Spirits in the Woods: Writer Jen Wang on ‘Lumberjanes: Makin’ the Ghost of It’
This Wednesday, May 18, sees the release of the 2016 Lumberjanes special, Lumberjanes: Makin: the Ghost of It, written by Jen Wang with art by Christine Norrie and colors by Maarta Laiho. It tells the story of the Lumberjanes going on a plant-foraging hike that leads to a haunted mining settlement, and the mystery that follows them back to camp. We spoke to Wang about the story, and the direction she approached everyone's favorite summer campers from.
Comics Alliance: What's it like to write in a world that's been so clearly defined by a small group of creators? Were you worried about getting the character's voices right?
Jen Wang: I feel the nice thing about being a guest writer is you're expected to write things in your voice, so I felt pretty free to play with the characters as I liked. I would pull from my own experience of what it's like to be grumpy, or have anxiety. If anything strayed too far from being in-character the editors would be there to point it out and we'd work that out.
CA: How do you find the line between fantasy and reality in the Lumberjanes world? Was that something you discussed with the regular creative team?
JW: Having the tone already set with all the previous issues of Lumberjanes helped! As a more reality-based writer I just tried to focus on things I found strange and mysterious in the real world (like axe murders and poisonous plants).
CA: Was this your first time working with Christine Norrie? What was your collaborative process like?
JW: Yes! Christine's a total pro, so honestly most of it was her sending over process materials and me happily signing off on everything. I'm personally in favor of artists having control over the look and pacing of the comic so I'm very hands off with that part of the process. I like to be surprised!
CA: Did you ever go to summer camp as a kid? Were there any real experiences you drew on when writing the Lumberjanes?
JW: I did one summer camp trip in Taiwan when I was a kid, but I didn't actually draw upon that experience at all because the context of that was just so different! I do like hiking and camping a lot as an adult, so if anything I pulled more from those experiences. Just the idea of having a good time and feeling safe with your friends even though you're totally out there and vulnerable in the outdoors.
CA: Do you believe in ghosts? And do you have a favorite ghost story?
JW: I don't really believe in ghosts but I love mysteries! I follow a lot of real life unsolved mysteries on the internet so you can say I'm haunted by those stories. There's a case about a young woman named Maura Murray whose car was found abandoned in a wooded area in New England, and the lack of leads about what happened to her are really chilling. These are the things I read at night to scare myself.
CA: What are your feelings on the whole "foraging for edible plants" thing? Is that something you've done yourself?
JW: I've not foraged directly myself but I have close friends who do. I'm extremely cautious of things I'm not familiar with, especially when it comes to food, so the story sort of pulls from my own silly anxieties about being handed wild plants to eat by friends.
CA: Which of the Lumberjanes do you relate to the most? Do any of them particularly remind you of yourself at their age?
JW: I'm probably the most like Jo, in that I'm fairly calm and analytical most of the time. I relate a lot to Mal though, as someone who also puts on a tough exterior but is actually very soft and anxious on the inside.
CA: Obviously this is a stand alone book, but do you have plans to return to Lumberjanes?
JW: No current plans, but we'll see if there are opportunities in the future!
CA: For those who enjoy your work on this book (as I certainly did), what's your next project that we should keep an eye out for?
JW: I'm working on a solo graphic novel that will be released through First Second Books in 2017 called The Prince and the Dressmaker. It's about a young 19th century prince that secretly likes to wear dresses and hires a seamstress to make clothes for him. It's been a blast to work on, and I'm super excited for it to be out in the world!