Lumberjanes vol. 1: written by Noelle Stevenson and Grace Ellis, art by Brooke A. Allen (published by Boom Studios).
recommended by David Press, English Instructor and comics writer.
It’s hard for me to start with this Eisner-award-winning all-women creative force behind this PERFECT comic book for Paul Smith’s students. Here’s the synopsis of volume 1:
What’s to Love: Lumberjanes is the hit series from the BOOM! Box imprint that features five rad ladies who fight monster baddies with the power of friendship! Written by Noelle Stevenson (Nimona, Adventure Time) and newcomer Grace Ellis, and illustrated by Brooke Allen (A Home for Mr. Easter), this new series has taken comics by storm and placed on many Best-of-the-Year lists, including Comics Alliance, Entertainment Weekly, and Comic Book Resources. What It Is: At Miss Qiunzella Thiskwin Penniquiqul Thistle Crumpet’s Camp for Hardcore Lady Types, things are not what they seem. Three-eyed foxes. Secret caves. Anagrams! Luckily, Jo, April, Mal, Molly, and Ripley are five rad, butt-kicking best pals determined to have an awesome summer together…and they’re not gonna let a magical quest or an array of supernatural critters get in their way! The mystery keeps getting bigger, and it all begins here. Presented as the Lumberjanes Field Manual featuring a cover gallery and early character designs by Noelle Stevenson and Brooke Allen. Collects issues #1-4. “Completely unpredictable, ridiculously charming, and laugh-out-loud funny.” – Entertainment Weekly.
What was my favorite page, panel, character, scene, or single issue in this comic? I’m having a hard time with these questions, readers, and I CANNOT DECIDE. Can you help me out?
Was it the attempt at CPR to save JO from drowning after an attack from a river monster? That was hilarious:
Was it the Hipster Yetis in issue 4?
Is it the stereotypical Boy Scout councilor who is an obvious mockery of the traditional Boy Scouts of America? Because those two pages were pretty great.
But really, I think it was in Issue 3, where the Lumberjanes have to get out of a booby-trapped cave deep beneath the forest floor. The issue is a letter to Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, where the characters have to use their brains, their physical abilities, and teamwork to escape the booby-traps. They go through an arm wrestling contest with a Hercules statue, they use the Fibbonaci sequence to cross a gaping crevice, they decode anagrams to discover hidden passages, and use orienteering to find hideaways protected by those Hipster Yetis I mentioned.
A few of the reasons why I love this book: I teach an English 102 class on comics on the Paul Smith’s College campus, and most of the students in that class are, like me, white male. So, as a married man, comic writer, and teacher – I feel it’s important that I teach the problems of the modern comic industry. The problem is that a comic like Lumberjanes stands out in the overflowing market that caters specifically to the demographic of white males. Lumberjanes receives a lot of press and praise because it is a female-driven comic book about young women, by women, and that’s an oddity in the modern comics market. It highlights that problem without being about that problem. The fact that this series just won an Eisner Award (comics’ equivalent of the Oscars) for Best New Series means the industry sees that change and is working towards it. That’s why I care to teach it: because it’s important to change our default mechanisms as to how we think about the entertainment we take part in.
In this excellent interview in Vanity Fair, Lumberjanes co-writer/creator Noelle Stevenson points to this exact problem with the comic industry:
JOANNA ROBINSON: One of the topics that comes up around the recent Black Widow controversy is this idea of burden of representation. When there’s only one major female character, she has to be everything to everyone or else she’s “problematic.” It seems like Lumberjanes, with its all-female cast, is the exact opposite of that.
NOELLE STEVENSON: That was directly our approach to doing Lumberjanes. Even in stories that I like, with a female character that I love deeply, it always feels like there’s something that she has to prove to the male characters before she can even get started. So she struts in, someone disrespects her, and she socks them in the face and now we can move forward. Now we know she’s tough and she’s worthy of being here next to the men—none of them have to punch anyone to prove that they can be here. So with Lumberjanes we said, “Let’s not have any of those assumptions to begin with at all. Let’s not introduce a male character for four issues and see if you just have women interacting with other women, what does that free you up to do?” And then you get to have this variety. Good people, evil people, mean people, nice people, cowardly people, brave people, funny people, serious people. So you have none of this, Oh, she’s clumsy, that’s offensive. Oh, she’s better than everyone at everything, that’s offensive.
This why I’m going to be teaching this book to my students come spring 2015. Because this is a fun and imaginative portrayal of young adult female role models created by female creators who love the woods and all of its oddities and myths. It’s perfect for our student body.
Most of all, as you can see with the pages above, it’s HILARIOUS. There’s a laugh on every other page. Give it a read: you can find it digitally on Comixology.