Writers: Noelle Stevenson and Grace Ellis
Artist: Brooke Allen
Publisher: BOOM! Box
Release Date: April 9, 2014
Trying to pick the best thing about Lumberjanes, the second series from “experimental” BOOM! Studios imprint BOOM! Box, is like trying to pick the best thing about Game of Thrones. Sure, there are all kinds of sociological and theoretical angles to pursue, but most of all, it’s just so dang enjoyable. Rather than spending their time complaining about a problem, writers Noelle Stevenson and Grace Ellis and artist Brooke Allen have decided to fix one. There are literally no male characters in this entire first issue, but that fact only becomes clear in retrospect, after a good deal of pondering. The gender omission speaks to how strong the writing is, how winning the art looks and how feminism in action can be a good bit different from feminism in theory.
The story takes place at a summer camp, specifically one devoted to friendship and survival skills, and, in fact, one surrounded by something very mysterious and spooky creeping in the woods. Our five main characters — April, Molly, Mal, Ripley and Jo — see something weird outside their window and wander out into the night, only to be attacked by magical foxes who have an elliptical message to convey. It’s a fine set-up, and the way Stevenson and Ellis play around with the in medias res structure (mid-narrative action followed by later filling in the blanks) keeps the standard first-issue tropes and necessary introductions fresh. Zippy, amusing jokes complement the swift narrative.
Each of the seven characters (add counselor Jen and camp director Rosie to the mix) has her own discernible personality, a fact clear from each of the many, many variant covers: the cutie-pie, the spazz, the leader, etc. But this doesn’t mean these characters boil down to simple stereotypes. Picture a taxonomy of the many genres of tomboy, catalogued with the kind of love that can only come from the inside-out.
Allen’s lines, especially in combination with Maarta Laiho’s colors, can be a little sludgy, but those colors also lend a wonderful glow to the nighttime scenes in the forest, as though they’ve been caught by firelight. The characters move beautifully, whether karate-kicking foxes or sheepishly meandering when caught sneaking back into their cabin. There’s also a hint of deeper ties to be revealed when Jo recites the Lumberjanes oath, which includes such lines as “to be interesting and interested” and “to pay attention and question the world around me” alongside the standard “brave and strong” and “respect nature” tropes. These are genuinely wonderful and grown-up sentiments, neatly tempered with humor and the individualized reactions of her fellow campers in the background (ranging from “drinking the Kool-Aid 100%” to “huh?”), and they nicely sum up the intelligent and warm feeling of the book as a whole.