Lumberjanes: Five Best Friends Fighting MonstersA comics interview article by: Jason Sacks
One of my most fun experiences at this year's Emerald City Comicon was the chance to interview the four women behind Lumberjanes just as their comic was released. I was bowled over by the excitement and enthusiasm that these creators bring to their work. They obviously love these girls that they've created and you can tell they have years of comic adventures ahead of them.
Apologies if we got any of the attributions wrong in this interview. These women were talking so quickly and having so much fun, sometimes it was hard to tell who was talking when their voices overlapped.
Jason Sacks for Comics Bulletin: So you guys all own Lumberjanes. What's the story of it? Give me the elevator pitch. First before you do that, each of you say your names so we can at least get a name check.
Grace Ellis: I'm Grace Ellis. I'm one of the co-creators and the co-writer.
Brooke Allen: I'm Brooke Allen and I draw.
Noel Stevenson: I'm Noelle Stevenson and I'm the co-writer.
Shannon Waters: I'm Shannon Watters and I'm one of the co-creators.
Ellis: So the elevator pitch is that it's five best friends and they're at Lumberjane scout camp for the summer, and weird stuff starts to happen. Monsters start showing up, they're finding weird things around the woods, but they're up for it. They're fine. So they fight monsters and are learn more about themselves and the world around them, and just having a good time. There's a lot of monster fighting, there's really cool haircuts. There's a lot of really badass jokes. There is a girl that kind of acts like Animal from the Muppets. If all of that sounds good to you, you should read Lumberjanes.
CB: Did you guys ever go to summer camp and fight monsters?
Allen: Oh yes, did I ever!
CB: So you dreamed of it anyway, right?
Allen: Only the monsters in my head.
Ellis: Only the monsters of growing up.
CB: I think we all fought those when we were kids. I used to dream about that kind of think, going out in the woods and fighting the monsters and having my quest and everything.
Ellis: I've actually never been camping or to daycamp.
Stevenson: Lumberjanes camping trip.
CB: You wouldn't even need new clothes!
Ellis: You guys should just come to daycamp, seriously. We should try to arrange that.
CB: So who are the girls in the story? Is it fair to call them girls?
Stevenson: There are five girls. They are around the ages of twelve to thirteen. So there is Jo. She's the leader. She's very smart, logical, kind of mathematically minded. There is her best friend April. April is really girly and loves fashion and magazines, but she's also like super excited about adventure. She's very strong, very smart. She has this journal where she writes down everything that happens. There's Mal, she looks like a punk but she's very sensitive underneath it all. Then there's her love interest, Molly. Molly is a very strong, silent type. She's very stalwart. She doesn't say much but her brain is always working. She's always there for her friends, and there is Ripley. Ripley is the wild card. She is a little firecracker. Whenever there is a problem, her solution is always like, “Let me throw myself into it head first and see what happens.” Like literally actually throw my actual body at it. See what happens.
Ellis: Like literally!
CB: I have this image of her feet being up in the air and her head being stuck in a bush or something.
Ellis: Yup that's pretty accurate. That's pretty much the deal.
Allen: Visually nailed it.
CB: These sound like interesting characters. They have depth to them; surprising elements to them that I didn't expect at first glance.
Allen: Yeah, the characters kind of came before the story did. We had a really loose outline of what we wanted to do. Grace and I, I think the first thing that we came up with was like “Summer camp.... Monsters!?”
Ellis: But the important part was the friendship.
Waters: We were really into like the five best buddies in the woods just being there for each other and being crazy about each other and wanting to, because there's so many things out there that are like, “Oh we're five friends, and we end up fighting and talking behind each other's back with each other” and we didn't want to do that. We wanted five friends that would do anything for each other and just love the crap out of each other and that's what this is kind of about. They just love the crap out of each other. They would do anything for each other.
Allen: We thought that was really important because there's not a lot of stories where that's the driving force. Where it is friends. The conflict of the story is not them fighting, it's conflicts within their friendship. It's them against the world.
