All this month, we’ll be helping Children’s Hospital Los Angeles‘ Make March Matter campaign, which aims to raise over a million dollars in March alone for CHLA through the efforts of its corporate partners, among which we are proud to be numbered. Children’s Hospital Los Angeles sees over 528,000 patient visits annually, and is the top ranked pediatric hospital in California by US News & World Report. You can help Make March Matter by simply attending one of the many events or participating in one of the many initiatives being offered by CHLA’s partners (including our event on Saturday, March 25), all listed at www.makemarchmatter.org.
To help remind us all to Make March Matter to support children’s health, we’ve asked all our contributors here at the website to focus on books and comics for kids, or the books or comics that meant the most to them as kids, because we firmly believe that escaping into literature is just as important in keeping children healthy and happy.
Today’s piece is from novelist and comic-book writer Pat Shand:
If the comic book industry is interested in evolution, Lumberjanes is the example to follow.
I was initially drawn to the series because of the Buffy the Vampire Slayer comparisons – because, let’s be real, most of the new genre fic I check out in any media is because someone, somewhere, compared it to Buffy. 1 In this particular case, Lumberjanes was described as Buffy meets Gravity Falls and, elsewhere, Buffy meets Scooby Doo. I bought the first issue back when it first came out, hoping to find that elusive comic that actually followed through on its Buffy comparisons – but nope. Lumberjanes was nothing like I’d expected.
And, this time, that was a good thing.
Lumberjanes is beyond description, in some ways, because it is utterly unique. Yes, it’s “summer camp with badass lady-types who encounter mystical creatures.” Yes, it’s an empowering young adult fantasy comic with openly queer characters that doesn’t rely on subtext and metaphor. Yes, it’s loaded with quippy dialogue and big action and humor and high drama. Kind of. Kind of. Because while Lumberjanes does do all of that, the way in which it pulls off those feats is like nothing I’ve ever read.
The characters speak in ways specific to the world of Lumberjanes, which builds on layered recurring jokes while also creating a real and complex linguistic system. The plots twist and rise and fall and resolve in ways that completely subvert structure but are still thoroughly satisfying. The focus of the story is constantly changing from arc to arc, while often bringing back elements from the past to build on the overarching mythology – sometimes, for big payoff, sometimes for a joke. And that’s just the thing. As a writer and a voracious reader, I have that constant voice in my head that attempts to predict where stories are going… and with Lumberjanes, that voice is never, ever correct. Lumberjanes is the kind of book that tells that voice to shut up and strap in for the most energetic ride on comic stands.
That isn’t to say, though, that Lumberjanes shouldn’t be read critically. Besides the fact that it’s boundlessly fun and unpredictable, it is also a deeply intelligent and thoughtfully written comic that, I believe, is important in a way that few monthly series are. There are many terrific young adult and all-ages comics out there, but Lumberjanes shows characters that we don’t often see as the stars of their own stories. Lumberjanes has a diverse cast made up exclusively of powerful women diverse in every way, from their characterization to their body types to their behavor, including two girls who are dating, people of color, a transgender girl, and many other lovely characters – and the book is just ceaselessly fun. There are many young readers who grew up reading books, but never found themselves represented in a character – and Lumberjanes offers that, all as part of perhaps the most original story in the past decade to boot.
The original creative team on Lumberjanes, including Nimona creator Noelle Stevenson, has left the book, but it’s currently still going strong with a new team, as well as guest creators who contribute stories to spin-offs, crossovers, and one-shots. I remember my joy upon learning that this strange little series had been expanded from a miniseries into an ongoing, but I could’ve never imagined how successful it would become. And I think that’s something that might be holding back creative progression in this industry – that fear that an utterly unique comic, a story that can’t really be described without being fully read, cannot succeed in this industry. Here’s the truth, though: there is an audience out there waiting for something new. Something that hasn’t been done before.
There are countless eager readers, young and old alike, searching for that elusive story that will finally speak to them. Those comics might be out there, right now, if we just take a deeper look.2
1: If you’re still looking for a comic that compares to Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and I don’t blame you, Buffy: The High School Years is a terrific series of graphic novels. It doesn’t have the sprawling continuity that the ongoing comic series has, and each of these short graphic novels functions as an episode that would feel at home early in the seasons. In their own way, these capture that early what’s-going-to-happen energy that Buffy had in those years, which is quite a feat, considering that we very much do know what’s going to happen by the end of the series, considering we’ve saw it in 2003.
2: Here are, just for the fun of it, some unique comics that I think young adult readers will like. They’re not quite like Lumberjanes – but then, nothing is. That’s kind of the point!
- Strong Female Protagonist by Brennan Lee Mulligan & Molly Ostertag
- Drama (and, really, anything) by Raina Telgemeier
- Lost at Sea by Bryan Lee O’Malley