Whenever someone hears that I like comics and wants to know what’s new that I recommend, I say Lumberjanes. Whenever someone bemoans that they wish their little girl were into comics, I insert myself into the conversation with Lumberjanes. This book is the gateway drug for young readers to get started in comics. If you love comics and want something outside of the superhero genre, read Lumberjanes. If you’re an adult who – Lumberjanes.
Lumberjanes taps into a wishful joy of a feminist utopia, where hardcore lady-types are free to be, and sometimes solve mysteries.
It’s the story of five girls, united by a shared cabin at the most awesome summer camp, during an inordinately long summer (there may be some temporal magic going on there, actually). April, Jo, Mal, Molly, and Riley are out to befriend wild animals, solve the mysteries of Miss Qiunzella Thiskwin Penniquiqul Thistle Crumpet’s Camp for Hardcore Lady-Types, and earn merit badges. They are sometimes accompanied by their scout leader, Jen, but trying to keep the Lumberjanes out of trouble is like herding cats, and Jen can only do so much.
The thing that makes Lumberjanes stand out among any other comic for teen girls is its progressive politics. The story never feels didactic, and there are no special episodes about being gay or trans or non-religious. It just acknowledges that people other than straight, white, cis, Christian men exist. Such quiet rebellion can be so loud and important. I’m decidedly childfree, but the strongest pull I feel on any sort of biological clock is wishing I had a girl I could pass these stories and morals onto. (The feeling quickly passes whenever I have to interact with a real life baby.)
Noelle Stevenson (Nimona) is still a young woman herself, and perfectly encapsulates the youthful energy that drives the girls. Occasionally mention is made of their lives back at home outside of camp, with the suggestion that this is the last year some of them can go to Lumberjane camp. So while there are dangers like bear women, fights amongst petty gods, time travel, and a battle of the mermaid bands, the real anxiety comes from the part where everyone has to grow up and move on.
The one negative I would say about the series is that the main characters don’t feel like fully fleshed-out characters. Nearly 40 issues in, I identify them more by physical traits than personality. Almost any line of dialogue feels like it could come out of any character’s mouth interchangeably. (Other than Riley: Riley fulfills the role of the hyperactive kid, so her lines are often nonsequiturs.)
However, that can be seen as one of the joys of the comic space over prose – the character designs are all well-defined and the writing overall is fun, so character development can take a bit of a backseat. And the girls being similar feels more realistic than other ensemble casts; we often gravitate towards people who think and act like ourselves so it’s completely believable that these girls are all so similar to each other. They aren’t a Sailor Moon-like group featuring an athlete, a nerd, a girly girl, and a racecar driver.
I haven’t even mentioned the puns yet! The merit badges sprinkled throughout the series are all pun-based and bring nothing but joy upon appearance. There’s the mathematical Everything Under the Sum badge; the boat-based Naval Gauging; the Friendship to the Craft badge for friendship bracelets (riffing on the series’ slogan of “Friendship to the Max!”); and of course, the Pungeon Master badge, for making excellent puns. Your personal mileage on puns may vary, but I want to sew these all to every jacket I own and would’ve stayed a Girl Scout much longer if this were an option.
There’s adventure, there’s charm, there are jokes, and there are references to feminist heroes of history that you need to look up. Earn your Trail CoMix badge and read Lumberjanes.