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Nimona was ND Stevenson's power fantasy. Now, the comic is a Netflix animated film

SCOTT DETROW, HOST:

Have you ever felt misunderstood, wanted to be something other than how people see you or think you should be seen? Those are some of the big questions and ideas at the heart of the new animated film "Nimona." At the outset, the knight Ballister Boldheart is framed with the murder of the queen. And sometime after that, he's accosted in his hiding place by a strange, pink-haired girl.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "NIMONA")

RIZ AHMED: (As Ballister Boldheart) Who are you?

CHLOE GRACE MORETZ: (As Nimona) The name's Nimona.

AHMED: (As Ballister Boldheart) And how did you...

MORETZ: (As Nimona) Whoa, yeah, sick arm. Did it bleed a lot? Did they let you keep the old one?

AHMED: (As Ballister Boldheart) No.

DETROW: And Nimona is not there to arrest him. She's actually there for a job.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "NIMONA")

AHMED: (As Ballister Boldheart) What job?

MORETZ: (As Nimona) To be your sidekick, you know, to help you do whatever it takes to get revenge on the cold, cruel world that rejected you. Shall we pillage a village?

DETROW: Qualifications - she can turn into anything and anybody she wants to. And it comes at handy when she teams up with Boldheart to figure out who exactly killed the queen. The movie is based on a graphic novel by N.D. Stevenson, and N.D. joins us now to talk about it. Welcome to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.

N D STEVENSON: Thank you for having me.

DETROW: So we have gotten a bit of the idea of who Nimona is, but describe her for the audience. What's she like?

STEVENSON: Nimona is this character who's just - she is kind of everything. She always is going against the grain, and she's all over the place. The other characters really have to kind of just struggle to keep up with her. She's always on, always, like, thinking one step ahead of every other character.

DETROW: You've said before that at its heart, she's a power fantasy. What did you mean by that?

STEVENSON: So I've always been, like, really drawn to shapeshifters. You know, I especially relate to the idea of having your body really not be the entire story of who you are. And I think a lot of people feel that way, and Nimona represents that. She is not constrained to any one body. She really controls how the world sees her, but she also knows who she is. And so a lot of her struggle through this story is getting the world to recognize her the way she wants to be recognized.

DETROW: There are just a ton of changes from the initial graphic novel, but I want to focus on things that are the same because you didn't want them to change Nimona at all. You wanted to keep this force of nature, of this slightly out-of-control feel to her. Why was that so important?

STEVENSON: I always knew that things were going to change about the story, and that they should change because I made the comic that I set out to make and now it was going to be something new. It was going to do its own little shapeshift, if you will, and become a whole new thing. But Nimona, to me, really felt like what it is about the story that makes it special. There's a lot of familiar elements of heroes, villains, monsters. It's a medieval world, but it's set in the future with some tropes associated with both of those kind of extremes.

DETROW: I love that juxtaposition so much - that you're talking about a kingdom and knights and fantasy but there's also flying cars whizzing around and this, you know, "Blade Runner" type feel to the kingdom.

STEVENSON: Yeah, definitely. I mean, I think it's very - it honestly feels very true to our world today, where it's like we have all this advanced technology, but in some ways, you know, we're still kind of bound by this medieval way of thinking.

DETROW: I want to talk about the relationship between two characters, Ballister Boldheart and Ambrosius Goldenloin. And by the way, Ambrosius Goldenloin - one of the best names I have ever come across. It is such a fun name to say.

STEVENSON: Well, thank you.

DETROW: But Ballister and Ambrosius - they're in a relationship with each other before the queen is murdered. They were implicitly queer in the comic, but the movie makes their relationship very straightforward, very obvious. It's one of the first things you learn about the two of them. Why was that important?

