The Art of Reading Graphic Novel Book Club

The Art of Reading Book Club

Jun 17

Welcome to the halfway(ish) point of Nimona month!

Posted on June 17, 2021 at 11:22 AM by Zach Berkley

Otherwise known as June.

This is the point that we stop and ask questions about what we have been reading. Some of the questions we ask and discuss at this halfway point will contain spoilers, so if you haven’t finished the book yet you can always come back to this later. That is the beauty of not having a set meeting time; no hard deadlines for when you need to be done reading!


The first question is the easiest. General impressions? What did you think? Did you like it? Did you hate it? Are you indifferent to it? Part of what is great about book clubs is that they offer a chance to discover and try things that you might not have noticed (or bothered to pick up) otherwise, so it is always interesting to hear how people, in particular first-time readers, liked the book.

From general impressions, we go into the more specific questions.

Where are we?

What is the setting of this story? Medieval? Futuristic? Magical world? Scientifically advanced, alien planet? They have more than modern technology but they fight with swords. Do you think that the mishmash of setting elements was just the author having fun or was it an intentional choice that reflects the stories tendency to twist archetypes and expectations into something new? Did the mixing of all these settings fit the story or did it throw you off as you tried to figure out what was going on?

Identity and expectations?

And on the topic of twisting archetypes and expectations, how do you feel about the heroic villains and villainous heroes? Depending on your point of view, Ballister and Ambrosius can fit into either category at various points in the book. They are not the only ones that are not exactly what you would expect, with many other characters hinting at being something other than they appear, like the pointy-eared Director that never really denies being a goblin or the scientist that is maybe too into sorcery. Then, of course there is the shapeshifting Nimona herself. How does the author deal with the concept of identity vs appearance vs societal expectations throughout the story? How does Nimona, the most obviously changeable (literally) character change in how she is represented? What do here various forms tell us about her? How does her “human” appearance change over time?  

Why Ballister?

Given what we know about Nimona and the situation in the kingdom by the end of the book, why do you think Nimona sought out Ballister Blackheart? And why ask to be his sidekick when she is clearly powerful enough and experienced enough to cause havoc and mayhem aplenty on her own? Is it simply loneliness, the appeal of a seemingly like-minded individual?  Or is it an unconventional attempt at fitting in by tying herself to someone that still operates within the rules even while striking out at the system? Or is it something else entirely?

Nimona Panel?

The Better Plan?

Ballister and Nimona have different approaches to fighting oppression and exposing the Institute of Law Enforcement and Heroics as less than lawful and/or heroic. Ballister tries to carefully plan elaborate, non-lethal attacks. Nimona, being the sidekick, generally defers to Ballister’s plans but clearly prefers a bit more violence and mayhem. Do you think that Ballister is right in sticking to the rules as he sees them? Would he ever be able to accomplish his goals without the more impulsive and destructive Nimona there to shake things up? Would Nimona’s approach make things worse without Ballister’s restraining guidance? What is the best approach to fighting an unjust and oppressive system?  

What is Nimona?

We may not know exactly what Nimona is, but we have some clues and maybe even a few facts. At the very least, we know that she is a powerful, magical creature capable of destruction on a large scale. As we learn more about Nimona’s true nature, how does it change how you view the character? If her story about saving a witch stuck in a well were true, how would that have changed how you viewed the character and the story? Do you think that the ambiguity of Nimona’s backstory serves the story and themes well or are you just frustrated because you really want to know as much as you can about this fascinating character?

The End?

What do you think of the ending? What happens to Nimona there at the end? How do you feel about endings that don’t tie everything up neatly? Or that leave the fate of certain characters open-ended? And not it a “sequel coming soon” sort of way, but in a “you will never know what happened for sure” sort of way. Do they even count as an ending since the implication is that the story continues, just out of our sight? Aside from the fact that we are all spoiled by ongoing series and neatly tied up story arcs, was it an overall “happy” (or at least satisfying) ending?

And now the big picture question…

Get it? Picture. Because this is where I ask about the art and graphic novel stuff. Never mind.

Do you think that the use of a visual medium, like comic panels, can express more information than text? Or at least express it more succinctly? In the case of Nimona, the use of color is a good example. Different characters, locations, events, actions, etc. all use different color schemes in the story. Did that give the characters and events and so on, context and help define their relationships and place in the story or was it just a stylistic choice? Did you even notice? How about the other color shifts, like Ballister’s shift from dark to light armor as the story goes on?

