[Editor’s Note: If you’ll recall from the last Eisner Review, Heather’s completion of the Eisner Watch series was cruelly delayed because of jury duty. This is the last of the series, focusing on the 2015 Best New Series winner, Lumberjanes.]
Have you ever been to summer camp? Have you ever had a group of friends with whom you went on insane adventures, even if they mostly unfolded in your imaginations? When you’re younger, playing make believe is a treasured pastime, spent largely with other like-minded companions with creative inclinations. That’s half the fun!
But what if all those things you imagine go bump in the night are real? “Girls fighting monsters at a summer camp:” that’s really the only tagline you need to get a person initially hooked. Lumberjanes, published by BOOM! Box (a new experimental imprint from BOOM! Studios) and the 2015 Eisner winner for the category of Best New Series, is the answer to those questions… and so many more. Created by Noelle Stevenson (Nimona, Runaways), BOOM! Studios editor Shannon Watters (Adventure Time, Bravest Warriors) and Grace Ellis (contributor at Autostraddle), it’s co-written by Stevenson and Ellis, with art by Brooke Allen (Regular Show), colours by Maarta Laiho (Adventure Time, Adventure Time: Candy Capers) and letters by Aubrey Aiese (Adventure Time: The Flip Side).
Miss Quinzella Thiskwin Penniquiqul Thistle Crumpet’s Camp for Hardcore Lady Types is a summer camp, and the campers are known as Lumberjane Scouts. The story starts off following the five main characters and scouts of the Roanoke cabin – Jo, April, Molly, Mal and Ripley – who witness an old woman transform into a bear from their cabin, and they take it upon themselves to investigate like any true Lumberjane would. After following the mysterious bear woman into the woods one night, the Lumberjanes bump into a pack of rabid, three-eyed foxes, and only barely get away with their lives after they deploy some hardcore ladytype fighting tactics on the supernatural creatures. There’s also canoeing while fighting river monsters, expeditions into creepy caves and arm wrestling matches with ancient statues. That’s just in the first arc. Before the initial eight-issue miniseries was even up, it was announced that the widely successful Lumberjanes would become an ongoing series, with many more epic adventures and monster fights to come.
Ellis and Stevenson’s writing is infectious and full of joy. From inventive catchphrases like, “What the junk?” to, “What in the [Insert Inspiring Lady From History Here]?” every panel is a barrelful of laughs. There’s no backstory, no previous continuity to try and wrap your head around. It’s a group of young girls having strange adventures at summer camp, and from the first page onward, you already know exactly who they all are, what drives them and the roles they play within their group of friends: Ripley’s childish enthusiasm, April’s creativity and strength, Jo’s level-headed leadership, Mal’s sensitivity to others and Molly’s unquestionable loyalty. Every character is so fully-realized, you feel like you’ve known them your whole life. Assuming, of course, you haven’t already met people like them! With such endearing, heartfelt and hilarious dialogue, it’s impossible not to laugh along with the Lumberjanes at every turn and experience their adventures right alongside them.
Allen’s art is as adorable and charming as the story itself, dripping with a positivity and cheer reflected in every character she draws. Notably, the designs she and Stevenson crafted reflect a wide range of races and body and face types. Laiho’s fun and lively colours perfectly reflect the art’s lighthearted tone, and Aiese’s letters convey . Only one volume of the series has been collected so far, and later on in the story a number of guest artist contribute, including Brittney Williams, Carolyn Nowak and Faith Erin Hicks. All of them bring their own unique styles into the mix while staying true to the overall joyous themes that make Lumberjanes such a resonant read. Kate Leth (Bravest Warriors, Edward Scissorhands) designed the popular badges that appear in the back of every issue as the Lumberjanes earn them; in some ways, this crafts a more interactive experience, as readers feel as if they’re earning these accolades alongside their favorite campers. There’s even carefully-curated mixtape playlists that can be found in the back of the single issues, created for each character featured in the book.
Lumberjanes is fearless and an absolute triumph, so it’s no wonder that it came out on top for this year’s Eisners alongside wins for other all-ages creators like Mariko Tamaki, Jillian Tamaki, Raina Telgemeier, and Gene Luen Yang. There is a growing need for more kid- and YA-friendly comic books out there, and this one certainly delivers in the most fundamental ways, winning both Best New Series and Best Publication for Teens (Ages 13-17). Lumberjanes is kind, genuine, heroic and completely revolutionary, making a story that’s fun for people of all ages to read and enjoy; it also doesn’t shy away from challenging what’s considered the social norms. Nothing hits home more than the notion to be brave and be who you really are, and Lumberjanes teaches acceptance in manner both groundbreaking and completely organic. It’s a safe space for readers in its automatic acceptance of the queer community,
normalizing the queer and questioning in the book’s contents.
This comic defies everything and leads with its gut. It’s not afraid to be different, and embraces the things that make us all unique – a lesson very much needed today. While there is certainly a need for more all-ages comics of this caliber across the board, I am glad that this one exists. Friendship to the max!