LUMBERJANES TRADE PAPERBACK VOL. 1: Review
Lately there has been a boom of stories set in the creepy majesty of The Pacific Northwest. Yes between Gravity Falls, Alan Wake, Lairrd Barron, the upcoming Wayward Pines and Twin Peaks revival (please Showtime just pay David Lynch what he wants. PleasepleasepleasePLEASE) the isolated cathedral forests filled with strange creatures and mystical rifts in reality are getting a mite crowded. Yet even in this growing field Lumberjanes has managed to distinguish itself as one of the best comics on the rack, particularly for newcomers.
Lumberjanes follows a cabin full of tweenage girls, who attend a summer camp in the Pacific Northwest that is under constant siege from mystical forces most dark and sinister. The girls take this in stride and try to get to the bottom of various mysteries surrounding the camp.
Above all this is simply a gorgeous book to look at, especially for an all ages title. Noelle Stevenson’s and Brooke Allen’s designs are instantly distinctive, energetic and somehow intrinsically friendly. Allen’s pencils alternate between cartoonish expressionism and eerie impressionism and incorporate influences from a surprisingly dense bed of mythology. The backgrounds in particular are striking, and as atmospheric as humanly possible. The creepy stuff in the book is agreeably creepy, though carefully modulated not to frighten a younger skewing audience (this isn’t Emily Carroll or anything) it adds a genuine sense of stakes.
This book is an ideal gateway drug, both for parents looking for a story to introduce their kids to the spookier side of media and for newcomers looking to get into comics without encountering the baggage of years of continuity. The storytelling is light, the pacing is buoyant and the people behind it seriously know how to make good comics. The girls all have appealing and distinct personalities and are unfailingly kind to one another, without feeling saccharine. There is a real sense of friendliness to Lumberjanes, a tribute to Stevenson and co-writer Grace Ellis’s skill at balancing the tones of adventure and horror. Lumberjanes is a comic seemingly designed to make everyone feel welcome. (Well almost everyone, there’s an uncharacteristicly out of temper, dismissive joke about God in the first issue, which is repeated in the supplementary material. It’s not really a big deal, just a throwaway, but the fact that it is a throwaway makes it even stranger given the intricate set up and how it clashes with the inclusive tone of the book.)
It is also worth giving some praise to Lumberjanes as a book itself. Rather than simply a collection of the released comics Lumberjanes intersperses itself with excerpts from the Lumberjanes handbook, as well as a generous helping of supplementary material including an exhaustive cover gallery of variants, preliminary sketches and other goodies. Publisher’s take note it only takes a little extra effort like thus to make a trade feel special and like a unique experience in its own right. My only complaint with the first collection of Lumberjanes is the amount of comics itself. There’s no nice way to say it but Lumberjanes skimps. Fifteen dollars is a lot to ask for what amounts to less than 100 pages of actual comics. I understand wanting to strike while the zeitgeist is hot, but a couple more issues would have gone a long way towards making Lumberjanes feel like a more complete experience.
But as I’ve always said, “I wanted more,” is hardly the worst Criticism one can have. On the whole Lumberjanes more than earns its reputation as one of the most notable, personality filled comics being published. Anyone looking to join the troupe should sign up post haste.