Guest post by Leah, who writes at The Lobster Dance, a blog about gender and media (and often Japan) and I’ll Make It Myself!, a food blog about gender, geekery, and sometimes cannibal jokes. Find her work on Comparative Geeks here.
Created by Shannon Watters, Grace Ellis & Noelle Stevenson. Illustrated by Brooke Allen (vol. 1-8) & Carolyn Nowak (vol. 11-). Colors by Maarta Laiho. Letters by Aubrey Aliese.
This review has one mild spoiler, but if you’re like me, it’ll make you want to read the series more!
You’re in a quiet theater, watching the previews for the latest action ensemble movie. Out of the silence you hear it–
But what if they were all women?
For anyone who has ever wanted a diverse, feminist version of The Sandlot*, Stand by Me, Goonies, or any other movie starring pre-teen boys having super cool summertime adventures, Lumberjanes is the comic for you.
At the Miss Quinzella Thiskwin Penniquiqul Thistle Crumpet’s Camp for Hardcore Lady Types, the five girls of the Roanoke Cabin (Ripley, Mal, Molly, Jo, and April) go head to head with ghost foxes, rival cabins, magical artifacts,–and their uptight counselor, Jen.
I love this series so much that it deserves a bullet-point list.
- The characters all have different gender presentations, body shapes, and ethnicities. The masculine-of-center girls are not prioritized over the others. Everyone has her own skills, flaws, and issues. (More on this below.)
- Two of the girls have a mutual crush on each other. Hell yes, queer representation!
- The focus is on being awesome friends and supporting each other, but competition isn’t gendered. The girls can be competitive with a rival cabin about capture the flag while supporting each other.
- The curses are awesome, from “what the junk?!” (which I say all the time) to “Oh my Bessie Coleman!”
- The art is lovingly rendered and visually pleasing, with excellent usage of color for the night scenes (most scenes). The oranges are particularly noteworthy.
- The characters find non-violent solutions to dealing with the supernatural. Sometimes having your characters deal with violence can be part of a pacifist message, such as in Hayao Miyazaki’s Princess Mononoke or in Tamora Pierce’s Song of the Lioness, but showing strength with shrewdness and compassion (and sometimes bribery with cookies, which is my preferred method) is a critical message.
This quote from an interview with Comic Book Resources is a bit long, but it (and the full interview) are worth your time:
Stevenson: One of the biggest issues plaguing female characters is that, because there are relatively few of them, there isn’t a lot of diversity, and the conversations around them push very specific traits as being “more feminist” — typically masculine traits like physical strength, emotional toughness, etc. — and there ends up not being a lot of room left for genuinely nuanced and organic female characters. Because when there’s only one woman in the cast, she has to be everything for everyone, and that’s not really possible. Every person is both strong and weak at the same time, and if you can’t show that weakness and you can’t show how there’s lots of ways to be strong, you don’t really have a real character. The best way I can figure to address that is to have way more female characters. Just, like, so many. Then it’s not on one woman’s shoulders to represent all women in a positive way. They can be heroes, villains, ambiguously moral, comic relief, femme, butch, strong, weak, etc. and what you’ve got are — people.
Ellis: …It just seems so silly to me that there isn’t a wider array of women in media because all you have to do is write more women who aren’t in the story only because of men, so yes, this project is definitely an intentional effort to chip away at the mountains of cliched women in comics and media at large. I mean, the main point of the comic is that it’s a good, interesting story, but I’m happy that we have the opportunity to tell it in a way that could help rip down the “No Girls Allowed” sign outside the comics clubhouse.
As much as I love genderswap, having new and original works that focus on having an ensemble cast of women (and non-binary) characters is also critical to the revolution. Lumberjanes is the answer to all your camp adventure needs for kids and adults alike. Or, in the words of April, “Good Juliette Gordon Low, we’re allowed to have something good happen every once in a while!” (vol. 4.) Lumberjanes is a “something good” that makes every new issue feel like feminist Christmas.
*Real talk: the epilogue clearly shows that Benny and Smalls are baseball husbands. Fight me.