“What In the Joan Jett Are You Doing?”

So, I got a nice surprise from Rachael the other day in the form of a lovely gift following her impromptu visit to Athens’s local comic shop with some friends of ours who were visiting from out of town: the first trade paperback of Lumberjanes.  I’ve had my eye on this book for a while, since it’s been getting a fair bit of buzz as a remarkably good all-ages comic that focuses on a group of girls at summer camp and their friendship.

This is a really good book. (Image credit: Comic Vine)

As I was re-reading the trade to prep for this post, I realized that there are a lot of elements of this book that I’ve seen in another series that I randomly heard about and became interested in over the last year: Rat Queens.  There are a few significant differences between these two series, obviously: Rat Queens with its gratuitous gore, violence, and sex jokes is not meant for children at all while Lumberjanes seems to be written with kids as its target audience.  Also, the make up of the creative teams is remarkably different; the writer and artists for Rat Queens (as far I’m aware at this point) are all male (and the original artist, Roc Upchurch, was found out to be a domestic abuser) where Lumberjanes‘s writers and artists are all female.  Despite those significant differences, there’s a lot of common ground between these series.  The core concept in each is that an eclectic group of female friends have adventures that in patriarchal cultures are traditionally reserved for men and boys.  The personalities and body types of the various main characters are highly diverse, subverting the standard storytelling character trope of “the girl.”

Even setting aside those comparisons, I found Lumberjanes to be an incredibly engaging book.  One of its co-writers, Noelle Stevenson, has written for Adventure Time, and much of the book has the same sort of gonzo surrealism that’s a hallmark of that television show.  Strange things are constantly happening at Miss Quinzella Thiskwin Penniquiqul Thistle crumpet’s Camp for Hardcore Lady Types, and the heroines April, Jo, Mal, Molly, and Ripley go along for the ride without ever really questioning the weirdness they encounter (more grounded is their counselor, Jen, who doesn’t believe all the wondrous things that cause them to run off and get into trouble; she’s perpetually exasperated by her charges’ antics, but it’s clear that she cares a lot about them; she might be my favorite character).  These characters inhabit a world where magic is real, and it’s manifestations are always more than a little bonkers, from three-eyed foxes who howl a magical chorus that spells out a mysterious phrase in the air (“Beware the kitten holy,” from which the first volume draws its name) to hipster yetis to a troop of boys from a nearby camp who inexplicably turn feral while they’re serving tea and cookies to their guests (one of the volume’s best moments comes in the fourth issue when the boys’ camp leader lumbers through their cabin and derides them all in an incredibly on-the-nose critique of toxic masculinity; the scene works because all of the other characters recognize that he’s being a jerk for no justifiable reason).

While the overall story that’s present in this first volume is a little light (only on the last page do we finally get something of an explanation for the source of all the weirdness the main characters encounter, and that is only vaguely hinted at in the way that any good cliffhanger in a comic series should be), it’s still remarkably engaging all the way through, with a general sense of delighting in the fun that the characters are having on the page.  It’s fantastic to know that such good quality stories are being produced for children, especially for young girls.  If you happen to know any kids who enjoy comics and who are willing to give something that’s not standard superhero fare a try, you could do a lot worse than giving them a copy of Lumberjanes.


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