CB: I have a fourteen year old daughter and so this has been a big topic on my mind. It's like “what literature is appropriate for her?” and not of terms of sex or violence, but just terms of appropriate gender models for her in a way. Characters her age that should really appeal to her. She's a big Manga fan which is no surprise these days, but she also tends to gravitate towards stories that are about specific people and not just characters as characters. Driven by character rather than plot.
Ellis: Well and people, when we first started doing this there were a lot of folks that were like “Oh, like let's do like quizzes” or let's do, like the smart one. But they can't really be reduced to that. April is “the girly one” but she's also the smartest and the strongest even though she is the littlest. Jo is super analytical and the leader, but she has other sides to her
Allen: But you can't do a Buzzfeed quiz for her. You could just reduce her to being the smartest one. They really are a lot more complicated.
CB: They're not the Avengers.
Ellis: Right, exactly.
Stevenson: I think especially at that age it's all about: you're growing up, everything is changing but you don't know quite yet how that looks for you, personally. What you want to be. How you're going to be. So you always kind of look outward toward other people, to characters in your favorite stories, and I worry at this point like is that maybe we maybe don't have much diversity. The characters that the children can choose from. To be like- “This is the one that I relate to. I want to be like her.”
So when I watched Scooby-Doo I really liked Velma, but maybe I didn't see characters like that in other stuff. I wanted to be able to choose my favorite character out of a group of really different characters. So I think that's why all five Lumberjanes are so different. I feel like every girl will be able to find someone that they identify with. Someone who they can look up to, or aspire to. Hopefully. That's my goal.
Ellis: You know, we try to make them humans with real problems and are dealing with a lot, because kids deal with a lot. Being thirteen, fourteen, is not an easy time.
CB: I wouldn't want to be fourteen again.
Ellis: Being a fourteen year old girl is not a good time, and these girls are so freaking smart. Everybody really talks down to teenage girls. That's bullshit. They're the best. Teenage girls are the best, they are so smart and so interesting. We really wanted to make a series that was like, “Yeah these are really amazing people” and show them as amazing people because they are.
CB: I've talked to a lot of creators and I don't know if I've heard this as passion for characters as I have from you guys.
Stevenson: They are very close to our hearts.
CB: Yeah! Obviously.
Stevenson: I think in a lot of ways we're nurturing younger versions of ourselves, or different facets of our personalities. You know, this is who I was at this time, and I feel very protective towards all of them. None of them are exactly like us, but they're definitely….
Allen: There's a lot of wish fulfillment in it I think. Like I wish I had been this character, and I wish I had these friends.
Stevenson: I wish when I was that age, I would have been as fearless as these girls. Like in the face of some of the challenges they go up against.
Ellis: And I find that really an incredible image to find out in the world, honestly, because like I said there's so many pop culture situations where it's a girl who is a lone wolf because her friends “don't really know her man!” but having models for a good group of supportive friends, you want to be those girls' friends. And that's pretty freaking cool too. It's a cool thing to have in your life and to look up to. We're not making War and Peace here, it's just a comic. But we're very passionate about it.
CB: I think so!
Ellis: About making it the best comic that it can be.
CB: Well this is part of the new diversity of comics. There's a lot going on in the mainstream, but right below it- especially with creator-driven stuff it's very specific to the people who are creating it and there's a lot of strong female creators now working in that area. Which is exciting to see.
Ellis: Well we're very lucky that BOOM!- I'm a senior editor at BOOM!, that's my day job, and we're really lucky that BOOM! is a situation where three out of the four senior editors are women, and so it's a super diverse staff. There's a lot of ladies, a lot of people from different backgrounds working at BOOM!, and we're so lucky because Ross Richie, the CEO, and Matt Gagnon, the editor-in-chief, trust us a lot.
They give us a lot of freedom because we're all super-duper oriented towards quality. And as a result from our backgrounds can get a very diverse group of creators that get to work for us. At KaBoom, we've got people from every corner in the indie comics universe making kids' comics, and exposing kids to those comics and that's really really important for the next generation of comics readers. They can read this Adventure Time comic and go “I really like that one!” and look up that artist's other work. Now they've got a whole universe of comics that they can resonate and find out what they like and don't like out of a kids comic, which I think is really important.
