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A few months ago, Noelle Stevenson visited Blue Sky, the animation studio helming the film adaptation of her bestselling graphic novel Nimona, to see gorgeously painted concept art depicting a shark with boobs.
“I couldn’t believe it. This comic panel I drew when I was 19 years old and sleep deprived with the dumbest joke I could think of because it made me laugh at 4 a.m.,” Stevenson tells EW. “Suddenly, I’m here, sitting in this theater, looking at it with this beautiful, larger-than-life production art.”
Stevenson began drawing and posting Nimona, the adventures of a shape-shifting super-villain sidekick (who sometimes transforms into a shark, sometimes a shark with boobs) online while she was still in college. In 2015, HarperCollins published Nimona as a graphic novel, which earned Stevenson a nod from the National Book Foundation. That year, she also took home a pair of Eisner Awards for the comic book series Lumberjanes, which she helped develop and eventually write. (Both Nimona and Lumberjanes are currently in development for film adaptations.)
Now, at age 26, Stevenson is the showrunner on a new series from DreamWorks Animation Television coming to Netflix on November 16 featuring a different sort of shape-shifting heroine: She-Ra and the Princesses of Power.
“I was really interested in finding what my next project would be, and finding something epic, serialized, action-adventure, fantasy, sci-fi…all of the things I wanted to do. [She-Ra] has this majority female cast, it’s centered around a female hero, it’s got rainbows and it’s got robots, it’s got everything I like in one place.”
Stevenson pitched her vision for the show to DreamWorks, who had purchased the classic library that included the character She-Ra, and was looking for someone to develop the series “When you’re working on a pitch, you have no idea if it’ll go or not, or really what will happen. At that stage, anything can happen, so it’s best not to get too attached to what you’re working on. But I realized at one point, ‘Oh my God, I love this, I really, really want this.’ Two and a half years later, I’ve only gotten more entrenched in it. It is very, very dear to me.”
Like in the original 1985 series, our protagonist, Adora, was kidnapped as a baby and raised with the Evil Horde, only to discover her true identity later in life. “We’ve really started from the same starting point where the original show started from because Adora has such a great backstory,” Stevenson says. “She’s separated from her family as a baby, she’s sent to another planet, she’s adopted by the villain overlord and raised by him in this evil army. She’s been raised to believe that the villains are doing the right thing and that the Princesses are the evil ones. And so we follow her as she has this crisis of faith; she’s been very sheltered her whole life and as she starts to experience the world, she realizes that there’s more to this than she knew, that maybe there’s a reason they were called the Evil Horde,” Stevenson laughs, “that maybe they were evil.”
As she discovers more about the world, Adora also has to learn how to live up to the She-Ra identity. “As She-Ra, she doesn’t know how to act. This is all new to her, and it’s a little clumsy at first. It’s like an uncomfortable suit. She’s like, ‘Okay, here I am. I’m very glamorous, I’m very strong, people are looking up to me — because I’m very tall.’”
And as a first-time showrunner, Stevenson, too, has learned what it’s like to have people look up to her. “I’ve had to learn so much in such a relatively short period of time because being a showrunner requires so many different skills. It’s not just making a comic where it’s you yourself writing, drawing, doing everything; you are working with a team of people. So much of what I had to learn is how to be a leader, and how to bring out the best in my crew and support and encourage my crew to create the best show that we can. That’s been so much of the way that I’ve grown since being on this show.”