Campfire girls: 'Lumberjanes' #9 is a great jumping-on point

If you read about comic books on the Internet, and I have reason to believe you do, then chances are you've seen a lot this year about Lumberjanes.

And there's good reason for that. First, the monthly series from BOOM! Studios is the sort of book many talkers-about-comic have been saying we need more of forever: It's full of strong female protagonists, and it's the work of strong female creators. (It's a comic book about a group of awesome ladies, by awesome ladies!)

Second, and more importantly, it's really, really good. It's the story of five teenage best friends who occupy the Roanoke cabin of their Girl Scouts-like summer camping organization — April, Jo, Mal, Molly and Ripley — and their discovery of, and battles, against all kinds of weirdness in the woods around them. In the first, eight-issue arc they became involved in a contest between Greek gods, fighting three-eyed woodland creatures, yetis, dinosaurs and giant lightning bugs in the process. All that while earning merit badges.

Why do I bring this up? Well because if you've been reading about Lumberjanes and haven't yet sampled it, this week's issue is a pretty great jumping-on point.

Regular artist Brooke Allen gets the month off, so in that regard a reader starting here will miss at least one element of the previous eight issues. It's worth noting, however, that fill-in artist Brittney Williams does a fine job, and while she doesn't ape Allen's style, hers is well within range of it, offering a slightly smoother, more manga-esque take on the characters.

Also missing is Noelle Stevenson's regular co-writer Grace Ellis, but in her place is Shannon Watters, Lumberjanes co-creator and an editor with the publisher's "BOOM! Box" imprint. And there's a whole cabin full of guests artists, as the format of this issue is conducive to guests: The girls are telling ghost stories around the campfire in an attempt to earn their "If You've Got It, Haunt It" badge, and each character's story gets drawn by a different contributor.

This issue doesn't continue the plot of the previous ones, though, and therefore doesn't offer much of a sampling in the way of the Lumberjanes' action-packed, almost-absurdist adventures against the occult and general strangeness, but it does introduce the entire cast, including their counselor Jen, hint at their various personalities and relationships, and, more than anything else, offers a clear picture of Lumberjanes' rather particular aesthetic and sense of humor.

This issue, the credit's page tells us, isn't just an anthology issue, it's a "Flippin' Sweet Susan B. Anth-Ology!" Ah, feminism puns!

The Williams-drawn framing sequence shows the girls around the fire, Jen's repeated attempts to tell stories that keep getting shouted down by the girls on account of their lameness (her When A Stranger Calls-esque first attempt, drawn by Aimee Fleck, turns out to be a wrong number), and their reactions to each other's stories.

In between are a half-dozen super-short horror stories of two pages in length — actually Faith Erin Hicks, who writes as well as draws hers, gets two and a half pages — and various degrees of scariness.

Felicia Choo's "Tailypo" and T.Zysk's "Old Betty" are actually kinda scary horror stories of a traditional sense, with the former being a sort of legend involving a forest monster and the latter a ghost story. In both cases, the art makes them scarier.

Becca Tobin's "Bad Candy" is a semi-psychedelic story told by Ripley, the youngest and weirdest of the girls (and the break-out star; if the Lumberjanes are the X-Men, she's Wolverine ... and not just because she gets thrown in a "fastball special" in Lumberjanes #8).

And, finally, Carolyn Nowak's "Lonely Road" is "a tale of TRUE HORROR" that doubles as good advice for anyone doing any traveling this winter season.

And if you like the story of these stories, there's an eight-issue story arc, soon to be available in a trade-paperback collection, that you'll probably like even more.

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