What about the art style? What effect, if any, does that have on how you feel about a story? Imagine that the art style was more realistic or like a super hero comic or chibi (it’s an anime thing). Do you think that it would have made a difference? While we are considering the art, how important is character design? Would the main characters have worked as well if they looked completely different? If you had been reading a traditional book, would you have pictured them differently?

Ultimately, how do you feel about graphic novels (or any sequential art format) as a method of storytelling? Is the author/illustrator robbing the reader of the fun of visualizing the characters and setting for themselves, or does it clarify and focus the story elements more? Are there stories that you think could not be told in a graphic format? What about the other way around, are there graphic novels that you think would not work in text form?

Your turn!

There you are, some food for thought. Feel free to answer one, or some, or all of the questions in the comments below. I will try to respond to all of your comments. Also, feel free to respond to each other’s comments as well. Or just read through them and see what people thought. Whatever you want! We are pretty easy going here at the Art of Reading.

Jun 16

Nimona by Noelle Stevenson

Posted on June 16, 2021 at 4:37 PM by Zach Berkley

The Art of Reading - June 2021 Read
Nimona is an impulsive young shapeshifter with a knack for villainy. Lord Ballister Blackheart is a villain with a vendetta. As sidekick and supervillain, Nimona and Lord Blackheart are about to wreak some serious havoc. Their mission: prove to the kingdom that Sir Ambrosius Goldenloin and his buddies at the Institution of Law Enforcement and Heroics aren't the heroes everyone thinks they are. But as small acts of mischief escalate into a vicious battle, Lord Blackheart realizes that Nimona's powers are as murky and mysterious as her past. And her unpredictable wild side might be more dangerous than he is willing to admit.

This graphic novel started as an assignment for author/artist Noelle Stevenson, while still a student at the Maryland Institute College of Art at the time. It turned into an award winning web comic (it won Slate’s Best Web Comic of the Year in 2013), which ran from 2012 to 2014, before being collected and published by HarperCollins in 2015, when it quickly became an award winning graphic novel as well. Nimona won an Eisner Award, a Cybils Award and a Cartoonist Studio Prize, and was nominated for another Eisner Award and a National Book Award. It is also a New York Times bestseller. There was even an animated feature from 20th Century Fox in the works (before Disney’s acquisition of Fox caused the project to be delayed and eventually cancelled altogether). The main idea that I am trying to get across here is that Nimona is great and it wasn’t around long, as a web comic or in print, before people started noticing. 

Why is it so special to so many people? It is the endearingly quirky art style. And the equally endearing and quirky characters (particularly Nimona). And it is the story, which starts as an offbeat, slightly goofy fantasy about misfit supervillains and morphs into something that… is still that, but also way more than you might have expected from it when you first picked it up. It addresses the (sometimes violent) oppression of societies and institutions that enforce hegemonic ideals and strict binary identities and makes sympathetic antiheroes of the “villains” that are attempting to undermine those institutions. Nimona’s very existence, as someone possessing an identity that is naturally fluid and indefinite but ultimately powerful in it, is a direct challenge to the restrictive society that she is lashing out at.   

Why are we reading it?
Aside from the fact that it’s great? There are two main reasons. 

First, it achieves surprising style and depth while staying completely accessible and unintimidating to any graphic novel newcomers that might be curious about picking one up and is therefore the perfect introductory read for our book club. 

Second, as our introductory read, it demonstrates that this group will cover a little bit of everything. If a printed collection of a web comic, initially released in single strips over a two year period, that revolves around a curvy, female, teen shapeshifter working as a supervillain’s sidekick in a medieval-esque fantasy world filled with mad super-science and deals with some fairly heavy social, ethical and personal issues doesn’t say that we’re going to read all kinds of different stuff, I don’t know what does.   

About the Author
The award-winning, bestselling author and illustrator, Noelle Stevenson, started with Nimona while still in art school in 2012. After art school came an internship with BOOM! and her work as a cowriter on the also incredible and popular Lumberjanes series. She has also worked as a freelance illustrator and has written for Marvel (Thor and Runaways). In the world of animation, Stevenson was the showrunner for DreamWorks’ rebooted She-Ra and the Princesses of Power series on Netflix and now it sounds like an animated version of Lumberjanes will be coming up next. On top of everything else, she published a new book, The Fire Never Goes Out, a collection of artwork as autobiography, in March 2020.

Jun 01

Welcome to the Inaugural Month of The Art of Reading

Posted on June 1, 2021 at 11:46 AM by Zach Berkley

Join our newest book club!

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