-J. Michael Bestul is a writer for the Addison Recorder. Stephanie Ruehl is an artist who works in a comic book shop. They’re married and have a lot of discussions about comic books and graphic novels. Combine all that into a biweekly feature and you get “J. & Steph Talk About Comics.”
-J.: I initially thought this week would be ideal to talk about the slew of DC #1 issues coming out as part of their Convergence event. But then I read Convergence #0, a disappointing lead-in that reads like it wants to be a Neil Gaiman-penned prologue. It wasn’t bad, per se, but set a disappointing tone for the event. So, when Steph brought home the newly-released Lumberjanes, volume 1, and mentioned writing about it for J&STAC, I jumped. The question was, would it be any good?
Lumberjanes vol. 1
words by Noelle Stevenson and Grace Ellis, art by Brooke Allen. Published by BOOM! Studios
synopsis: A group of Lumberjane scouts discover more than they bargained for during their summer at Miss Quinzella Thiskwin Penniguigul Thistte Crumpet’s Camp for Hardcore Lady Types. *Friendship to the Max!*
Steph: I had heard nothing but good things about Lumberjanes and I had been eagerly awaiting the release of volume 1.
-J.: Hey, me too! It might also be a great way to distract me from that Convergence #0 issue.
Steph: Now is not the time to bring up the random DC “event” that will be happening during the next two months. Really, it’s all just happening while DC offices make the move from New York to L.A. I honestly don’t think they’ll mean anything a few months from now.
-J.: You cut me deep, Steph.
Steph: Hey, this is not on me. It’s all DC, and at this point everyone should be unsurprisingly disappointed.
-J.: While we were typing this, I read Convergence #1. My disappointment is staggering, but unsurprising. Let’s hope that Lumberjanes offers something far better.
Beware the Kitten Holy
Steph: I was put off in the beginning, honestly. I found it a bit difficult to get into the story of Lumberjanes, mostly because the reader is thrown into this chaotic world with little to no explanation, with a bunch of jerky segues. I had to go back a few pages here and there to check that I hadn’t skipped a page or a word bubble. The story starts with our five heroes, Molly, Mal, Jo, April, and Ripley out after dark in the forest to get their Up All Night Badges, and they are immediately attacked by three eyed foxes that warn them to “Beware the Kitten Holy!”
-J.: I had the complete opposite reaction. I could empathize with the weirdly impromptu camaraderie of scouts thrown together at a camp. I loved the introduction of really weird stuff — of the scouts being confronted with the unknown, and relying upon their instincts and their friends to overcome junk that they don’t understand. It was frenetic, but that actually drew me in to the story and the characters. I could put myself into the characters’ shoes: “What the junk is going on?!” Speaking of, I love the way that the characters’ personalities unfurled throughout the book.
Steph: I would say their personalities are shoved into our faces right from the start. Not that I’m complaining. They’re all good characters with relatable and admirable qualities. Though, Ripley is a walking exclamation point.
-J.: That’s a rather apt description. I’m also a fan of the camp director, Rosie, who reminds me of a Dumbledore type… though I don’t know how much I trust her yet.
Steph: Yeah, Rosie seems interested in their exploits, but only briefly, and not enough to actually get involved. But nothing an adult says will stop these girls from looking for the truth.
-J.: But she doesn’t want to stop them! Didn’t you see the crystal that Ripley found while the ‘Janes were telling of their exploits?! She knows more than she lets on! And the fact that her and the boys’ camp director are mirrors of each other, and the reveal at the end is done in silhouette? No, no, none of this looks good for our dear Lumberjanes.
Steph: I did notice the crystals in Rosie’s bathroom. However, it seemed to come from nowhere and for no reason, and its not explained in the slightest, because Ripely has the attention span of a goldfish. Which is one of the main hangups I had for the series in the beginning.
-J: This may be a case where our different tastes in stories gave us different reactions to the first act of this arc. The mystery is there; the story is bigger than we know, but Rosie (and the authors) aren’t going to give us more than hints and quick glances. It’s a classic narrative of friends stumbling into something bigger than they’ve dreamt of in their philosophies. Plus, there’s a pun merit badge. A PUN MERIT BADGE. I wish that had existed in real scouting.
Steph: Absolutely. I think the Pungeon Master Badge would’ve been the first badge I earned in Girl Scouts. The book did eventually endear itself to me. These girls are the kind of kids I’d want to hang out with during summer camp. In fact, I see myself in Molly. When the story somehow took an even more surprising turn in the last few pages, the end came too abruptly. I really need to know how they’re gonna fix this one. Seriously, what the junk?!
Beware the Ending Abruptly
-J.: I’m a fan of how Stevenson and Ellis have layered subplots onto this fast-paced story of mystery and teamwork. Cyphers, a strange cult, possessed boy scouts, and a strange golden bow? My only frustration is that this volume is too short. All the extra material is fantastic, and I enjoy the way they use merit badges as narrative devices. But that extra material hides the fact that this volume is only four issues long. Just as you’re getting into the swing of it, just as it’s kicking into the next gear, we get an ominous denouement and the book is done. What. The. Junk.
Steph: These girls have taken on mythical creatures and stone statues of ancient Greek origin, as well as Indiana Jones-esque codes and Holy Grail-like quandaries. There’s really no limit to the kind of fiction that can be pulled from. I also need to know who believes them. Lumberjanes starts (and sort of continues) with the idea that these are children and adults don’t believe what they’ve seen or been through. Their bunk leader Jen certainly doesn’t at first. Only a personal run in with the weird allows a stretch of imagination.
-J.: ROSIE KNOWS. The moment they mention seeing a “bear woman,” she jumps. She recognizes something in their story. She basically pumps them for information, and then tells them that they’re going to see some weird junk. She’s either preparing them for the eldritch responsibilities they will need to bear this summer, or she’s encouraging them for her own inscrutable ends. … And did you see the name of the main characters’ cabin? They’re in the “Roanoke” cabin. It’s all a plot. Or destiny. Or blatant foreshadowing for readers who look too deep.
Steph: I agree with that, but… telling them they’re going to see weird junk this summer is a bit late considering they’ve already seen three eyed foxes and a bear-woman.
-J.: That was just the warm-up weirdness. I’m expecting a lot more as the series progresses. That said, it feels weird to talk only about volume one (issues #1-4), since the story is already on, like, issue #12. That’s the only drawback to this fantastic volume, in my mind. It’s only 1/3 of the current series, and I wish we were reviewing a more complete story arc.
Steph: I really do too. It took me a few issues to get into this series, but since I have I am fully committed to this story. They need to save the day, and I need to know how they do it.
To Sum It All Up…
Lumberjanes is a wacky, wild ride so far. The heart of the characters (and THE MYSTERY) makes it an all-ages book definitely worth checking out.