Shelby: As much as I enjoy Do-si-dos, I was never a Girl Scout. I grew up on a farm in rural northern Wisconsin, so the FFA (that’s Future Farmers of America) and 4-H were the dominant players in my household. While I never went to camp or earned badges, I can still recite the 4-H pledge from memory, so I understand the impact and importance of scout-type organizations for kids. While 4-H is for both boys and girls, and you’re just as likely to see gals struggling to show a stubborn heifer at the county fair as boys, I definitely appreciate that there are scouting and excursion groups for girls as well as boys; you may not have realized this, but I strongly support equal opportunities for both genders. Even if the series weren’t crazy and fun, I would appreciate Noelle Stevenson and Grace Ellis’ Lumberjanes for this very reason. Oh, and if you were wondering:
I pledge my Head to clearer thinking,
my Heart to greater loyalty,
my Hands to larger service,
and my Health to better living,
in my club, my community, my country, and my world.
Meet our campers:
The gals find themselves in an underground cave rigged with booby-traps, and the only way out is to work their way through, Indiana Jones-style. After besting a giant statue at arm-wrestling, running through a hail of arrows, kicking another giant statue in the face, diving under a closing door (and nearly losing a hat in the process), and solving a mathematical code, the girls find themselves facing a series of anagrams. This inspires April to re-arrange the letters of the message, “Beware the Kitten Holy” they received in issue 1 to read, “In the tower by the lake,” which Ripley spotted in issue 2. One “open sesame” later, and the campers are back, to the immense relief of their counselor Jen.
My goodness, this series is a lot of fun. It’s got that madcap, non-sequitur feel of Adventure Time or The Marvelous Misadventures of Flapjack. Artist Brooke Allen takes a lot of responsibility for that; her pencils have that rubber-bandy, cartoonish feel that’s so reminiscent of Cartoon Network. You see it most in Ripley, the youngest camper in the group; I think every issue features her making some sort of absurd, long-legged leap into certain danger.
Everything about this book is fun. The back of each issue features a playlist created by one of the campers. There’s a CD insert, and Stevenson and Ellis include instructions to burn a CD and cut out the insert; that’s such a perfect, summer camp with friends sentiment I can hardly stand it. The back of each issue shows the growing number of Lumberjanes Badges mentioned or earned in the series: so far we’ve got Up All Night, Naval Gauging, Pungeon Master, and Everything Under the Sum. That is both punny and adorable, so I obviously love it.
Wacky fun aside, I also think this book is really important for young girls. This issue alone features a girl showing her strength, a girl using the Fibonacci sequence to solve a puzzle, and another girl solving anagrams. Like the fictional scouting/camping/monster-slaying organization this book depicts, Stevenson and Ellis are very particular about showing us a group of girls who are smart, strong, adventurous, and good friends to each other (maybe more than good friends, if I’m correctly reading the adorable beginnings of a crush developing between Molly and Mal). There are not many books that feature those kinds of groups of women (Rat Queens comes to mind), and none that I can think of that are appropriate for young girls. These ladies run the gamut from girly April to tomboyish Molly to punk Mal, and they’re all ok with each other. For me, the message is there’s no one way a girl is supposed to be; you can be girly and strong, or into math and science, or a total spaz, and it’s all ok. That is a super important lesson for, well, everyone, but especially for girls, who get so many conflicting messages on what they’re supposed to be.
Taylor! I’m excited to hear what you think of this title, since you were a Boy Scout (Eagle Scout, even, if I’m remembering correctly), and because you share my love of bizarre Cartoon Network shows. You all may not know this, but a couple years ago, T and I were Captain K’nuckles and Flapjack for Halloween, because we are awesome. Taylor, what are your thoughts on the unfolding adventures of the Lumberjanes?
Taylor: This title is such a delight! Having done the whole Boy Scout thing (and yes, all the way to Eagle) I can’t help but enjoy a series that reminds me of my youth in so many ways. While I never had the adventures that the Lumberjanes are experiencing, I did go through the song and dance of earning badges, dealing with camp counselors, and generally getting into mischievous trouble. What makes Lumberjanes so fun for me is that I feel like I’ve experienced a lot of the things the Lumberjanes have been through. Sure, I never battled three-eyed foxes or river monsters, but I have stories that in some way are analogous to those adventures. I think a lot of readers probably will feel the way about this series. Camp, for many growing up, was a rite of passage. The experiences had at camp have a way of sticking in our brains and being able to revisit those through the medium of this comic is really fun.
I think that speaks to the nature of how well constructed this all-lady ensemble is. At no point while reading this book have I become conscious of the absence of any male characters (save for a statue if you really want to count that). I don’t know if the absence of dudes is a purposeful decision or not on Stevenson’s part but it’s something that certainly is uncommon in the comics game. While we could analyze just what that means in regards to gender it seems like kind of a moot point . As you mentioned Shelby, all of these characters are really strong in their own individual way and frankly that’s engaging regardless of their gender. If anyone were to pass over this title because of the characters they would be the worse for it in more ways than one. Any story is only as compelling as its characters can be and here we have great ones.
What makes this series especially fun is how our characters are required to use their different strengths. Whether it’s figuring out puzzles or punching things in the face they rise to the task. These skills are turning out to be quite useful in a world where literally anything can happen. I love the zaniness of the adventures and this third issue is perhaps the most post wacky to date. In particular I enjoyed the statue which tried to stop or heroines progress.
This particular episode plays against our expectations by presenting our ladies with a challenge in strength. Clearly this is something that’s not going to stop the Lumberjanes seeing as they’re tough as nails. Of course our expectation is that Ripley would be the one to defeat the statue in the test of strength but it turns out that April is the one who takes on the task. Ripely, with her leap-first attitude seems like she would take on this physical challenge but instead the more girly April does. This inverts are typical mode of thinking that someone who is pretty can’t also be strong. It’s a nice little challenge for the reader hidden in the goofiness.
Shelby, you also mentioned how reminiscent of Indiana Jones this particular issue is. I think that’s something that’s very intentional on the part of Stevenson and Ellis. Many of the traps and puzzles the Lumberjanes encounter are almost exactly alike those we’ve seen in all of the Indiana Jones movies. Heck, artist Brooke Allen even copies a scene almost frame for frame.
It’s certainly an homage but maybe it’s also a subtle way of showing us that anything Indiana Jones can do, our heroines can do just as well. The rest of issue is littered with these moments and it’s a whole lot of fun seeing these girls work through them with their own particular flair.
So yeah, this is a fun title. It does remind of Cartoon Network favorites like Adventure Time and Misadventures of Flapjack but that can be taken as nothing but a compliment. Like each of those TV shows, this comic has an unbridled giddiness to it that belies some of the mature themes it’s exploring. The result is an issue that is certain to please anyone looking for a fun adventure.
For a complete list of what we’re reading, head on over to our Pull List page. Whenever possible, buy your comics from your local mom and pop comic bookstore. If you want to rock digital copies, head on over to Comixology and download issues there. There’s no need to pirate, right?