BOOM! Studios' Lumberjnaes hits #50 next month - not bad considering it was only originally planned as a miniseries.
Created by Shannon Watters, Grace Ellis, Brooke A. Allen, and Noelle Stevenson in 2013, Lumberjanes has become a comic book staple and a multimedia powerhouse with prose novels, coloring books, and a live-action movie in the works; that's not to mention spin-off OGNS and a crossover with DC Comics' Gotham Academy.
Molly, Mal, April, Jo, and Ripley’s adventures in Lumberjanes are a seamless blend of supernatural and slice-of-life, whether the ‘janes are on a quest for a scrapbooking badge or a quest to reunite a band of punk rock mermaids.Celebrating the power of friendship to the max, Lumberjanes is a warm-hearted exploration of all the complications of young relationships, both the good and the bad and the good that comes from working through the bad in a healthy, thoughtful way.
In May 23's Lumberjanes #50, friends and creators new and old reunite to explore the history of Miss Qiunzella Thiskwin Penniquiqul Thistle Crumpet's Camp for Hardcore Lady Types and the mysteries it holds beneath the campgrounds while the Roanoke and Zodiac cabins team up for a light-hearted game of world conquest. Newsarama spoke with series editor Dafna Pleban, writer Kat Leyh, and colorist Maarta Laiho about the upcoming anniversary issue, including returning illustrator Brooke A. Allen’s special back-up story.
Newsarama: Kate, Maarta, Dafna, congratulations on 50 issues. When the original miniseries quickly turned into an ongoing, you must have had a sense that Lumberjanes was something special -- but did you anticipate it would still be going strong four years later?
Dafna Pleban: I wish I could say I was clever enough to have the foresight for a run this long, but I’m definitely not. I knew we had something special from the first issue and felt deeply lucky we had eight issues to explore this world and its characters, I knew Shannon, Noelle, Grace and Brooklyn had created a vibrant and fun enough world that there would always be more stories to tell, but I didn’t know we’d get to 50 issues - it’s already rare for independent comics to go past a year, but now we’re almost 5 years in. It’s deeply surreal and we feel deeply, deeply lucky.
Nrama: Is there a particular moment from working on the series that’s really stuck with you, or something about your time on the series that has been particularly impactful to you the way the book has been for readers?
Kat Leyh: I’ve had a lot of moments throughout the series when I just thought, “Wow, I get to write this and people are going to read it!” And it’s usually some really weird, cool action; or something queer and feminist. Seeing fans react positively to things like that has been really rewarding.
Maarta Laiho: For me it has been meeting the fans. I’ve met and talked to so many different people, who are all huge fans of Lumberjanes. Especially younger girls, many of whom are first-time comic book readers, who love telling me all about their favorite characters and moments. I’m happy to be a part of something that inspires and excites them.
Pleban: The first time Shannon pitched it. You know when you hear something and it just clicks? It was a bit like that. It sounded fully formed but it was also completely new. It very much felt like that missing puzzle piece, if that makes any sense - there was a hunger for this kind of story and this kind of world and this fit in perfectly.
Nrama: The ‘Janes have also appeared in their first middle grade novel, thanks to Mariko Tamaki and Brooklyn Allen, and the series has been optioned for film. Are there any updates on the movie, or the next book in Mariko’s series?
Pleban: I can’t spoil anything but I just got a glimpse at the third book and it’s going to be a blast. Mariko has been able to capture the ‘Janes experience in a whole new way. Brooklyn’s illustrations brings it all to life.
Nrama: Brooklyn’s got a short in the anniversary issue as well - can you tell us anything about it?
Pleban: I really don’t want to spoil, but a key piece of Lumberjanes history is explored. One of my favorite ‘Janes characters returns and the fans will get a peek into a key relationship in Rosie’s past.
Nrama: The anniversary special promises some “pretty gross discoveries” beneath the mess hall. Underground tunnels sounds like a mystery made for the Lumberjanes - can you tell us a little more about what April, Mal, and Ripley are getting up to under the campgrounds?
Pleban: The Lumberjanes camp is already full of mysteries - mysterious campers, weird portals, a vast history, and we thought we could use the fiftieth issue to delve a little deeper into what makes the camp tick. We’ve also been able to explore other cabins in the camp, and so to bring some of the other ‘Janes together, including Barney, Hes, Diane and others has been a delight!
