Eye on Comics

Comics criticism and commentary from Don MacPherson

Girls Just Wanna Have Fun (Fighting Evil)

Posted by Don MacPherson on April 20th, 2014

Lumberjanes #1
Writers: Noelle Stevenson & Grace Ellis
Artist: Brooke Allen
Colors: Maarta Laibo
Letters: Aubrey Aiese
Cover artists: Noelle Stevenson/Maddie Flores/Lauren Zuke
Editor: Dafina Pleban
Publisher: Boom! Studios/Boom! Box imprint
Price: $3.99 US

I’m far from the target audience for this book, but there was such a positive buzz around it, I opted to fork over my four bucks to give it a look. I figured if I didn’t dig it, I could probably flip it on eBay to get my money back. After reading it, I definitely get why it has struck a chord with readers. Lumberjanes, as its title suggests, is a playful adventure book featuring a cast made up entirely of strong, entertaining female characters. It’s appropriate for pre-teen readers up to adults, and I’d be amazed if Boom! wasn’t eyeing this property as something that could spin off into other media. That being said, I don’t think I’ll be following the series — not because I don’t think it’s a good comic book. It is a good comic. It’s just one that doesn’t really appeal to my sensibilities.

The five girls assigned to the Roanoke cabin at the summer camp nicknamed “Camp Hardcore” take not only that unofficial camp designation to heart, but its motto as well: “Friendship to the max!” They also share curiosity, an insatiable appetite for adventure, and the savvy and skills to save their skins in scary situations. Much to the chagrin of the Roanoke camp counsellor, Mal, Molly, Ripley, Jo and April venture out into the darkened woods after lights-out and discover something dangerous… and completely abnormal.

The general approach to the art here and the design work remind me of a cross among the styles of such artists as Richard Sala, Faith Erin Hicks and… (damn, I don’t know the names) whoever came up with the look for Adventure Time. So Brooke Allen is in some good company. The only problem is that the seeming amalgam of those influences isn’t seamless. It looks as though artist Brooke Allen shifts from one style to another at times, making for some inconsistent looks and somewhat jarring transitions. There’s no denying the work is attractive and effective. There’s a lot of energy and fun in the simpler, cartoony linework, and I love how that exuberance in the line art contrasts with the dark, eerie colors. Those gloomy, night-time tones fortunately don’t work against the light, fun feel of the story, and oddly enough, they actually add to it somehow.

Stevenson and Ellis’s premise blends Scooby Doo and Harry Potter quite well without coming off as terribly derivative or anything. The characters are instantly likeable, and I don’t just mean the five girls at the centre of the story. No, Jen, their frustrated camp counsellor, and Rosie, the camp director, may be the adults in the mix here, but they’re just as much fun as the girls. In fact, I found them to be even more entertaining. Jen is the voice of reason who’s fortunately not depicted as a wet blanket or anything, and Rosie’s strength, adventurous spirit and belief in the girls is a wonderfully positive force in the latter part of this issue.

The writers take an unconventional approach to this opening issue by throwing the characters and the reader right into the middle of a supernatural, mysterious plot. It’s certainly fun and engaging, but it’s also a little confusing. I wondered if there was a zero issue or some other preview I’d missed out on that would have provided greater context for the story. Nevertheless, the reader is able to piece things together by the end of the issue, but one feels a bit lost thumbing through the earlier pages here. I also found the five main heroines blurred a bit. Aside from their designs, there doesn’t seem to be great, obvious differences. I had to scan the pages of this comic book just to come up with their names for the synopsis above. It’s a shame the introductory issue didn’t offer a shortcut list to quickly delineate the central cast of characters. I’m sure more individuality will emerge in subsequent issues, but at least, one could almost describe each of the five main characters as “the plucky one.”

While clearly designed for a female audience while maintaining an appeal to a wider readership, Lumberjanes also strikes me as something crafted out of a love for such in-vogue pop-culture properties as Adventure Time and Gravity Falls. There’s definitely a hip, weird vibe at play here that ought to have an easy time connecting with a fanbase established by those afore-mentioned and other shows. Personally, though, I’m not part of that rich soil in which such a seed as Lumberjanes would thrive. Maybe it’s an age thing; I’m into my 40s now, and Adventure Time just seems unnecessarily weird to me, for example, and Gravity Falls seems cute but too frenetic. Lumberjanes definitely boasts those latter qualities. Ultimately, I will hold onto this first issue — not out of possible investment speculation, but rather to present to my toddler son in a few years when I feel he needs to delve into a sampling of comics storytelling outside the super-hero genre and featuring strong female leads. 7/10

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