In case you haven’t heard of it yet, Lumberjanes is a brilliant new comic created by Shannon Watters, Grace Ellis and Noelle Stevenson (written by Stevenson and Ellis) and gorgeously illustrated by Brooke Allen (I want to also mention colourist Maarta Laiho and letterer Aubrey Aiese because they’re doing such a great job).
It’s a comic featuring an all-girl cast of characters who go to a camp called:
They are Lumberjanes - not unlike girl scouts, but for “hardcore lady-types”. The first issue came out last week and the comic announced itself by fiercely and wonderfully subverting the Red Riding Hood story.
*** SPOILERS AHEAD (But, come on, really, it’s just the first issue, you know? Introductions, setting the stage etc. Can’t really spoil much.) ***
The comic starts with April, one of the 5 friends who are clearly going to be the central characters in the series, who is out in the woods at night dressed in a red hooded cloak (not too subtle, but fun).
(The artwork. Seriously, look at it.)
She’s soon joined by her friends, who are all a little nervous, because creepy woods, total darkness, etc., but they’re no babes in the woods. They are soon attacked by a leash of huge, three-eyed, sabre-toothed foxes (yeah, that’s right) and this is their reaction:
These girls don’t need adult male saviours, they are more than capable of taking care of themselves, thank you very much. They are clearly smart, brave, resourceful and ready to handle the tough situations.
The comic dials down on the sugary sweet twee-ness often employed in cartoons/comics aimed at young girls, but it dials up on the sisterhood factor which is great to read. You also have protagonists who don’t really look like the usual mainstream Disneyfied heroine type. They’re a pretty diverse set of kids with distinct personalities and characteristics.
It’s important to remember that this book is aimed at young girls, and the goal is pretty clearly to introduce them to basic feminism by giving them a space dedicated only to women/girls (much like My Little Pony), where the male POV is, for once, not just given no importance, it isn’t even given a reason to exist. The book frequently makes almost throwaway references to iconic/heroic women:
(I don’t know about you, but I may have hurrahed a little at that last panel. Not enough people know who Bessie Coleman is and if this book is getting kids to look her up on the net, KUDOS!)
In fact, although I can’t find a source to confirm this, I strongly suspect that the 5 friends are named after badass female characters in literature and pop culture. There’s Jo, who (it seems obvious to me) is named after the character from Little Women, and there’s Ripley, who is clearly named after the hero from Alien. I’m not very sure about the others. There’s red-haired April, who seems to be a nod to April O'Neil from TMNT, and there’s Molly, who could be a reference to… Molly Bloom? I have no idea where Mal gets her name from. I’m open to theories.
And guess what the Camp Director’s name is? Rosie! And guess what she looks like?
Remind you of someone?
Again, this stuff isn’t terribly subtle when you’re reading it as an adult who has some grounding in the history of gender politics and feminism. A lot of these references are fairly obvious ones, and most of the ideas here aren’t dazzlingly original. The hyper-masculine image of the lumberjack has been subverted before:
But this could be an incredibly important first step for kids to getting familiar with feminism and could also be validation for lots of young girls who feel bogged down by a patriarchal society’s expectations from them. It doesn’t hurt that it’s tons of fun as well.
But while this comic might be aimed at empowering girls, I think it’s positively fantastic reading for boys as well. The girls in the comic really kick ass, and they’re doing everything that boys like to read in the typical adventure novel or comic book. Give it to a young boy and it might just go a long way in preventing him from buying into patriarchal stereotypes of girls/women. In a world where I get asked questions like this about my non-existent son:
… I can say with a great amount of certainty that I would buy him this comic in a heartbeat.