In the realm of graphic novels, not many names scream the word “success” more than that of Noelle Stevenson’s.
Starting in 2014, as Stevenson began her work on BOOM! Studios’ new IP, “Lumberjanes,” the graphic novel world had their eyes glued to the 2013 Maryland Institute College of Art graduate.
With those eyes came accolades in the form of two Will Eisner Awards at San Diego Comic Con 2015 – an award that is considered one of the most prestigious in the comics industry – and a lot of media press, with even the likes of “Vanity Fair” covering her meteoric rise to fame in a piece titled “How Noelle Stevenson Broke All the Rules to Conquer the Comic Book World,” released that same year.
And, yes, before you ask – that “Vanity Fair.”
As a young, aspiring comic book writer in high school, I, too, was one of those people who had my eyes on Stevenson’s rise to power in the medium.
I read through her webcomic-turned-graphic-novel found in “Nimona,” and the same can be said for the issues of “Runaways” that she wrote for, back when I used to visit that good old Newbury Comics on the side of Rt. 1 in Norwood to read the latest one when it came out.
If anything, I read those works as pointers for my own, but I also read them out of a tiny bit of jealousy, as well.
I wanted to be as cool as Noelle Stevenson, dammit.
However, as fans of her projects tried to trace her route to success – art school or not – Stevenson’s mental health began to deteriorate greatly, no thanks to all the pressure that came with always having to beat her previous best works.
After 2016, Stevenson began to work on animated television, instead, and that’s where she has dwelled since.
All this exposition – and that was quite a lot of it – brings us to Stevenson’s latest graphic novel, “The Fire Never Burns Out: A Memoir in Pictures.”
This 2020 release covers Stevenson’s college career from 2011 up to the present day, as it goes into graphical details regarding her emotions, her relationship with her very religious southern family, discovering her sexuality, and adjusting to living on her own in California as she interned for BOOM! Studios.
In showing these vignettes of her life, she reveals never-before-seen mini-comics and drawings for the first time within many pages, while also informing readers of her output on Tumblr, back when she was getting noticed for her “Hawkeye Initiative” and her “Broship of the Rings” pieces.
Each section of the book deals with a year and includes a “Year in Review” segment following them, similar to that of her Tumblr account’s output, once her birthday comes around on New Year’s Eve.
However, as one continues to make their way through Stevenson’s story, her struggles begin to become much harder to bear.
Her body image is altered significantly, and for the worse, and her “Year in Review” recaps become more haphazardly constructed as time goes on – an indication of Stevenson wearing herself out – drawing things on Post-It notes instead of taking time to make digital drawings or scanned paper artworks.
Not everything in the later parts of her story is dark, though.
The autobiography spends a great amount of time on Stevenson’s encounters with Molly Ostertag – author of works such as “Strong Female Protagonist” and “The Witch Boy” – and how, through meeting her, Stevenson further discovered her own sexual orientation in pursuing Ostertag, culminating in the two women getting married.
On top of that, if you’re a fan of Netflix’s “She-Ra and the Princesses of Power,” the graphic novel delves into how Stevenson got involved as a showrunner on the project! It’s really cool to see, even though I’ve never spent the time of day, or money, to give it a watch.
As someone who is known for stretching myself thin, something that I try to not show to those around me, as well as someone who has struggled with his sexual orientation in the past five years, I was able to understand, exactly, where Stevenson is coming from. And understanding her story and being able to connect with it makes it all the more special.
This is a woman who has been propped up on such a pedestal at such a young age, and as a result of this propping, came all the negative side effects of being human and being “famous” in an already niche industry. Despite it all, Stevenson’s fire never went out – she kept going and defied whatever odds that were against her.
If you want to read a cautionary tale that serves as the ultimate “it gets better” story, you owe it to yourself to give “The Fire Never Goes Out” a read.
I might still be jealous of Noelle Stevenson’s talent and overall coolness, but as far as this autobiography’s lesson goes, I don’t think she wants me to be.