.
Thank you, Noelle, for your Twitter feed, for making me cry when Nimona [redacted], for your generosity and vulnerability below and on tumblr. Being a confused woolly little person wandering around making
bad weird choices is a lot more fun when you have Nimona and April (and Ballister and Mal and Ripley and…) to keep you company.
Always Something There to Remind Me
Please describe your teenage self.
I was homeschooled for half of being a teenager and in public high school/college for the rest! It meant that I went from being THE COOLEST homeschooler to being this weirdly overconfident drama club kid who carried a lunchbox, was the only girl in school with short hair, and wore skirts over pants. I was a very try-hard teen who somehow didn’t really care what people thought of me, in practice. I made arm warmers out of socks and had no idea how to apply liquid eyeliner.
What did you want to be when you grew up? Why?
I wanted to be an artist, then I wanted to be a singer. Then I wanted to be an artist again. Then I wanted to be an actress and an artist at the same time. Then I wanted to be an actress, and artist and a writer. Eventually I dropped the actress part. For a short time I wanted to be an architect but then my mom told me it involved math and I changed my mind.
What were your high school years like?
Like I said, I was homeschooled until I was 15, so I was pretty self-directed. I didn’t have a terrible time in high school as much as just being kind of…apathetic about it. It felt like a waste of time, so I made connections with the librarians and the art teacher and the drama club and I’d use those to get out of class all the time and go do my own thing. I cut class kind of a lot, actually. I felt a little like a ghost at public high school, but not in a bad way — it was kind of by design. I knew I’d only be there for two years and I had all these other plans. In the end, I’m really glad I did go to that school, because my art teacher was amazing. She was very overworked and basically taught 2-3 classes simultaneously, like literally at the same time in the same room, but she fought really hard to keep the IB Art track when the school was trying to slash it even when there were only 3 of us. She had the art school recruiters come visit the class and that’s pretty much how I figured out how to get to art school. She was really important in my life. I called her ‘Mom’ once, in front of my actual mom.
What were some of your passions during that time?
I loved theater. We went to a ton of plays — my favorite ones were at the local university black box, but we went to ones at the bigger playhouses too sometimes. I was really into Sweeney Todd (the movie) at the time so we bought tickets to Sweeney Todd (the play) when it came to town. That one was a big deal! I loved movies in general, going to movies was probably my favorite thing to do. We had friends at the local art house movie theater too so we’d go there because they’d let us in for free. Maybe I was a pretentious teen?? I don’t remember being pretentious but I probably was. I loved reading and I’d hang out at the Barnes & Noble across the street from my school all the time — I read a lot of sci-fi and fantasy, or I’d just admire the illustrations in the kids’ picture books. I’d even take my friends there and do like, dramatic readings, and pretend to be an art critic while looking at all the book covers. I really, really wanted to have written the books on the shelves there. That store was the first place I went when I was home to see my books on display. It felt pretty good.
Would you be willing to share a difficult teen experience or challenge that you feel shaped the adult you became?
I was a really introverted kid, and a pretty cautious one. I was afraid of everything. I loved routine and I loved being safe and comfortable — I was a major homebody. I’d probably still be that person if I didn’t have the family I did. My family was really extroverted and adventurous, for the most part. We traveled a lot and I was always miserable. I was incapable of enjoying the awesome places we visited until much later. Then one time we were hiking in a rainforest in Guatemala and my parents decided to take us ziplining?? I swear I remember our guide having a wooden leg although I have no idea if that’s true or I made that up. Anyway, I was definitely NOT down for this. We had to climb waaaaay up in these skinny trees and onto these really rickety platforms, and THEN you had to stand on a box to make the jump. And I was like, no. My family was always pressuring me into doing stuff like this to me and I was never down for it. They got me up on the box somehow and I looked and there was NO way I was jumping. Not a chance. And I never would’ve jumped, seriously, except suddenly my mom just straight-up pushed me off the platform. Like she just threw me out of a tree. And I was fine! And I was ziplining! And I had a lot of fun!! As I grew up I stopped thinking that everything was going to kill me and I started thinking more like, well, I could die, but I probably won’t, so I might as well give it a try. It’s weird, but it’s the only way I am where I am now. Sometimes you have to just take a risk and jump. Or else your mom will throw you out of a tree. Continue reading One Thing Leads to Another: An Interview with Noelle Stevenson