After a week (or two or three) like the weeks we’ve had lately, I really wanted to read something comforting. Something lighthearted and fun and affirming. Sometimes I pick up a new book thinking it’s going to be that, and then it’s not and I’m super disappointed, so I decided to go for something more familiar instead. I decided to reread the first volume of the comic series Lumberjanes, written by Noelle Stevenson and Grace Ellis, with art by Brooke Allen. Just like the first time around, it did not disappoint.
The series – originally an 8-issue miniseries that got promoted to a full ongoing due to its extreme popularity (and presumably great sales numbers) – is often described as Buffy the Vampire Slayer meets Gravity Falls. I’m not sure if I find that accurate necessarily? Buffy, as enjoyable as it was, was often angsty and heavy, which Lumberjanes thankfully isn’t. Both series are about kickass adventure girls, which I am always in favor of. I do absolutely see the comparison with Gravity Falls as a very valid one; the overall myth arcs of the two series are both really solid and engaging.
So, I am all about myth arcs. I love myth arcs. I love ongoing mysteries, with layers upon layers that are slowly, gradually peeled away to reveal the truth in a big climax. It’s what I loved about Gravity Falls (and, to some extent, Adventure Time). It’s what I’m loving about the A Series of Unfortunate Events series on Netflix (confession: I only read the first two books and never got into them). It’s what I desperately wish LOST could have been if it hadn’t sucked. Lumberjanes does it really well, keeping the dramatic reveal both surprising but appropriate to the scale and scope of the book.
I am also all about kid adventure stories – The Goonies, The Monster Squad, and so on and so on. The Lumberjanes does not disappoint on this front either. Obviously having only read Lumberjanes as an adult, I don’t have the perspective on it that an actual child might, but I feel safely able to assume that I would’ve adored this book as a kid too. The adults in the book are not completely useless – but the kids still solve everything better anyway. The girls are very believably written in their ages; they’re intelligent and witty and brave and also still pretty young.
Of course, the five main characters and the friendships and relationships between them are one of the biggest selling points of the book. There’s Jo, who is cool and collected, and keeps the group going and is sometimes the mom of the group (when their actual camp counselor is not there). There’s April who is fiery and dramatic and will arm-wrestle a stone golem to the goddamn ground like it’s nobody’s business. There’s Molly, who is a probably the most shy member of the group, but is another leader figure within the group, and also she wears a raccoon on her head a hat, which is great. There’s Mal, who is very punk and also very sensitive, and she makes the best and most elaborate plans of the group. And there’s Ripley, the youngest, who is daring and wild and free and completely untameable. They are all fantastic and I love them all, and they make such a great, solid group. (For the record, picking a favorite is very hard, but I might have to pick April, if I’m being honest)
Sometimes, in some of the later issues, the series meanders and loses its way and finds its way back, but these first 8 issues are rock solid. From the humor to the seriousness to the attention shared between the overarching plot and the bond between the characters, everything is pitch perfect. I absolutely understand why the publisher wanted to extend this from a miniseries to an ongoing. Like, I wish that I knew more teen girls so I could give them this and be like “HERE read a thing that values your intelligence and your spirit, because so little other media does”.
For me, that’s kind of the heart of Lumberjanes. Not only do each of the protagonists have different skills and different personalities, all of them are valued and all of them are equally important. No one is ever dismissive of them for being teenage girls, which is something that I see All The Time in books and movies and TV shows and life and basically everywhere. Teen girls are pretty much universally shat on just for having the audacity to be teen girls, so I love to read things where, yeah, teen girls are pretty damn rad. Teen girls are heroes and teen girls save the day and teen girls love and support each other and help each other when they’re struggling and never hesitate to lend a hand where one’s needed. Not gonna lie, that jives pretty well with my experience of actual teen girls. Yeah, there’s dumb catty fights and drama sometimes, but it’s rare to see an adult love another as unconditionally and purely and fiercely as teen girls love one another. Maybe it’s because they know that no one has their backs except each other.
This is a great series, with a fantastic story and beautiful art, and this initial miniseries does such a good job of being both a standalone tale and a launching point for all the stories that have come after so far. I hope it continues for a really, really long time, because it makes me so happy when so little else does.