by Taylor Anderson
This article contains SPOILERS. If you haven’t read the issue yet, proceed at your own risk!
Lumberjanes is ostensibly a comic geared towards a younger audience. The young protagonists, the summer camp setting, and the the fantasy elements all suggest a title that is purposely trying to engage young comic readers. There’s nothing wrong with that and in fact it’s vitally important to foster a love of comics in young people by making titles expressly for their consumption. However, as with all art, Lumberjanes frequently isn’t heralded as much a titles written for older audiences. But as issue 44 shows, there’s no reason why that should be the case.
As Molly and the rest of the Roanokes battle the mysterious time bubbles plaguing their camp, Rosie find herself aging and turning into some sort of beast. A battle ensues for both parties with action being doubled down upon, a rarity for this series. Artist Ayme Sotuyo wonderfully captures this chaos in the way she lays out pages for this issue. This skill can be seen on several pages, but is best exemplified when Molly confronts the creature causing the time distortions in her camp.
What makes this page so effective is that it cuts between scenes without any preamble. In the first panel, Molly’s conflict is presented, and then the page cuts to three panels involving the fight with Rosie before cutting back to Molly again. It’s an abrupt change, but it adds to the kinetic action of these scenes. It ramps up the pace of the issue and reminds me that Molly isn’t only fighting for herself, but for every other camper and staffer as well.
It’s easy to overlook technical flourishes like this in Lumberjanes because it’s thought of as a kids title. However, scenes like the one above show that, just like the Lumberjanes themselves, this book has more to offer than its outer trappings would suggest.
The conversation doesn’t stop there. What do you wanna talk about from this issue?
I actually think it is more important to have those technical flourishes that mark more mature books.
In fact, I think any art targeting kids that isn’t satisfying to more sophisticated audiences fails at being a good kid’s book. Because being a kid’s book is no excuse for poor quality – in fact, it is more important for kids to have a high quality media diet than adults.
Of course, kid’s books need to tailor content, theme and execution to be appropriate for the audience. But none of that requires a lack of technical prowess or an abandonment of strong storytelling principles. None of that requires ever excusing something with ‘it’s a kid book’s. Kid targeted art can even address the most mature themes well, and be appropriate (there are many obvious examples I could give here, but lets instead shout out the relatively obscure Boom comic Tyson Hesse’s Diesel, which is very mature, very well written and perfect for kids. Princeless and Raven: the Pirate Princess are also great in how they engage in important feminist discussions while being perfect for kids)
Treating a book with lower standards because it is a kid’s book is completely wrong. Kid’s books should be held to a higher standard, in fact. And so, let’s continue to make sure great kid’s comics aren’t ignored for not being adult enough. Let’s never dismiss a kid’s book because it is only for kids. Let’s treat them like any other comic. Let’s continue to celebrate the fact that books like Lumberjanes is not just for kids. Because they are doing it right
I guess there’s some overlap between the technical flourishes you’re talking about and your caveat that the execution be appropriate for the audience. Media savvy adults will be familiar with stylistic and narrative conventions that wouldn’t be super legible to a young audience. Mid-page transitions like the one Taylor highlights here are jarring even to advanced readers, so might confuse someone new to comics (of course, part of what makes the mid-page transition might also lie in our own learned expectation that scene transitions happen on page turns, so might not have the same impact on someone who hasn’t engrained that expectation). I think it’s absolutely appropriate for the audience of Lumberjanes (who we might reasonably assume have picked up the basics of comics grammar through earlier issues), but I definitely think there’s an audience for whom this kind of thing would be too advanced.
I remember this story about how, when all the adults complained that Doctor Who was getting complicated with its plots for kids to understand, it was revealed that kids had a better understanding of the plots than the adults. I think it is easy to underestimate the media literacy of kids. They’ve grown up learning the language, and are surprisingly fluent. What used to be a complex flourish, like a time skip between cuts, is something that everyone now takes as simple to literally everyone. A kid growing up in today’s environment (especially considering the sophistication of today’s kid’s entertainment) is a lot more fluent than I think we can expect.
I will highlight that I said that kid’s books should be held to a higher standard than adult books. All communication (and that’s what art is) comes down to clarity, and if you wish to use more advanced vocabulary like a mid page transition, there should be a greater expectation that such vocab is used in a way that best achieves the goals of good communication. For example, the Lumberjanes page probably would have been stronger if they did not use a second character with blond hair, or differentiated the backgrounds a bit more so that both scenes weren’t defined by strong greens. That would help even a kid reading their first comic have a clear understanding of a relatively more complicated technical flourish.
But I think that any technical flourish, no matter how advanced, is appropriate in a kid’s book as long as the creators think very carefully about what they wish to communicate, and make sure they are choosing and executing the technique in a way that most clearly communicates what they wish to express. And if it doesn’t communicate what you want as clearly as possible (and just to provide the counter to any argument about ambiguity, if you want ambiguity, you should be endeavouring to communicate that ambiguity clearly), then you shouldn’t be using that tool. That’s how you should write for kids. And that’s how you should write for adults. To me, personally, the only difference is that writing for kids should carry higher expectations of competency