NYCC: Camping Out with the Lumberjanes

The most dramatic moment at Friday's "Camp Out with the Lumberjanes" panel at New York Comic Con happened at the end, when artist Brooke Allen announced a new collaboration and called Marcus Orchard up to the stage.

Orchard wasn't there to work on "Lumberjanes." He had commissioned a drawing from Allen to propose to his girlfriend, Hannah Durham. "We have both loved comics for a long time, and I have gotten her into a lot of things, but this is one book she really liked," he told CBR after the panel. So he had Allen draw his proposal, and he brought Durham onstage, gave her the drawing, then dropped to one knee and popped the question.

She said yes, to cheers and applause from the panelists and the audience.

That moment aside, the panel focused on the significance of "Lumberjanes," an all-ages comic from Boom! Studios about a group of girls at scout camp who fight supernatural creatures.

Swapna Krishna of the comics website Panels summed up "Lumberjanes" succinctly: "In a world that kind of tells young women to sit down and shut up, this comic says 'No, don't do that,' and I love it." The audience whooped in approval.

Raina Telgemeier moderated the panel, which also featured "Lumberjanes" writer Shannon Watters. While a glance at the audience showed that "Lumberjanes" has a broad appeal, much of the conversation focused on the importance of representing girls and LGBTQ people in comics.

"How do you feel about the fact that girl centered, all-ages comics are busting down the doors of what used to be considered a male-dominated industry?" asked Telgemeier.

"Better late than never!" said Watters. "Every time I see your name on the New York Times best seller list, I do one of these," she added, pumping her fist.

"The readers were always out there, they just weren't necessarily putting out content for them," said Watters. "Everybody was finding whatever they could. I was on a panel where someone was talking about how they would go down to the drugstore and they would get these superhero comics that were all ladies. They were the worst, skimpy-costume kind of books, but it was all ladies so she was in middle school and she is picking up these books. So the readers have always been there they weren't necessarily being served, so we are excited to be part of the group of people attempting to serve them."

Allen and Watters swapped anecdotes about their own search for representation in comics -- Watters was such a fan of the character Clover in Chynna Clugston's "Blue Monday" that she made copies of the panels that featured her and put them up in her room. "I had her haircut," said Allen.

Two of the Lumberjanes, Mal and Molly, have a mutual crush on one another, and another character, Jo, was recently revealed to be transgender. "I think queer representation and all kinds of representation is so important," said Krishna. "That's why 'Lumberjanes' is so important, because if you don't see yourself in a comic, or on the page, any kind of page, if you don't see yourself represented when you are a young person, you start wondering whether you are the hero of your own story or whether you're only a side character in someone else's life story. Representation, seeing that what you think and what you feel, matters. That's why I love this comic."

"Lumberjanes" is set in a scout camp, and Telgemeier asked the panelists if they had ever been Girl Scouts in real life. "I loved Girl Scouts," said Watters. "I grew up in the middle of the woods" -- Sedona, Arizona, to be precise -- and she reminisced about exploring with a childhood friend. "There's something about being out in the woods with your friends that feels really magical and special, like you can do anything," she said.

Allen wasn't a Girl Scout, but her best friend was "a real-life Lumberjane," she said, and she lived at the end of a cul-de-sac surrounded by woods. "We had hatchets, we had a go-kart we used as a dog sled -- we were feral, running around in the woods and getting into all kinds of stuff," she said.

Watters and Allen spoke fondly of the different characters. From an artist's standpoint, Allen said, Ripley is the easiest to draw because she can go off-model, and April is the most challenging. "I love how you draw Marilyn, with her little bear sleeves," Watters told her.

"April is my most fun to write, because she's so bombastic," said Watters. "She reads a lot on the internet, she reads a lot of 'Rookie,' she gets a hobby and she's very into the hobby, she's so much fun because she's one of those people who dives headlong into whatever she is doing all the time."

"My most challenging, because it is so close and it was really great to write, was I wrote a lot of the Mal and Molly stuff in [issues] 10 through 13," said Watters. It was great because Mal and Molly, they are all so close that they are more challenging to write. They are fun to write but Molly especially, her backstory -- as you guys will know someday -- is so interesting and so personal to I think all of us that she always is a little bit challenging. I get to know Molly a little bit more every time."

"Thank you guys for being vulnerable enough to put yourselves on the page," said Telgemeier. "I think as readers we read it and we feel it, and that's why it resonates."

While the Lumberjanes have their fair share of wacky adventures, the book does dare to go deeper. "You can have an episode or arc where April is like 'Murders!' and she goes and she learns a valuable lesson about life," said Watters, "and then you can have something really intense like this last arc that Noelle did with essentially a friendship that didn't make it, and what does that look like, what does that history look like and how does that fit into what 'Lumberjanes' really is? This is a book about friendship. This is a book about our relationships with each other ... How does something like Rosie and Abigail's relationship fit into that? You can do both of those things in this world. I feel very blessed to have Grace and Noelle and Brooke doing this thing with me."

"We didn't expect it to be this," she said. "We just came to work and wanted it to be good."

Allen spoke of one reader who found "Lumberjanes" particularly resonant.

"There was a young queer person, seven years old, who came up to me," Allen said, "and her mom told me she doesn't like to talk about that stuff to most people, but she wanted to talk to me because of 'Lumberjanes,' and I was like 'Holy crap!' It means a lot. Any time a young human comes up to us and loves our book, it is like -- it just destroyed me."

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