STEVENSON: Yeah, I mean, I think that's a great example of things that you change adapting a story. They start out - they are together. They love each other. The whole movie is them trying to get back to each other. And so you really have to sell that as soon as possible in order to make their arcs in the movie make sense and fall into place and, you know, how hard it is for the two of them to be on opposite sides of this conflict, forced into the role of the hero and the villain when both of them feel, you know, pretty conflicted about that.

DETROW: And that's such a key part of so many stories, an important relationship and circumstances that put tension into it. You know, one reason I asked that is because, as you are so well aware, this movie is coming out at a time in which so many ways the LGBTQ community is being targeted by politicians. Books and films are being attacked just for showing that people exist, that relationships like this one exist. What is it like to tell stories in this climate for you?

STEVENSON: You know, I think I get the question a lot about how - where I was especially of the themes around gender in this story at the time that I was initially making that webcomic. And the truth is that I was, like, many years out from being able to put the pieces together about my own identity and my own gender. But I do think that there was a vein in that comic. You know, I come from a very conservative and religious background that I found very constraining growing up, and that's at the heart of what this story is. And it's in reaction to that very rigid and very prescriptive kind of world view. You know, we are seeing this very reactionary backlash - honestly, this moral panic about people like me who are just living our lives.

DETROW: Yeah.

STEVENSON: I think that that is at the heart of where this story came from. But it's also something, I think, that kind of gained a new meaning in the telling of this story.

DETROW: This started out as such a personal project for you. Has it been hard to adapt it first into a graphic novel and then into this movie? I mean, on one hand, you're sharing it with the world. On the other hand, suddenly dozens and hundreds of people are involved in something that was just you sitting down and drawing at one point.

STEVENSON: Yeah. I mean, it's been just a truly wild ride for me. Even the graphic novel being adapted from the webcomic - you know, I really assumed that it would have a much smaller audience. And that's when I started realizing that these characters in this world were kind of taking on a life of their own, and they were starting to evolve. And that was also the experience of making this movie, and it was certainly a very tumultuous journey getting there. There was, you know, a very real time where it didn't seem like it was going to happen at all.

DETROW: Yeah.

STEVENSON: And the movie kind of was officially dead for a while. But, you know, you really can't keep Nimona down.

DETROW: The movie makes that clear.

STEVENSON: Yeah. I really do believe that this character has taken on a life of her own. She is bigger than the character that I came up with, you know, in my tiny little sub-basement apartment at 19 years old. You know, I've heard a lot of people say that they wish they would have had this character and this movie when they were growing up. And I know that I do. And so I'm really excited to see what shape she takes on next.

DETROW: What would you say to any kids or even adults watching "Nimona" who relate to these themes of looking for belonging, of knowing you're something different than you're being pegged as, and especially in this moment in time?

STEVENSON: You can love someone and you can accept someone without having to understand every single thing about them. So that's something I think that, like, I personally face a lot with people not understanding my identity or why I would do something when, like, maybe it seems like it would be more strategic to blend in and not stand out as much in a world that can be dangerous. But ultimately, you don't have to understand everything right away. All you have to do is know that it is important or that person wouldn't be doing it.

So I think it really is about this almost, like, radical acceptance of seeing someone not necessarily for all that they are - with a character like Nimona, who is almost impossible to know every part of her, but telling them that you will be there for them. It means the world to me specifically when someone is willing to do that. And I really hope that this movie leads to those conversations. But also, it's just, like, a really fun movie. I hope that's coming across. It has so much love in it and so much heart and it's just a really, really great time.

DETROW: That's N.D. Stevenson, who wrote the graphic novel "Nimona." The Netflix adaptation of "Nimona" is out now. Thanks so much.

STEVENSON: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Courtney Dorning has been a Senior Editor for NPR's All Things Considered since November 2018. In that role, she's the lead editor for the daily show. Dorning is responsible for newsmaker interviews, lead news segments and the small, quirky features that are a hallmark of the network's flagship afternoon magazine program.
Scott Detrow is a White House correspondent for NPR and co-hosts the NPR Politics Podcast.
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