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Why can't Nimona the movie look like Nimona the comic book?

The Netflix animated adaptation of N.D. Stevenson's breakthrough project ditches the graphic novel's visual style; that's a mistake

Image credit: Netflix/HarperCollins

In retweeting a pre-release clip of Netflix’s animated adaptation of his beloved graphic novel Nimona, N.D. Stevenson wrote, “THAT’S MY GIRL.” Except… it really wasn’t.

That’s not a knock against the dialogue in the scene, or the voice-acting — although, admittedly, that’s not how I imagined Nimona sounded personally, but such things are subjective and pointless to get upset over (otherwise, I’d be complaining about every voice in the Cartoon Network Justice League cartoon from twenty years ago) — but, instead, about the character design.

One of the true joys of Nimona as a graphic novel is Stevenson’s artwork, which is at once simple and filled with a confidence and personality that makes it alive and urgent in a way that other artists could only dream of accomplishing. The animated characters as seen in this shared clip are, well, neither of those things.

Image credit: HarperCollins

After all, it’s not as if Stevenson’s original Nimona artwork would be too complicated to animate, surely: Angular and utterly, wonderfully abstracted from realism, it feels as if it’s a style that could be brought to life through direct translation into animation — something that would allow for any amount of playfulness in movement and direction. It’s not particularly detailed, although Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse’s success in bringing some of its alternate reality Spiders to life demonstrates just how well detailed models can be animated in the right hands. Nonetheless, the look of the original graphic novel feels both stylish and simple enough that it defines the story… and to see it entirely absent from the animated movie feels at the very least like a missed opportunity.

It’s unclear quite why the look of Nimona the movie is quite so different from that of the graphic novel, although it’s tempting to hazard some cynical guesses: the more generic style likely allows existing assets to be reused, saving on time, effort, and money; the look is also, depressingly, something that is more familiar to mass audiences, and therefore makes the movie a more attractive proposition to anyone unfamiliar with Nimona as they scroll through the seemingly endless options on Netflix on any given afternoon. Whatever the reason, though, it feels like a little bit — okay, maybe more than a little bit — of the uniqueness that made Nimona so charming is missing.

Of course, there might be a far less downbeat reason for the visual change: Stevenson might have requested it himself. After all, since Nimona’s publication, Stevenson’s career has gone in two separate directions: he's worked in animation as a writer on projects including Netflix’s She-Ra reboot, and at the same time he's worked on more personal projects, like his Substack or books like 2020’s The Fire Never Goes Out — the latter of which has been self-illustrated, as well as written, and in a style that closely matches the style of his Nimona artwork. It could be, simply, that Stevenson prefers to keep that visual style as his now, solely for those more personal works, while more mainstream, broader work can be visually varied as necessary.

Image credit: Netflix

If that is the reason, then it’s one to be respected if not necessarily agreed with. While Stevenson’s personal work certainly benefits from his art style with its abstracted abilities bringing complicated emotions to the page, Nimona as a story remains something so individual in the writing and, bluntly, place in Stevenson’s artistic development, that the shift to a more generic animation style feels like a downgrade.

None of this is to say that Nimona the movie will inherently be bad; personally, I’m hoping for the best. It’s just that the film could have easily felt more complete, more individual, and more in tune with the source material if it only looked a little bit… more itself.

Nimona will debut on Netflix June 30.

Get ready for the animated adaptation with our guide to the Netflix's Nimona.