Lauded as one of comics’ most influential creators, Noelle Stevenson has earned her place as the rising star of the comics world. Stevenson’s comics draw readers in with their infectious joy, charming illustrations, and heartfelt righteousness. At the young age of 26, Stevenson is the recipient of multiple awards for her graphic novel NIMONA and her work on the BOOM! Studios series LUMBERJANES. Her quirky, flamboyant, rule-breaking characters have won hearts and fans and even helped her complete her degree at the Maryland Institute College of Art in 2012. Following the riotous success of NIMONA and LUMBERJANES, Stevenson – whose longtime social media moniker is “Gingerhaze” – worked as a writer for Season 2 of Disney’s WANDER OVER YONDER. This year, Stevenson joined Netflix as the executive producer of the acclaimed SHE-RA reboot.

Stevenson’s sharp sense of humor and willingness to be silly make her comics wonderful. But her irreverence (and penchant for feminist puns) ensures that her stories make a space where people of all identities can have fun. She knows the rules but isn’t afraid to break them. As a result, Stevenson is a beloved comics creator who is taking the medium to exciting new heights.

The Origin Story: Of Bros and Dragons

Most comics characters have mysterious or humble beginnings. It would seem Stevenson is no different from the characters she creates. Indeed, before the shapeshifting monster girl in NIMONA, before the brave Roanoke Campers in LUMBERJANES, and before SHE-RA, Gingerhaze was busy working on THE BROSHIP. At least, that’s where I first encountered Stevenson’s work. A Tumblr series satirizing J.R.R. Tolkien, THE BROSHIP humorously reimagines the Lord of the Rings fellowship. If there was any doubt that Stevenson’s artistry and unrelentingly millennial humor would charm readers, THE BROSHIP easily puts those thoughts to rest. Stevenson’s Bros include a preppy Legolas, a lumberjack Gimli, a frat boy Boromir, and hippy van-driving Gandalf.  Stevenson perfectly blends Tolkien’s genius with absurd hipster arrogance. Yet each of the Bros is charming, thanks to Stevenson’s charismatic artistic style.

Although kind and cheerful, Stevenson’s Tumblr includes many more sketches, often about her daily life and experiences. While typically optimistic, her more personal works give readers a glimpse at a more serious side. Although her comics tend to stay upbeat — one of the many reasons her comics are so enjoyable — Stevenson clearly cares about representation and pushing against the status quo.

NIMONA by Noelle Stevenson
NIMONA image courtesy of Noelle Stevenson.

NIMONA: The Rise of a Monster Girl

A perfect example of Stevenson’s groundbreaking attitude is NIMONA. NIMONA earned Stevenson the Slate Cartoonist Studio Prize for Best Web Comic in 2012 and an Eisner award in 2016 for Best Graphic Novel Reprint. The webcomic tells the story of the shapeshifting creature Nimona, who joins forces with the lovable supervillain Balister Blackheart. Together, the two fight the oppressive Institution, a government organization that forced Blackheart to play the role of the bad guy because he lost his arm in an accident. NIMONA, dedicated to “monster girls,” rebelliously pushes against cultural expectations about “good behavior” or “acceptability.” Indeed, NIMONA is refreshingly irreverent towards institutions that box people into degrading categories. The protagonist Nimona cleverly shapeshifts out of any possible box the Institution lays on her.

NIMONA changes the comics game by reasserting the importance of female- and queer-centered comics. There is also clearly great potential for monstrosity. Ultimately, NIMONA proves that comics are a viable space for monster girls and anyone else who lives life outside the mold.

LUMBERJANES by Noelle Stevenson
LUMBERJANES Vol. 1 image courtesy of BOOM! Studios.

What the Noelle Stevenson!? Life with the LUMBERJANES

In 2015 and 2016, Stevenson and Shannon Watters earned Harvey awards for Best Original Graphic Publication for Young Readers for their work on LUMBERJANES. In 2015, they also earned an Eisner. Like NIMONA, LUMBERJANES features adventurous protagonists who have no patience for the rules. The series follows the campers at “Miss Qiunzella Thiskwin Penniquiqul Thistle Crumpet’s Camp for Hardcore Lady Types” — specifically, the hardcore campers in the Roanoke cabin. The Roanoke team includes Ripley, Molly, Mal, April, Jo, and the reluctant cabin monitor Jen. Together they spend the summer tracking down the mysteries of the enchanted forest where they camp. The LUMBERJANES have all the skills and tenacity expected of girl scouts plus a generous dose of audacity. Indeed, the young campers are daring and delightful.

Watters and Stevenson’s campers say things like “What the Joan Jett” and “Oh my Bessie Coleman.” Their enthusiasm for powerful feminist figures reinforces the already female-centric narrative. However, Stevenson and Watters have carefully avoided stereotyping their leads, hoping to break from social expectations and build new heroes for their readers.

After 17 strong LUMBERJANES issues, Stevenson turned the helm over to SUPERCAKES creator Kat Leyh. Many lamented the change. But Stevenson followed the spirit of her characters by boldly and fearlessly moving forward in her adventure.

Who is SHE-RA?

Last year, NETFLIX announced Stevenson’s new project: executive producer of a SHE-RA THE PRINCESS OF POWER reboot. The series reboots the original 1980’s spin-off of the HE-MAN AND THE MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE series. The 80’s version was meant to bring the fantasy cartoon genre to young female audiences. The reboot offers a more self-aware plot and generally broader appeal. In an interview with The Mary Sue, Stevenson states “I really wanted to make sure that our characters felt real and relatable, and that people who are watching this can see themselves in the characters and not just see them in ways that aren’t just aspirational…” Stevenson’s dedication to diverse and well-rounded representation makes her projects great.

ComicsVerse Interview recently had the pleasure of interviewing Aimee Carrero and Stevenson at the 2018 New York ComicCon. Carrero, who voices SHE-RA protagonist Adora, recalled the unique experience of working on a female-focused show with a female executive producer. She adds that, much like LUMBERJANES, SHE-RA breaks from stereotypes and focuses on important and timely social issues. Stevenson explained that unlike shows with only one female character, in SHE-RA no one has to be “the girl.”

Importantly, thanks to Stevenson’s leadership, SHE-RA takes representation seriously. The show goes beyond tokenizing female characters and allows for more interesting, diverse, and nuanced characters. SHE-RA carefully includes characters of different skin tones, body types, sexual orientations, and gender identities. The male characters avoid toxic masculinity, and the female characters are more than the counterpart to a male hero. Stevenson remarks that “the show is about female leadership.” In particular, female leadership in realms where women were not previously given the opportunity to take on the role.

SHE-RA AND THE PRINCESS OF POWER
SHE-RA AND THE PRINCESS OF POWER. Image from cbr.com.

Looking Forward to What’s Next!

It has been a busy career for Stevenson. Of course, no artist goes it alone. As of July of 2018, Stevenson is engaged to another rising-star of the comics world, cartoonist Molly Ostertag! We don’t know exactly what will follow SHE-RA. However, we can be sure Stevenson will continue to challenge us to think of comics and representation in new ways. Stevenson’s work reflects her stalwart determination to give voice to the rule breakers and the misfits. We look forward to whatever comes next!

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