Columbia native Noelle Stevenson shares experience of swift rise in comics field

Noelle Stevenson is an author who has made The New York Times best-seller list.  She is nominated this year for three Eisner Awards, the comic and graphic novel industry’s equivalent of the Oscars. A graphic novel she wrote and drew based on a web comic she created hits bookstores Tuesday. She’s written story lines for iconic characters including Wonder Woman and Thor for DC and Marvel. She’s written a television show for Disney. It’s a career many would be proud of, but it’s only the beginning for the A.C. Flora graduate. After all, she is just 23 years old.

Noelle Stevenson signed books ans spoke to fans Sunday in Columbia (photo by Allen Wallace).

Noelle Stevenson (right) signs books and speaks with fans Sunday in Columbia. (photo by Allen Wallace)

Stevenson signed advance copies of her new graphic novel “Nimona” on Sunday at the Richland Library on Assembly Street in Columbia, and it was familiar ground for her.

“I used to hang out here all the time,” the Columbia native told the crowd of more than 100 people gathered to hear her speak and to get her autograph. “Don’t worry. Being a nerd is a good thing,” she said with a laugh.

Stevenson said her rise to success at such a young age is unusual in the world of comics and graphic novels.

“Traditionally, there’s been one kind of person who gets their comic published, and it’s not me necessarily. It’s not young people and it’s not women.” Stevenson said she has encountered disrespect and sometimes outright hostility.

“There are a lot of people who think that me and my friends and people who are like me are there specifically to ruin the thing that they love and take it from them and give it to somebody else,” she said. “It’s just such a small-minded point of view in a way: ‘Everybody has to look like me. Everybody has to be exactly the way they’ve always been, or you’re basically attacking me.’ ”

Stevenson demonstrated her creative process for fans (photo by Allen Wallace).

Stevenson demonstrates her creative process for fans. (photo by Allen Wallace)

She said she quickly learned to ignore such attacks.

“It gets exhausting, but at the same time I’m just here to do what I want to do and put these stories out to the people they connect with. There are stories enough for everybody.” She said she refuses to let those who dislike her to become a distraction but that “there’s something very satisfying about succeeding despite those people.”

Stevenson’s fans seem to agree. High school student Madeleine Parker, excitedly clasping her signed copy of “Lumberjanes,” a comic co-written by Stevenson, said, “I think it’s really cool” to see a woman not too much older than she is achieve such success. “I love to draw too, so I feel like I know where she’s coming from.”

Stevenson has many male fans too. High school student Trevon Richardson said a local librarian introduced him to Stevenson’s work and that he now follows it closely.

” ‘Wander Over Yonder’ is one of my favorite shows,” he said of the Disney Channel animated show for which Stevenson writes. “I watch it a lot more than I’d like to admit,” he said with a laugh.

Stevenson fans Madeleine Parker (left) and Samantha Sliter were excited to meet the writer/artist  (photo by Allen Wallace).

Stevenson fans Madeleine Parker (left) and Samantha Sliter were excited to meet the writer/artist. (photo by Allen Wallace)

The success is, to some extent, unexpected for Stevenson, particularly because she did not set out to write or draw things that would have popular appeal. She said she simply did it her way.

“It was just a thing I did to relax, to have fun, to connect with people who like the same things I do,” she said. “But it’s led to a career which has supported me very well.”

She first gained attention with her drawings of “Lord of the Rings” characters dressed in modern clothes, which she casually drew at a family gathering and posted on Tumblr.

“It put more eyes on me at the beginning of my career, but it was done strictly for my own enjoyment,” she said. “It’s done out of love.”

Stevenson said her best advice for aspiring artists and writers is simply to try things.

“Making it and putting it out there is one of the best things you can do. Do exactly what you want to do. Don’t worry about what other people want to see.” With a smile, she added, “If they tell you you can’t do it, do it anyway.”

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