Noelle Stevenson, Grace Ellis and Brooke Allen’s “Lumberjanes” could be your new favorite series — or your daughter’s, or your dad’s, or your little cousin’s. It’s an utterly loveable example of how well all-ages comics can work when they shoot for the moon instead of aiming for the lowest common denominator. Fans of Stevenson’s online work will find that trademark enthusiasm and exaggeration in her and Ellis’ script, and Brooke Allen’s noodle-y, ever-gesticulating characters are a delight. Laiho paints an outdoors that’s rich with lively colors, and Aiese has chosen a spunky font that looks like Comic Sans’ hip younger sister. The whole thing is just so stuffed with charm and exuberance that it’s easy to forgive any smaller flaws.
Issue #1 introduces a plucky band of Lumberjane Scouts — Jo, Ripley, Molly, Mal and April — who have to fight off the supernatural and super-weird creatures that live in the woods around their summer camp. The character designs for these scouts are quirky and full of character, immediately distinguishing each girl while still keeping it all somewhere on the spectrum between urban Pinterest enthusiast and Maine hipster. There’s some small effort to point out their personalities, but the emphasis is on their team dynamic and friendship. Besides, Allen and Laiho have done such a fine job on the character designs that it wasn’t necessary to belabor everyone’s individuality. I’d like to see more of it as the series progresses, but it didn’t detract from the first issue.
The script is happy and hyperbolic, the sort of piece where characters cry, “What the junk?!” and, “Oh my Bessie Coleman!” It’s complemented by wild gesticulating, Laiho’s warm, cartoony colors and the unironic use of “kick kick kick” as an action callout. There’s a self-awareness to the over-the-top elements of the script, though, that isn’t gunning for parody or mean-spiritedness. The Lumberjane Scouts are really “going for it,” and Stevenson and Ellis seem to know that there’s a risk to doing anything with that much sincerity — a risk of looking silly or laughable. Rather than trying to make the Scouts look cool, Ellis and Stevenson embrace the absurdity of enthusiasm without demeaning their characters. The Lumberjanes are no less effective because their call to fight formation is “To Grandmother’s house we go!”
Fair warning: Allen does use rough panel edges, which I know some readers dislike on principle. It’s not my favorite approach either, but I can appreciate how the unrefined look gives everything a rough and outdoorsy edge.
Preferences aside, the biggest flaw in “Lumberjanes” is that the plot lacks tension or build. Admittedly, a story where foxes howl, “kitten holy” isn’t meant to be particularly suspenseful. However, although “Lumberjanes” has proven that it can create a wonderful atmosphere and likeable characters, it will need to prove that it can tell a well-paced story in the issues to come. Right now, I’m excited for more because I so enjoyed the vibe of the book, but to stay for eight issues I’ll also need some sense of stakes.
All in all, “Lumberjanes” #1 has utterly taxed my ability to find synonyms for charming. Go pick up a copy of this delightful, spunky, loveable book.