CB: It is. Now that you mention, is there a hint anyway about an LGBT relationship in the book too?
Ellis: No no no, that's the thing. They're twelve years old and they're having a lot of feelings, obviously. And we are a big group of creators who have all kinds of LGBT feelings. So we're all part of that community. They're twelve years old. They're just figuring some stuff out and we really wanted that journey to be a part of it as well.
CB: It's a little bit of living your values, I think.
Ellis: Yeah, and that's kind of really what this is about. That's a journey that deserves to be explored a little bit. And you know, they're twelve obviously so it's not...
Allen: It's not like rapey or anything.
Stevenson: I think it's very like puppy love.
CB: Well sure at that age anyway. Well that's the thing, at that age you're exploring who you are. Like you're saying. You don't know where you're going to be.
Stevenson: And I definitely think there's something that comes especially with children's media where we dance around it, we can't really talk about it. And it's something that is considered racy even when it's something that's just innocent. That's why I think it was very important when I showed that it's this innocent thing. It's this very pure love, but it happens to be between two girls.
CB: It's really important I think in literature to find that kind of material.
Allen: It is very important.
CB: It's something that's not cloying for girls either. Something that they can really see themselves in.
Allen: Yeah. Exactly. That's kind of our feeling toward it.
Stevenson: We're trying not to talk down to anybody.
CB: That's generally a good philosophy in life.
Stevenson: They're smart.
Allen: They're probably smarter than us.
Ellis: A lot of kids are really smart. That's the main feeling among anybody is that kids are super smart. We don't want to talk down on anybody, we want to make comics that everybody loves and wants to read and really present the way that we feel about teenage girls. Is that they're super freaking smart, and they know what they're doing. So give them the benefit of the doubt.
Stevenson: Yeah, and I think that our society does not like to listen to teenage girls, and it's very hard to be a teenage girl.
Ellis: Especially when everybody is looking at your media saying “This isn't real because it's for you.” That's total bullcrap.
Stevenson: Yeah, I think that any support that you can put out for teenage girls is like super important.
Ellis: Yeah. Exactly.
CB: We have a lot to talk about later at a party. You're hitting a lot of my sweet spots. I could rant about that all day. I haven't seen your comic yet because it's just out.
Ellis: Yeah it's a regular, all color, comic. It's a monthly comic. It was going to be a limited issue series, but it looks like it's going to be an ongoing now because lots of people have supported it, which thank you everyone who went to your local comic store ad pre-ordered because that's what's making it possible for us to keep making you Lumberjanes as long as possible.
CB: That's so cool, so you're finding a regular market to put your comics out.
Ellis: Yeah, it's really incredible the way that the direct market has responded to this. I really feel like it's a filling a void. There's not a lot of books out there in direct market, and so we've been finding a lot of direct market support.
But also, like I said we're trying to educate people on the importance to pre-ordering your favorite to support your favorite comic books. The best thing that you can do in the world is go to your favorite comic book store and place an order for a comic book that you like. Because it shows retailers that you want it. That you want it there. You want more comics like it, and that's super-duper important because those are the numbers that matter to publishers.
Your book can be as popular as you want later, but unless you get those initial numbers on the direct market, we're just not able to kind of put it out there for very long. But it's really finding support, and there's a lot of stories that these girls have to tell.
CB: They'll leave camp, but they'll still have stories.
Ellis: Oh they're going to stay at camp for a while. This is only the first part of camp.
CB: That's a busy couple of weeks, then.
Ellis: Yeah! I mean there's a lot of critters.
Allen: Our first week of camp was weird.
CB: It's like your own little comic convention how dense those experiences are. Oh, if it's Tuesday it's must be a vampire.
Ellis: But yeah so we're really excited about it
CB: You guys seem very passionate about it.
Ellis: Well really there was a spark, I feel like, in the beginning that we all kind of felt for it. Like it was something really special. Hopefully people like it. This is literally the first day that it's been out in the world. It's a big deal. We're launching it here. Big deal. Hope you guys like it!