Welcome back to Not Just Dudes in Tights, a column about our fave comics starring, well, not just dudes in tights. This time: Lumberjanes!
It’s hard to express how much I love Lumberjanes. Yes, it’s technically a comic book for children about summer camp, but it’s so much more than that. It’s heartwarming, it’s funny, it’s exciting, it’s so much more than the sum of its parts than I could describe in one column. But here’s to trying!
I came to Lumberjanes specifically for Noelle Stevenson, one of the original writers of the series, who made a weird, surreal piece of art I stumbled upon on the internet and bought years and years ago. I heard that Noelle was involved, I saw the art, and I was sold. I bought the first three trades (books that group six issues of a comic together in a paperback book) at once, and dug in. The other original creators are Shannon Watters, Grace Ellis, and Brooklyn A. Allen. The team has shifted and changed over the years, but the quality has stayed high.
Lumberjanes debuted in April 2015. It’s about a summer camp—to be specific, Miss Quinzella Thiskwin Penniquiqul Thistle Crumpet’s Camp for Hardcore Lady Types (motto: friendship to the max!). The campers are known as Lumberjanes, and our heroines are the campers of Roanoke cabin: Jo, April, Molly, Mal, and Ripley, plus their ever-frazzled counselor Jen. Some of them know each other from before, most don’t, and they immediately become fast friends and, as it turns out, adventurers. The series just ended in December 2020 and encompasses stand alone graphic novels and, fingers crossed, an animated tv show to air on HBO.
But wait! There’s magic!
So, you may be thinking, it’s a comic about a bunch of girls at camp? Well, yes, but what if I also told you that the camp was magic? As soon as the campers arrive, weird stuff starts happening. And, as it happens, our Roanoke crew is just the crew to figure out what’s going on.
The first series of issues is essentially a giant magic scavenger hunt, which they try to solve as they avoid getting in trouble with Jen and Rosie, the camp director. But Rosie knows that there’s something strange going on in these woods too, and she tells our girls that as long as they stick together, they’ll be alright. By the end of the first trade, the campers have fought three-eyed foxes, battled a river monster, and fallen into a cave where each girl must use her specific skill to pass a test, be it physical or intellectual.
The antics only get crazier from there—they must deal with Diana, the Greek goddess, who has disguised herself as a camper to prove a point to her brother, find their way out of an alternate dimension, complete with dinosaurs, and, my personal favorite, save an underwater mermaid punk show from both a sea monster and a friendship in peril. All while trying to get camp badges (they do not get many badges).
The Roanoke Girls
From the beginning, one of the largest draws is the characters. Not only are the Roanoke girls diverse, in background, gender and sexual identity, and body type, but each of them has a clear character that interacts with the other in very specific, real ways. Just like in real life, there are individual relationships and difficulties within the group of five.
April and Jo are friends from home, and they go through growing pains as they form friendships outside of each other.
Molly doesn’t have many friends at home, but she and Mal form an immediate bond, which we get to see turn romantic in a very sweet arc. (Molly also has a raccoon she wears as a hat. His name is Bubbles and he’s extremely cute).
Ripley is a ball of energy—sometimes a literal ball, as she can scrunch up to be launched at enemies by a friend—and the smallest of the group, who loves her friends, loves Jen, and comes from a giant family. All of her siblings are named after sci-fi heroines, my personal favorite detail.
There’s so much to love about Lumberjanes. It’s the perfect mix of adventure and earnestness, and there is a good deal of action even if, at the end of the day, most of the conflicts end up being misunderstandings that can be solved with the power of friendship. But real stakes, both physical and emotional, do arise, such as when Rosie must try to defeat her former best friend and current nemesis, whose philosophy about the magical creatures in the woods differs greatly from Rosie’s own, or Parent’s Day, which some of our heroines spend happier than others.
Plus the ART! It’s colorful, it’s expressive, it’s charming and evocative and everything you could want from a story like this.
Lumberjanes is the media I wish I’d had growing up. No shade to Disney and the multitude of fantasy romances I read, but when this elder millennial was a child there weren’t too many groups of badass girls saving the day with the power of friendship and absolutely zero help from men. I’m so excited for the kids growing up on this now—I think they’re going to be really special.
Marina is a West Coast native living in Washington, DC. She loves writing anything, from sci-fi to creative non-fiction to romance, often drawing inspiration from the frequent travel required by her day job. Her work has appeared in such literary magazines as DistrictLit and Corner Bar Magazine. When she’s not writing, you can find her hosting bar trivia, baking something involving peaches, or bothering her extremely patient dog, Daisy. You can read more of her work at marinabarakatt.com and find pictures of Daisy on Twitter.