I run a monthly graphic novel book club through the library called Let’s Get Graphic: Join our Graphic Discussion. It is an adults-only book club which meets monthly at a local restaurant, a comic book store, and the library. The members vote for the next book based on 6 titles I have selected around a central theme. What is incredibly interesting, and liberating as the administrator, is that the members are eager to read titles they have never heard of and genres they would not normally read.
The month of August, we voted on critically acclaimed children’s and teen graphic novels. Nominees including Bluffton by Matt Phelan, Mouse Guard, by David Peterson, Ghostopolis, by Doug TenNapel, Lumbjeranes, by Noelle Stevenson, Drama by Raina Telgemeier, and The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, by Eric Shanower. The group selected Lumberjanes, and I’d like to recap some of our discussion points and questions during our meeting.
Lumberjanes is an endearing story of five Lumberjane scouts at Miss Quinzella Thiskwin Penniquiqul Thistle Crumpet’s Camp for Hardcore Lady Types. Watched over by their Roanoke cabin master Jen and the scout-master Rosie, Jo, April, Molly, Mal and Ripley get into crazy adventures involving supernatural beings including three-eyed animals and hipster Yetis. These independent Lumberjane scouts show what it means to use your brains and brawn to get out of any situation.
It was great to have a room full of adults discussing a book intended for a much younger audience. Though many said something to the effect of, “It was a great book, just not my cup of tea,” we were able to overcome the initial shock of reading something with simpler vocabulary and illustrations and discuss some details.
It is interesting to read this book from an adult perspective because we tend to read on two different levels: a societal level and the face value level. Reading Lumberjanes from a face value level, the story is about, as the characters say, “Friendship to the Max!” Five girls share a cabin and adventures work together to develop their own personalities while understanding that what makes us individuals is what makes us interesting when we are alone or in a group. We talked in depth about the societal value of the Lumberjanes crew. Some people are good at math and can use it to solve problems; others may not look overtly strong, but can take down a giant statue in an arm wrestling match. There are even some undertones of crushes among the Lumberjanes, all of which are completely normal within the context of the book. Some member read the book as purely a “kids getting into trouble at summer camp adventure” a la Stand by Me or The Goonies while others read deeply, seeing every aspect of the character’s speech or physicality as a larger commentary on society. The characters span a wide range of societal norms from girly-girls to more androgynous Lumberjanes.
The art is meant as an introduction into the comic book form. This comic is intended for kids/teens and the art makes it pretty obvious. Never more complicated than a 4 x 3 grid, it truly simplifies the storytelling aspects available to the creators. Artist like J.H. Williams III elevate sequential art to another level, layering on metaphor and added symbolism. However, what the art may lake in artistic flair it makes up for with unique, integrating character design. Each character has unique attributes which add to the situations they find themselves in. One of the taller characters has a comical encounter with a kiddy sized life jacket, another speaks in exclamations, their whole body squirming because they can’t get the words out of their mouth quickly enough.
It was really great to spend a month with the ladies of Roanoke cabin and to have a riveting discussion about their adventures, their futures, and how our unique perspectives and talents play a huge role on how we perceive the world. Here are a few more questions which were raised during our discussion:
Lumberjanes won a GLADD award in 2015 which landed it on many challenged and banned lists. What do you think about this? (Read this great article by the CBLDF here)
What types of comics would you expect a child growing up reading the Lumberjanes to enjoy when they are a bit older?
Lumberjanes does a great job of being inclusive without being overt about it. How do you think this balance was struck?
There are many feminist overtones in this book. Jen swears using the names of famous female role models; the Lumberjane scouts are taught it’s ok to sacrifice some lady-ness if it means helping a friend. What other types of feminism do you see in the Lumberjanes and does it add to or retract from the story?
The trade of the first volume had a lot of added matter including clippings from the Lumberjanes manual, the Lumberjanes oath, and explanation of the Lumberjane badges. What did you think of the format? Was there other supplemental information you think would have been nice to have?
What questions would you like to discuss at a book club about the Lumberjanes?