From the first page of the first issue, I knew Lumberjanes was going to be my new favorite thing. All the girls are awesome—I absolutely adore Mal, probably more than is healthy—the story is easy but engaging, and the dialogue is sharp, cheerful, and pleasantly down to earth. But it wasn’t until page 9 that I fell in love.
The girls use famous/important women as interjections, and on that page Molly referenced a woman who has been my hero since I was a little girl: Bessie “Queen Bess” Coleman. She was the first African American person of any gender to have an international license, and the first Black female pilot in the world, and it’s a rare day when I encounter someone who not only knows of her but treats her with the respect she deserves. This is probably going to be less review and more love letter, because there’s just so much greatness bundled up in such a little comic.
Written by Noelle Stevenson (Nimona!) and Grace Ellis, illustrated by Brooke Allen, colors by Maarta Laiho, letters by Aubrey Aiese, and badges designed by the great Kate Leth, Lumberjanes is about five young women adventuring and supernatural-ing in the mysterious woods where their eponymous summer camp is held. The camp is a riff on Girl Scouts, but with better badges and a friendship to the max pledge: “I solemnly swear to do my best every day, and in all that I do, to be brave and strong, to be truthful and compassionate, to be interesting and interested, to respect nature, to pay attention and question the world around me, to think of others first, to always protect my friends then there’s a line about god or whatever and to make the world a better place for Lumberjane scouts and for everyone else.”
Each issue takes April, Mal, Molly, Jo, Ripley, and a cast of equally well-rounded secondary characters into a new, unexplored corner of the woods around the camp where they battle, outwit, or outrun three-eyed foxes, sea monsters, yetis, a grumpy goddess, and a pushy bearwoman. The main arc is hinted at in the early issues, but doesn’t really hit the high gear until issue #6. The issue-long stories are whip-fast and hook you in from the first line. Heck, the first issue thrusts you right into the middle of an adventure already in progress, and barrels straight through. Usually there’s a brief lull in the drama about halfway through as the girls come to terms with a problem, then it’s full speed ahead until the tease at the end to set up the next issue. Although the adventures are slight, they have just enough cheeky humor and spooky paranormal-ness to grab you and never let go.
Lumberjanes is one part My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic, one part Gravity Falls, and one part Adventure Time, with a soupçon of Usborne Puzzle Adventures. It’s an absolute delight from start to finish. It’s not perfect, but it’s pretty damn close. I can’t think of a single bad thing about it. Not a one. It’s that gorram enjoyable. Let me put it this way: I read a lot of comics, I mean a lot of comics, and the only ones I buy as issues are Velvet, Saga, Sex Criminals, Rat Queens, Sandman: Overture, Wraith, Rocket Raccoon… and Lumberjanes. Every time I bring home the latest issue, I end up rereading the entire series all over again. And every reread I catch something I missed the last go-round, a hint in the story, an Easter egg in the background, one of Ripley’s sparky expressions.
At its heart, Lumberjanes is a story about a group of young women who are all each other’s best friends and who work together using intelligence and trust to solve problems. They never doubt each other’s feelings, and never hesitate to help the helpless. The male characters don’t play into tropes and stereotypes anymore than the girls do, and everyone has an equal chance to succeed. I’m making it sound all hippy-dippy and happy-go-lucky, but it’s a pleasure to read something so, well, pleasurable. The comics industry is chockablock with grim and gritty tales of dour superheroes and emo graphic novel characters bemoaning the travesty of life. Lumberjanes says “no thank you” to bleak multiverses, then offers them a homemade cookie.
Your mileage may vary on the stylization. I know there’s a whole contingency of comic book readers who loathe rough panel edges, but I for one adore any comic that plays with the basic layout to create something innovative and unexpected. Stevenson and Allen’s character designs are cartoonish yet crisp, silly yet vivid. And don’t even get me started on the lush, detailed backgrounds in each panel. The artwork meshes exquisitely with the script. Allen doesn’t just illustrate Stevenson and Ellis’ script, but adds whole new layers to the story. Did I mention the mixtape playlist at the back of each issue? First person to burn me all eight CDs becomes my bestest bestie in the whole wide world.
One of the other fabulous things about Lumberjanes is its target audience, that is, everyone. It’s all-ages that really is all-ages. This is the kind of series I can’t wait to read with my future kids. There are enough adult tidbits to keep us over-30s intrigued but plenty of youthful exuberance to draw in the kiddies, yet also a hefty dose of rebellious irreverence to appease young adults. Diversity abounds in all forms, a welcome relief in a world of comic book characters with virtually interchangeable figures. From what I can tell, the comic is female-run from top to bottom, and the comics cast is almost entirely female, but the only men I can see not relishing Lumberjanes are the dudebros who got all pissy over a canon genderswapped Thor.
BOOM! Box released Lumberjanes on a limited run series, meaning there’ll only be 8 issues total, and issue #6 just released September 24, 2014. My comics life is going to be demonstratively less exciting when Lumberjanes ends its run in a few scant months. Come, let us pray to Agnodice that Stevenson, Ellis, Watters, and Allen will reunite post-Lumberjanes, for the world won’t be the same without it.
Tune in next month for Wraith…
Alex Brown is an archivist, research librarian, writer, geeknerdloserweirdo, and all-around pop culture obsessive who watches entirely too much TV. Keep up with her every move on Twitter, or get lost in the rabbit warren of ships and fandoms on her Tumblr.