Lumberjanes: Beware the Kitten Holy by Stevenson, Ellis, Watters and Allen, 128 pp, RL: Middle Grade
Lumberjanes! Lumberjanes is a monthly print comic and it has to be one of the most awesome things I have read in a long time, mostly because of how it subverts the dominant paradigm. The Lumberjanes are made up of five diverse girls who are "hardcore lady-types" attending Miss Quinzilla Thiskwin Penniquiqul Thistle Crumpet's camp where they are earning their various badges and battling supernatural forces on the sly. Like the Lumberjanes themselves, Lumberjanes the comic is a team effort. It was created by Shannon Watters, editor at Boom! Studios, Noelle Stevenson and Grace Ellis. Lumberjanes is written by Noelle Stevenson and Grace Ellis, and illustrated by Brooke Allen with colors by Maarta Laiho and letters by Aubrey Aiese. One of the great things about buying Lumberjanes: Beware the Kitten Holy, which combines issues 1 - 4, is all the bonus art and the cover gallery, which include work by guest artists. It's really cool to see the variants and styles that they bring to the work.
The format of each Lumberjanes comic itself is really cool. They always start with a page from the Lumberjanes Field Manual discussing different badges and what is required to earn them. There is an "Up All Night Badge," a "Naval Gauging Badge," an "Everything Under the Sum Badge," a "Robyn Hood Badge" and a "Pungeon Master Badge." Jo, April, Mal, Molly, and Ripley are "five rad, butt-kicking best pals determined to have an awesome summer together" at camp. Trying to watch out and watch over the girls is their counselor, Jen, who wears a beret and neckerchief, and the camp director, Rosie (who has a very powerful riveter vibe) who, when we first meet her, is carving the claw to a very strange creature. Even with the standard outdoor gear, each girl has a distinct personal style and personality. Amidst all the action, they can be heard shouting, "What the junk?" and any number of variations on the girl-power phrase, "What in the Joan Jett?" and "Oh my Bessie Coleman!" or "Holy Mae Jemison!!" or "Where in the Phillis Wheatley were you?" and other hilarious outbursts that I hope will have young readers looking up these great ladies and learning why they are great.
The girls begin their Indiana Jones-type-fast-paced adventure with a nighttime forest adventure that finds them fighting off three-eyed, vicious foxes who howl the mysterious phrase, "Beware the Kitten Holy," before they run off into the night. From there the girls find themselves attacked by a river monster, pick-pocketed by a three-eyed eagle and falling down a passage that leads them to an underground world where they have to use their knowledge of the Fibonacci sequence and battle statues to make their way out. Once they do, poison ivy and a group of Scouting Lads who seem more like Stepford Wives are waiting for them, along with hipster yetis. Like I said, Lumberjanes is non-stop, wall-to-wall action where the girls face all the danger, do all the fighting and solve all the mysteries. Not your typical (for children's literature, anyway) combination of a boy and his sister, best friend, cousin, or whatever other label they want to give to what is basically the girl sidekick in the story. I can't wait for the day when someone writes a middle grade novel that is all action and all girls. Actually, Elise Primavera comes pretty close to this in her novels Ms. Rapscott's Girls and The Secret Order of the Gumm Street Girls where girls do everything but the action is quite a bit less violent than what the Lumberjanes face.
Besides being awesome for having an all-girl cast, Lumberjanes makes another important contribution to diversity in kid's books with Mal and Molly, campers who have a crush on each other. As Elaine Atwell wonderfully says of the girls in her review of issue #1, "It's queer in a way that doesn't draw attention to itself because it doesn't need to; because all the campers are free to be themselves." My eleven-year-old son tore through Lumberjanes and loved it. When asked, in a round-about way, he said he thought the girls were really good buddies, and I loved that. In an article for the New York Times titled, Pow! Gay Comic Book Characters Zap Stereotypes Shannon Watters said that the, "normalization of queer young people was important" and that she wanted to "represent children at an age regular children at an age when they are figuring out who they are." I had a hard time deciding wether or not to even mention this aspect of Lumberjanes here because it seems like part of normalizing something is not pointing it out all the time. At the same time, a book that does not draw attention to diversity and represents characters in an accepting, tolerant environment where they are free be themselves is still rare enough that I think it does need to be called to our attention. I hope that Molly, Mal, Jo, April and Ripley and the Lumberjanes comics are the new standard and I look forward to reading the graphic novels, comics and books of all those who follow.
Some Lumberjanes news: Issue #17 will be Noelle Stevenson's last for the time being and Kat Leyh will be stepping in. Also, 20th Century Fox is turning Lumberjanes into a live-action movie! More info here.
THE LUMBERJANES, #1 - #15