AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
Noelle Stevenson is making her mark in the world of comic books. She's just 23 and already a writer and illustrator. She's co-authored a series for Boom! Studios called "Lumberjanes," and she's written for Marvel. But, you know, it's a tough world for women to be a part of, whether they're creators or fans. Stevenson told us about the first time she went into a comic book store; she was 11.
NOELLE STEVENSON: And I walked in and there's a Princess Leia cut out in the metal bikini, and she had a sign taped over her belly button advertising the deals of the day. I just - you get a message from that, you know? You get a message very loud and clear, and no one was throwing rocks at me and saying girls can't shop here, get out of here. You just kind of know when you're not supposed to be somewhere. And I wasn't even conflicted about it. I wasn't even like, I sure wish I could read comics; I just didn't even try.
CORNISH: Noelle Stevenson eventually did find a welcoming place on Tumblr. There, she shared an original webcomic called "Nimona," and it took off; now it's being released as a book. Oh, and that Marvel comic she wrote for? It was Thor as a woman, and it got a lot of attention. Noelle Stevenson joins us from NPR West. Thanks so much for talking with us.
STEVENSON: Yeah, thanks for having me.
CORNISH: So in your issue of "Thor," she spends the day with some men who issue, like, a series of challenges. There's, like, a bar fight, fighting a dragon, stealing a lock of hair from a witch, but the whole time they are comparing her to the old Thor in a really great and somewhat childish way saying, like, our Thor would have done it this way or that way. And it reminded me of, like, the actual pressure of doing this comic, right? I mean, there was such an outcry at the time.
STEVENSON: (Laughter) You know, I really wanted to see how Thor would flex her muscles a little bit and get to show off and get to see the galaxy and have a good time. And maybe the people who are used to the old male Thor might be a little surprised by her coming onto the scene this way or even not receptive to her at all. So I guess there is kind of a parallel there.
CORNISH: Yeah, she says at one point I don't need to prove myself to you but I also don't mind showing off.
CORNISH: That seemed like a little bit of a nod to your haters, especially in light of how well it sold.
STEVENSON: Well, I didn't necessarily think of it that way at the time, but that's pretty cool, I like that (laughter).
CORNISH: Now, Thor, Goddess of Thunder is very much in the vein of the art that people might recognize or think of when they think of comics. She's this buxom figure, blonde hair, but the hero in your book "Nimona" looks very different, right? She's got this spiky, short haircut, partially shaved head, medieval armor...
CORNISH: How did you come up with the look for Nimona?
STEVENSON: I was kind of inspired by the fact that I never really wanted to cosplay as a lot of female characters out there. Cosplay is like, you know, dressing up in a costume of a hero or a comic character, a movie character. I wanted to dress as guys, and I felt that I wanted to do a costume that people who weren't interested in looking particularly buxom or sensual (laughter) might want to dress as. You know, she's stocky, and she wears pink, but is still very kind of butch. And that was just kind of - I just wanted to see a character that I haven't necessarily seen before, especially as the protagonist.
CORNISH: Nimona is also a villain, right?
STEVENSON: That's right.
CORNISH: In the story, she has a magical power of shape shifting. And she starts out wanting to be the evil sidekick of a character named Lord Blackheart. So already we kind of know where her mind is, right (laughter)? And there's a lot of humor in their interaction, like he has rules about villainy.
STEVENSON: Yeah, he was a bit of a disappointment to her where his rules are kind of getting in the way of him getting anything done...
CORNISH: Yeah, you're making it sound like he sells insurance and like (laughter) is having trouble getting his PowerPoints done. Like. he wants to do villainous things but she's like why don't we just set fire to everything?
STEVENSON: (Laughter) kind of. I've always been very interested in villains. You know, they're kind of flamboyantly over-the-top in the things that they do, and there's not a lot of ambiguity there - thinking that we're too different - that villains are almost a different species than we are. Like that kind of tricks us into a false sense of security I think. I think almost anyone is capable of doing things that are evil or hurtful or harmful.
CORNISH: I want to ask you a little bit more about perspective and what you do feel that being a woman brings to this and brings to your art. I mean, what about your characters, you think, are people drawn to?
STEVENSON: Well, I am very interested in female characters and bringing a new perspective to mediums where not necessarily that's been valued at all. Like a lot of young women, I went through an entire period of life where I hated female characters; I didn't want to read about them. I thought that I was going to be the cool girl who was not like other girls and that's so harmful. I want to break down all the stereotypes that say this woman is this way, these are her flaws and that's why she'll never be as good. You know, like, I was doing that. And now I just - I want to figure out why I think that way and why a male character could be celebrated for negative traits while a woman is crucified for those same traits and how that reflects back on real women living their lives in the world day-to-day. And so that's - I wouldn't say that that's the driving force behind everything I do of course, like story is the driving force behind everything I do, but I'm interested in that perspective.
CORNISH: Well, Noelle Stevenson, thank you so much for speaking with us and telling us a little bit more about this world.
STEVENSON: Thank you.
CORNISH: That's writer and illustrator Noelle Stevenson. Her new book is called "Nimona."
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