Comics Academe: Who are YOU Calling Monster?

Hello Sports Fans!

As I’m writing this post, I’ve just returned to New York from San Diego Comic Con. I had tons of fun, and gave a little poster presentation at the Comics Art Conference that the wonderful Kathleen McClancy runs. My talk this year was titled “Monstrous Disruptions: Noelle Stevenson’s Nimona as Girl and Monster,” and that will also be our topic for the day.

For those of you familiar with the amazing webcomic-turned-graphic-novel that Nimona is, Stevenson’s character Nimona assumes many different forms, one of which is a large dragon-like monster. What interested me most in Nimona is the label of “monster” that is constantly directed towards our protagonist. The label “monster” serves multiple purposes as it “others” Nimona, casts her into a definable role in society, and justifies the actions of the story’s antagonists.

Panel from Noelle Stevenson's Nimona
Nimona shapeshifting

The first thing to do here is separate the term monster from Nimona’s actual form or shapeshifting powers. Even before she takes on her final, most physically monstrous form, Nimona is deemed a monster by multiple characters in the text. The text features an extremely structured society where the “good” guys and the “bad” guys have clearly defined roles and goals. Nimona, like the disabled Blackheart, does not fit into the “good” part of society, heavily controlled by the Institution. However, unlike Blackheart who fits into the dichotomy of hero/villain in the story, Nimona doesn’t fit into the structure of society at all. Nimona’s desires are rarely revealed. Each decision is her own, and her shapeshifting abilities along with her lack of predictability makes her a danger to the Institution which constantly attempts to box her in and understand her. Nimona has the power to disrupt. In this way, she is similar to the figure of the “madwoman in the attic,” except that she isn’t in the attic anymore. This shift is reminiscent of Jean Rhys’ novel Wide Sargasso Sea, which reframes the story of the unseen wife of Mr. Rochester by telling her story in her own words—giving the power of her story back to the woman who was written off.

At one point, the Director demands to know who made Nimona, and Nimona responds “No one made me. I was always like this” (196). This question from the Director reveals the Director’s unwillingness to believe that the power that Nimona holds is self-derived. Someone else must have given it to her. Nimona’s response reveals that her power comes from herself, giving her and her alone complete power over her own physical form and over her own future: cardinal sins for young women to commit.

Panel from Nimona by Noelle Stevenson
“No one made me. I was always like this.”

In his article “X-Men Evolution: Mutational Identity and Shifting Subjectivities,” Jason Zingshiem refers to the storylines of Jean Grey and Mystique in his argument that “In the X-Men filmic universe, women who embrace their powers and exert their agency risk annihilating the world” (102). In the cases of Jean Grey and Mystique, the destruction comes from uncontrollable circumstances. Jean cannot control the Phoenix force. Mystique’s blood is taken against her will. It is simply the fact that they possess power that marks them as dangerous.

This point is emphasized towards the end of Nimona, when Ambrose Goldenloin (who has repeatedly called Nimona a monster throughout the text) tells a distraught Blackheart, “I’m sorry. But something like this was always going to happen. She was a time bomb just waiting to go off” (209). Through his statement, Goldenloin places the blame on Nimona’s identity instead of on the actions of the corrupt Institution. Her deviance from the norm is blamed for the destruction that was instigated by the Institution and other organizations like it. The more monstrous Nimona appears to the public, the easier it is for characters to use the term “monster” to justify their violent and suppressing actions.

In the end, it is Ballister Blackheart’s refusal to call Nimona a monster that is the turning point for Nimona. It is telling that it’s not her behavior that changes but the way others treat her. While Nimona is the protagonist of the story, it isn’t she who must change—instead, it is the world around her that much change to make room for those young women who do not fit into the structures that are in place.

Onwards and upwards,


Tiffany Babb with her poster at the Comic Arts Conference, SDCCC 2017
Tiffany Babb with her poster at the Comic Arts Conference, SDCC 2017


Works Cited:

Stevenson, Noelle. Nimona. New York: HarperTeen, 2015. 

Zingsheim, Jason. “X-Men Evolution: Mutational Identity and Shifting Subjectivities.” Howard Journal of Communications 22.3 (2011): 223-39. 

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Tiffany Babb

Tiffany Babb

Tiffany is a New York based writer. She likes to think about death and consequences in serial storytelling.