Nrama: And while they’re exploring, Jo and Molly join the Zodiac cabin for a no doubt very chill, laid back board game. There’s no way playing a game of conquest with Diane could go wrong, right?
Pleban: ‘Janes are definitely known for their willingness to follow the rules. Scout’s honor!
Nrama: One thing I enjoy about Lumberjanes is the large cast, and all the dynamics that come with that - as a reader it’s cool to see something like exploring the tunnels in a preview and know maybe those three girls are going to get into a little more trouble than say, Jo, Molly, and April would if they were in the same situation. Is it tricky, having such a large cast and kind of keeping track of all those different dynamics in the camp?
Leyh: Actually one of my favorite things to write is exploring the different dynamics between the characters. We know by now how well they work together, but bringing in someone new or having them go off in different groups lets us see new sides of them.
Pleban: Kat and Shannon have such a deep understanding of the camp and the ‘Janes and watching them unfold both the history of the camp and introduce new elements - like the Zodiac cabin, etc., has been really really cool. The cast is big, but the story is about friendships so while we go to all sorts of fun places and meet all sorts of new folks, Kat and Shannon are really effective at honing in on why we should care about them because they obviously all really care about each other!
Nrama: In a similar vein, the dynamic between the Roanoke and the Zodiac cabins on the whole has always been very interesting to me. In the arc where Hes teams up with the Roanoke cabin to save the High Council, she’s very up front about her frustrations with the girls, particularly their well-meaning lack of awareness of how their insular friendships and actions impact the rest of the camp with regard to Diane.
It’s nice to see the campers working through these issues and navigate these varied kinds of healthy friendships. It’s a nuanced look at friendship that I think is often overlooked in media for young readers; was that something the team was always interested in exploring with Lumberjanes or just something that began to happen organically as the series continued to grow?
Leyh: When I came on, one of the things I was interested in was what the rest of the camp goes through while the Roanokes are doing their thing. I imagine each cabin probably has their own adventures going on that we can’t see, and I thought it would be interesting to have one of those cabins sort of butt up against the Roanokes. They aren’t the Roanokes’ enemies, just a different group of campers with a different dynamic, experience, and perspective.
Nrama: Will Barney and Marigold be in on the world conquering fun in this issue? It’s always really exciting to see Barney - in part because they’re nonbinary, but also because Barney’s always had a very consistent design since they were first introduced with the Scouting Lads. As a trans guy who doesn’t necessarily ‘look’ like a guy, or want to in a lot of ways, Barney the Scouting Lad getting to just be Barney the Lumberjane because they know it’s where they’re meant to be has been really heartwarming to see for me.
Leyh: Barney will be in on it. I like writing Barney as often as I can to really establish that they’ve integrated into the camp well, and yeah, to show that there are different ways of being trans or gender noncomforming. What really matters is being allowed the space to explore that on their own- no pressure.
Pleban: Barney is quickly becoming my favorite Lumberjane. Not only are they deeply sweet and really just the perfect embodiment of “beautiful cinnamon roll, too good for this world” they also have the same priorities as me: friendship, cats, friendship with cats!
Nrama: And getting back to the tunnels - will the discoveries the girls make beneath the mess hall have a big impact on the next few issues?
Pleban: That’s half the fun of the Lumberjanes world, isn’t it? Even when coming up against the most fearsome of creatures, they still manage to make friends, so I’d keep an eye out, is all I’m saying!
Nrama: Even beyond this next arc: what’s next for the Lumberjanes? Can we hope for four more years of adventures?
Pleban: Pleeeeease. Lumberjanes is such a bright spot in my day and I hope for the folks reading as well. The world is a really gnarly place right now but in Lumberjanes most of the problems are solved through understanding and empathy and sometimes you need a window into a better world and a better way of doing things.
Nrama: I imagine it’s tough to pick just one favorite thing about Lumberjanes - if you can name just one, I would love to hear it, but more specifically … if you could have one of Ripley’s super-powered cats like Marigold, what kind of super-powered cat would you pick?
Leyh: The unlimited potential of what these girls will encounter...is really fun to write. Not being limited by one set of rules or one mythology allows for some fun twists - like a hoard superpowered kittens or punk rock mermaids with electric guitars (somehow) is perfectly within the realm of possibility. Carey Pietsch drew a kitten with three eyes that was floating... I don’t know what that cat’s deal is, but I like it. I’d want that one.