(BOOM! Box 2015)
Writers – Noelle Stevenson and Grace Ellis
Artist – Brooke Allen
Colorist – Maarta Laiho
Letterer – Aubrey Aiese
Lumberjanes is a wonderful book. There is very little to complain about. It’s hard to imagine a more uplifting, encouraging, whimsical, yet kick-ass book than this. The basic premise is a bunch of awesome young “hardcore lady-types” at summer camp who encounter trial after trial on a mystical quest. Most of the danger stems from supernatural beasts that the woods are teeming with. There is something dark and sinister happening just under the surface, and the creators keep that under wraps, merely hinting at it and letting it unfurl slowly and methodically. In the meantime, there is constant death defying action to keep the girls busy. From river dragons, hipster yetis, mind controlled campers, and living statues, the Lumberjanes handle anything thrown at them.
The single themes of the series seem to be growth and strength, both inner strength and the strength in numbers, and the power of friendship. There are 5 main characters, Mal, Molly, Jo, April and Ripley. They all have distinct strengths, weaknesses, and personalities. You fall for each of them for different reasons. Such well-formed characters are rare in comics in my opinion. Especially since they do not have “superpowers” to rely on as distinct traits.
These girls are all normal teens/preteens, yet at the same time all extraordinary for a variety of individual reasons. Group dynamics play a large role in the story telling. As a whole, they are a tight group of friends, but when you start taking the group apart, you see that Mal and Molly are very close, bordering on a possibly romantic level. April and Jo are also something of a unit. Ripley is a wild card. The handling of personalities in the writing is superb. I am just as interesting in the relationship between Mal and Molly for instance than if they are going to win the fight against the river monster they are fighting.
One other thing this book does well is to allow the girls to show fear and weakness. They generally kick ass as a rule, but not before expressing that they are scared out of their minds at times. The vulnerability that they are able to show as characters is a very important part of what makes the book great. They also solve issues through brains, brawn, and pure grit. Basically nothing keeps them down.
Almost every character in the book is female, another welcome change. There are a few boys that creep in here or there, but this is a book that is very female centric. There are some endearing “tics” that are part of the speech and mannerisms of the girls. They exclaim “what the junk” quite a bit. I can just imagine some young girls that are fans of this book running around adopting that as a new catch phrase. That thought puts a smile on my face. Another wonderful little thing that the writers, Stevenson and Ellis, work in is names of famous (or depressingly not so famous) female historical figures. So far it seems to be mostly women who were the first to do one thing or another, or pioneer something important. I confess that I had to Google all of them. Anyway, the way they work these names in is kind of fun. It’s total icing on an already delicious cake.
Ok, so the writing is top notch, what about the art? Brooke Allen does a wonderful job. Her art really stands on it’s own and to my eye doesn’t resemble anyone else’s. It also has a painterly digital quality that I like. I am not sure what her process is, but I can imagine that a tablet or Cintiq comes into play at some point. The general quality of the art is kind of loose, expressionistic, cartoony, and really fun to look at. The designs of the girls are very unique and strong. Even in silhouette it’s very easy to tell who is who.
Allen does a wonderful job with facial expressions and body language to portray emotion, even when it is subtle or in the background. Any given panel has plenty to take in. not a single opportunity seems to be wasted in giving us more to digest. The variety of camera angles and shots gives it an energy and flow that is a lot of fun to read. I have actually read ahead of what is presented in this first volume, and the story and art continue to engross. The art is not always handled by Allen, and I am not sure if the future issues feature guest artists, or if the art duties were passed off from Allen to another artist. All I know is I am sticking around with this book no matter what happens. I am very interested in seeing this book continue to unfold and provide us with more and more entertainment. Really can’t praise it enough.