All-Ages or Small-Ages #31 (Nino by Izzi Ward)

See all of the past entries of All-Ages or Small-Ages here.

There are a wide array of all-ages comics out there from the classic Archie comics, through the  Sonic the Hedgehog and Disney, all the way to the original properties such as Lumberjanes. You might look at one of these books and think that, as an adult, it doesn’t have much to offer you. As someone who has discovered a deep fondness for titles such as this, I’ve been surprised by how rich and complex the stories can be. All-Ages or Small-Ages? is a feature that takes a look at the books that fall under this banner and attempts to analyse whether or not their assigned label is apt; is it a book that you can read along with your children?

People love to be told stories. It’s the reason why year after year people are innovating and adapting how they think, all to tell better and more interesting stories, jumping from medium to medium in order to do so. However, there’s always going to be an appeal to the familiar; a story with heart and optimism that strikes your heart in the same way each time.

Nino is comic that is framed as something between a legend and a bedtime story. The narration that frames the first panel evokes the image of a group of travellers gathered around a fire, with children clutching tightly to their parents’ hands, but desperately anxious to hear more. It tells the story of the young sorcerer Nino, the ninth member of the Queen’s court, as she undertakes her first solo adventure with the weight of the very queendom on her shoulders.

With this plot unfolding as if told by a literal unseen narrator, there is somewhat of a detachment from the detailed feelings and motivations of the characters involved, beyond those that directly affect the protagonist herself. For example, when the plague strikes the land and the quest itself is begun, the focus shifts immediately onto the protagonist, Nino, and the consequence of the infestation is brushed over.

Instead of detracting from the impact of the tale, it reinforces the impression that this is a legend that has been passed down through the ages. The focus is deliberately not being placed on these ancillary characters; we, as readers, care solely about how this event impacts our heroine and how it is going to help her grow.

Nino herself is portrayed as an innocent, but highly engaged, student of the council who is rebuffed consistently for her age, experience and physical stature. However, we as readers are shown her natural talents, with a very evocative full-page spread demonstrating both her aptitude and her admittedly young age. This is very much a classic coming-of-age story and the intent is made clear from the beginning.

Ward has a art style that plays up the emotion necessary for such a story without straying into the absurdly exaggerated. The way that characters’ intentions, particularly those of the young Nino, are clear without need for the speech heightens the passion that runs as an undercurrent to the rest of the story. It effortlessly emphasises the human cost of this adventure and how hard Nino is striving for success.

Concurrently, the fantastical sense of the world compounds with each subsequent scene. Ward’s intricate swirls and details in each panel add to the depth of Nino’s surroundings, but the noticeably lack of dark inks prevent any rigidity from settling in. Each detail flows effortlessly into the next to amplify the sense that this is world where the lifeblood is magic itself; the lessened structure of the art perfectly serves the grandeur of the story.

All stories that are told from a distance, especially those that are told over generations, come with the element of unreliable narration that invites you to pick it apart. While the story on the page can be enjoyed on its own, the older audience can pour over this comic and read between the lines, identifying which components have been exaggerated for the purpose of storytelling and which ring slightly more true. Regardless of whether or not you read this with the intention of relating it to a real world scenario or a slightly exaggerated fantasy scenario, this issue stands up to both.

From the cover, I expected a buddy-cop style adventure between a girl and her dragon, but came away with a larger perspective of the power of fantastical storytelling. Not only can this issue be read alongside your children, it is practically constructed for that very purpose. Read this to your children, love it, and then read it again. Keep reading until the magic of this universe leaps from the pages and engulfs you, exactly how a story should.

Nino can be purchased from Izzi Ward's Big Cartel store and you follow her on Twitter @izziward to get all off her upcoming news!

Let me know if there's a comic that you think I should be checking out. I'm always on the look-out for some more hidden All-Ages gold. Contact me at or head over to check out the podcast that I co-host You Know What I Like...? on SoundCloud.