It’s been a really long time since we’ve enjoyed a nice coming-of-age journey. As a woman who grew up with classics such as The Goonies and Stand By Me, I’ve often longed for something that taps into both that nostalgia, and the notion that it’s OK write a nice, simple* story, on occasion. A story filled with dynamic characters who are, at turn, comfortable with who they are, while also discovering who they will be. Oh, if it could star a female cast, that would be great, too.
Enter Lumberjanes, Boom! Studios’ and Noelle Stevenson’s beautiful story about five campers at Miss Qiunzella Thiskwin Penniquiquil Thistle Crumpet’s Camp for Hardcore Lady-Types (which is totally not Girl Scouts), who discover their camp happens to house a bunch of supernatural and mythical creatures. It’s utterly charming and a must-read series.
Far too often, it feels as though writers feel the need to call attention to their feminist characters. It’s not enough to just have them, they have to be explained, often ham-handedly, so that we’re sure to pick up on them. In that way, so many feminist comics feel more like soapboxing rather than story telling. The authors have managed to avoid this pitfall and, in the process, make one of the most badass feminist pieces on the market.
For one thing, you have a transgender girl, Jo. It’s fairly obvious, early on, that there is something “different” about Jo, in the way she holds herself, and is reluctant to talk about herself. Throughout the course of the girls’ adventures, though, Jo, slowly but surely becomes more comfortable and at ease, and doesn’t feel “different” at all. The other characters accept her so unquestioningly into their ranks, there is no additional explanation needed for her.
There are two lesbian girls, as well, and much as with Jo, it’s never really called attention to. Two girls have a sweet, coming-of-age crush on one another, and occasionally hold hands and exchange nervous, flirtatious blushing (and the occasional peck on the cheek). No one questions it, no one has to explain “this is totally OK,” because this is known. Mal and Molly are crushing on one another, and their friends accept it without question, because that’s how friends do.
April is another great character who never receives any explanation because she doesn’t need any. She doesn’t need to explain why she’s super girly, but also an arm-wrestling champ. She doesn’t need to explain that girls — and by extension, women — can embody the traditional female gender roll and enjoy girly, frilly things, but also kick ass when the situation calls for it. She doesn’t need to explain she can be and do whatever the hell she wants.
This extends to the other characters, as well, especially my personal favorite, Ripley. She’s a tomboy who loves to be thrown as a curve ball (yes, literally thrown, I mean, what else do you do with the shortest member of your group?) to dive head first into adventure, and yet she just wants everyone to have a kitten.
They’re the type of characters that don’t preach acceptance, they live it, and show it. It’s so easy to tell people they should accept everyone, but it’s much harder to demonstrate it, and Lumberjanes does it with aplomb. As the leader of a Girl Scout troop, these characters are the very embodiment of everything that Girl Scouts strives to teach young girls. This series should be required reading for all elementary-aged girls.
Did I mention this series is funny as hell? Because it is. Between sight-gags, pun humor, and hyperbolic situations, it’s impossible to not smile throughout an entire issue. The best part is that her humor works on multiple levels. My 8-year old can laugh hysterically at Ripley’s antics, while adults can laugh at both Ripley’s antics, and some of the subtle social commentary. Such as the fact that the Lumberjanes program has a math-centric badge, in addition to kayaking and “friendship.”
Finally, one of the biggest selling points for Lumberjanes is the art. The style is whimsical and charming, all in the same breath. It’s colorful and manages to excite the senses.
It’s almost impossible to stress how fantastic this series is. Pick up the first trade paperback, and if you don’t find yourself fist bumping the air saying “FRIENDSHIP TO THE MAX,” you are truly the darkest of dark hearts.
* I say “simple,” but the story isn’t simplistic. It’s very straightforward and charming, without being bogged down by too much exposition, backstory, or self-analysis.