Today, Taylor and Spencer are discussing Lumberjanes 22, originally released January 20th, 2016.
Taylor: Freshness is key. Tell this to any chef and they’ll certainly agree with you. Fresh things just taste better, that’s just common sense. If you were to ask a critic the same question, they would almost certainly have the same reaction. It’s important for media to have a certain modern and unique feel to it. Certainly there are timeless classics that transcend the need to be fresh, but those are the types of media that come along once in a blue moon. Looking at the average comic book issue, freshness is hard thing to achieve constantly. The monthly demands and deadlines of a creative endeavor can be trying on the most talented of creative teams. Considering this, it’s interesting to read Lumberjanes 22. On its surface the comic is unique and fresh. That being the case, why then do I like it’s beginning to turn?
In this issue the Lumberjanes are continuing to help Seafarin’ Karen (who is a werewolf) get her boat back from a gang of Selkies. Meanwhile, Molly and Ripley continue their adventure with the mysterious Bear Lady to the Land of Lost Things, which so happens to be filled with dinosaurs and other dangers. All of these facets of the issue are in and of themselves pretty interesting stuff, but when all thrown together I can’t help but feel like the issue falls a little flat. This is a little confusing to me. I’ve always enjoyed this series and who doesn’t love a good werewolf or dinosaur adventure? I mean, just look at this scene, it’s totally unique.
Ask me, or probably most other readers, to come up with a story that combines the shape-shifting of both werewolves and selkies and you’ll be hard pressed to get an answer. The premise itself is totally unique and one which I think most readers would agree is fresh. Where this premise starts to feel a little stale, however, is in the execution. What this issue mostly boils down to is the Lumberjanes helping Karen because that’s just what they do. This is the equivalent of saying that a superhero saves civilians simply because of the fact that they are a hero. It’s in their DNA. While I don’t dispute the heroic aspirations and motivations of the Janes, I could use a little more agency from my protagonists. I understand that they’re helping Karen because she is their counselor, but I would appreciate a little more depth behind their actions.
Without a whole lot of motivation informing their actions, that means the freshness of this issue relies heavily on the world writers Shannon Watters and Kat Leyh have created. For whatever reason, the storyline following Karen and the selkies just seems a bit small to me. At the end of the issue there are promises of a bigger story beginning to evolve but this issue alone seems a bit muted. This isn’t to say that the world as a whole is without promise or is somehow lost. OR should I say that it is exactly lost and that’s what’s interesting? In the other storyline of this issue Molly and Ripley end up at the Bear Lady’s cabin before the journey to the Land of the Lost Things. The way artist Carey Pietsch draws this cabin certainly piques my interest.
There are maps pinned to the wall, dinosaur skulls, and generally just weird stuff piled around. It all hints at a world full of weird danger and excitement that I’m intrigued to see. Ultimately I think that’s what I’ve always enjoyed about this series, its ability to blend danger with oddity. The scenes with Molly and Ripley remind me of this and it’s my hope that scenes like the one above are promises to return to that feel. The story with Karen lacks these attributes and in the end I think that’s why it leaves me wanting something more than what I get.
Spencer, what do you think about the issue? It certainly is a fun issue despite some of its shortcomings. Is that enough to satisfy you more than it did me?
Spencer: Oh I had a blast with this issue, Taylor — as I usually do with Lumberjanes — but I can also see where you’re coming from with your criticisms. To an extent, this issue suffers from a mild case of “middle chapter syndrome,” where a middle installment of a storyline gets a little too caught up moving pieces around for the finale to stand alone as a satisfying story on its own.
More than any generic motivations, that’s what drags down the Seafarin’ Karen half of the issue for me. All that really happens is that the girls build a ladder to get themselves and Karen to the selkies’ ship, and as the centerpiece of a storyline, it feels thin. That should’ve taken a page or two, not half an issue; the real meaty stuff all comes at the end when Karen and the selkies both realize that they’ve completely misunderstood the other party.
Not only does this make their conflict less black-and-white — and thus more interesting — but it also ties the Karen plot to Molly and Ripley’s journey into the Land of the Lost Things (portals to the land are causing the whirlpools). It’s a killer ending, but it also seems to be the reason this plot span its wheels for so long — Watters and Leyh couldn’t reach this moment until after Bear Lady explained the portals to Molly and Ripley, necessitating stretching and padding the issue out a bit. I can certainly understand that, but I do wish the creative team had found a slightly more substantial way to do so.
Unlike Taylor, though, I don’t really have a problem with the girls’ motivations for helping Karen. When discussing this, I think it’s important to keep in mind who Lumberjanes‘ target audience is, and while Lumberjanes is a title that can be enjoyed by readers of all ages, it’s specifically targeted at younger readers. The Lumberjanes — both the main cast and the organization as a whole — exist as aspirational figures for their fans. “Lumberjanes always help those in need” may seem like too simple a motive for adults, but it’s the perfect mantra for young readers. I mean, Watters, Leyh, and Pietsch even provide us with a Lumberjanes theme song, just to drive the point home.
I can just picture young Lumberjanes fans walking around singing this song, all the while instilling in their minds the Lumberjanes moral code. Any moral simplicity as a result is more than worth it.
Moreover, I actually think there are some interesting complexities in each character’s motivations if we look hard enough, and those differences also emphasize something else I’ve always loved about Lumberjanes: the way its characters buck stereotypes. There’s April, for example, who looks like the “shallow princess” of the group, yet is physically strong, loud, and intellectually curious (she’s curating a bestiary!). Or there’s Mal, who looks like the “tough” one on the outside, but is actually hesitant and nervous, but doesn’t let it stop her from joining her friends’ adventures anyway. Lumberjanes has always been a rather progressive series, but it still brings me a lot of joy to see characters who aren’t stereotypes or pigeonholed into old-fashioned archetypes.
Most interesting in this particular issue, though, is Molly. She shares many of the same qualities that drive her friends — a thirst for adventure, a desire for knowledge — yet Watters and Leyh seem to be taking her down a darker path.
While Molly’s obsession with the Land of the Lost Things is motivated by the same kind of curiosity that drives, say, April, it’s also portrayed as worrying her friends and keeping her away from them — especially since it’s not the reason she sought out Bear Lady in the first place. She’s putting her own interests ahead of the interests of her friends, and Lumberjanes doesn’t seem like the kind of book that will treat that as a good thing. So even if, at a glance, the cast seems driven by similar, somewhat simplistic motivations, there’s enough nuance to them to not only differentiate the characters, but to drive the plot as well. That’s some deceptively smart writing.
All the while, Carey Pietsch fills the issue with lush backgrounds, expressive, varied characters, and remarkably fun background gags. It’s a joy to look through, say, the cabin Taylor posted for weird easter eggs, or to track where Molly and Ripley’s raccoon turns up in each panel. I got a kick out of Seafarin’ Karen’s clothes magically disappearing and reappearing in various stages each time she transformed between human and werewolf (at one point she’s a wolf wearing nothing but sandals, and I got a hearty laugh out of that), and adored the quick glimpse at the “tougher” Lumberjanes of centuries past (did one of them steal Cloud Strife’s sword?). Despite all that, I think my favorite gag is simply a quick shot of April lugging around some logs.
The way she drops them in that last panel hits me so funny, but it’s also a well-observed character moment on its own — of course April’s strong enough to carry those logs, and of course she’ll just drop them with no delicacy at all. That’s just how she rolls.
So maybe this isn’t the strongest issue of Lumberjanes — it certainly could be tighter — but even a weaker installment is still a delight to read, and a lot of the threads being set up here look like they’ll pay out big dividends later in the storyline. It should definitely be worth checking out.
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?