Friendship To The Max: Stevenson, Ellis, Allen And Watters Talk ‘Lumberjanes’ [Interview]
Boom! Box kicked off this year with a pretty intriguing announcement when they told us about Lumberjanes, a new creator-owned series created by Boom! Senior Editor Shannon Watters and Grace Ellis, written by Noelle Stevenson and Ellis, and drawn by Brooke Allen that tells the story of five girls who head off to scout camp and end up battling against the forces of the supernatural. It's pretty much everything I want out of a comic book right from that description, but there's always a little more to get excited about when it comes to the details.
To find out more, I spoke to the entire team about how the book is structured, why they chose to set it at a camp, and their devout and undying love for The Baby-Sitters Club. Also, the Spice Girls make an appearance you won't want to miss.
ComicsAlliance: We've heard a little about Lumberjanes and gotten the basic premise of summer camp girls versus monsters, but can you tell me a little more about what it's about?
Grace Ellis: Speaking kind of generally, these five girls were invited to attend this scout camp, and while they're there, they kind of stumble onto this supernatural mystery completely by accident. But as they dig deeper into all the weird stuff that's happening, it sort of seems like it wasn't an accident at all but a part of a designed plan, you know, something bigger and more elaborate. It's this whole thing involving monsters and larger supernatural elements that are kind of vying for something, and now these girls who were expecting to make lanyards all summer are suddenly solving mysteries and trying to find the big bad. But they’re totally up for it! They’re complete badasses.
CA: Not to spoil anything, but does that mean that there's some possibly sinister/possibly benevolent larger force manipulating events that the girls are going to have to face? Or is that one of those you'll-have-to-read-the-book sorts of questions?
GE: Eh, I don’t think it’s too spoilery to say that. I don’t want to go much more specific, though. I will say that the first issue is basically 100% foreshadowing.
CA: So will any lanyards actually be made? Are there supernatural monsters that have a weakness to friendship bracelets or other arts and crafts?
Shannon Watters: Oh man, wouldn’t that be hilarious if they could, like, Care Bear stare with their friendship bracelets?
GE: Hahaha, and they have like, transformation badges on their Lumberjanes sashes that they use to turn into Sailor Moon? You guys. I smell a rewrite.
Brooke Allen: I respectfully request a magical basket weaving moment. Did you guys have to do basket weaving? Or was that just a small town North Carolina thing?
CA: With regards to the characters, five leads is a pretty big cast to juggle in an ensemble book. How do they all fit in to individual roles in the story?
Noelle Stevenson: As a fan of superhero teams and Scooby-Doo, that’s more or less how I’ve been thinking of it - everyone brings something different to the table. All the girls have their distinct personality and their own strengths and weaknesses, and it’s fun to play with the dynamics within that group. Who’s the de facto leader, what are the close friendships within the overall group, how do their individual wants and motives tie in with the goals of the group as a whole? I've always been interested in that kind of thing.
SW: I have this slightly irrational and totally enduring reverence for the Baby-Sitters Club, which Grace and I talk about a lot because apparently in my late 20s that’s the kind of person I’ve become.
GE: Don’t hide your BSC light under a bushel. Let it shine.
SW: Thank you, bro. But from the standpoint of something like this question, the Baby-Sitters Club is kind of perfect? It’s been dismissed as a slice of nostalgia fluff by plenty of people quick to dismiss entertainment for young women in general, but that series sold 170 million copies. 170 MILLION COPIES. And that’s due in huge part to the talented folks at Scholastic, of course, but featuring an ensemble cast with distinctive personalities whose friendship formed the backbone of the series was legitimately the magic key. Readers love a strong ensemble group of friends. It’s a kind of comfort, I think. Look at Buffy the Vampire Slayer! Buffy herself was not the best part of Buffy (even though Buffy was awesome, Buffy forever). Like Noelle said, every character brings a different dish to the table, and it’s how all of that works together that’s interesting to explore, narratively speaking.
GE: I agree with what everyone has said so far, definitely, especially with regard to how an ensemble like this functions within a story. When Shannon and I were working on building this concept, we started with the characters and then came up with a set of problems that would be interesting for those characters to tackle. So now each character is a cog in the machinery of the narrative: The landscape of the story would be completely different if one of the characters suddenly stopped existing or something because so much of the story is based on these girls' friendship. We were very intentional in the way we conceptualized the characters, especially the main five scouts, so now when we’re writing it, it’s super easy to get in their heads and have them do whatever seems most natural, if that makes sense. Noelle is really, really good at that - imagining what they would do and really making them kids.
CA: The original announcement compared Lumberjanes to Gravity Falls, but I like the sound of "Buffy the Vampire Slayer meets Baby-Sitters Club" and "Scooby Doo goes to summer camp" a lot, too. Are there any other influences or cultural touchstones along those lines?
SW: Guys is it inappropriate to say “this photo”:
GE: Ha. What if we all just gave photo examples. Can someone draw me a picture of the Muppet Babies in a riot grrrl band so I can use that as my photo example? This is very important to the integrity of this project.
You know the part in Community where Troy and Abed dress up like characters from Alien? OK, now replace Troy and Abed with Janelle Monáe and Veronica Mars, and then put them in the forest from Malinda Lo’s book Huntress as Tegan and Sara’s Sainthood plays in the background. That’s Lumberjanes.
NS: Grace oh my god
GE: You're welcome, world.
CA: As far as the characters go, who's who? What do Jo, April, Mal, Molly and Ripley each bring to the table?
G: Just for reference, in the cover that’s going around, from left to right, they are Ripley, April, Jo, Molly and Mal.
N: JO is the leader. It's just her natural role. She's really booksmart and is the best at being a scout, like a tough-as-nails Hermione Granger. Her weapon of choice is books. Like she literally hits monsters with books.
APRIL is Jo's best friend, kind of her Watson, I think. April records everything that happens to them in her diary. She's really girly but totally hardcore and adventurous at the same time even though she's a little naive. She might seem like an easy target but she's actually the strongest out of all of them.
MAL is really punk but she has a lot of feelings too. She's pretty sensitive underneath all her toughness. She's the most strategic and gets grumpy when the other girls don't follow the plans she lays out. She and Molly are a thing.
MOLLY is kind of the strong silent type. She's brave and unflappable except where her disapproving parents are involved. She's a total sweetheart though, at least around her friends, but is defensive towards outsiders.
RIPLEY is like a human puppy. She's really high-energy and is the most likely to fling herself face-first into a dangerous situation without even thinking so she needs the other girls to look out for her and reign her in at times. Her feelings are very close to the surface.
SW: When I’m reading the scripts, I want to hug every single one of them 100% of the time.
BA: Likewise!! Picking a favorite is impossible for me. They're so fun individually, each one has aspects to their character that totally win my heart I can’t imagine picking just one. I just want to assemble them into an adorable megazord and watch them save the world.
CA: I was never a summer camp type of kid, so what's the appeal of doing a story set there? Is it just a matter of getting young characters away from parents, or is there something more to it?
NS: On the surface, yeah, you have to get the kids away from their parents before you can start having fun - but it's also its own self-contained world, it's kind of dropping a bunch of kids in the middle of the woods and letting them function as their own society. Yeah, you have grown-ups in the forms of administrators and counselors, but it's still very much about what the kids are doing. When you're at camp, everything there seems very important and the rest of the world is irrelevant - so this story comes from a place of, what if everything happening at camp really was super important in a supernatural, save-the-world kind of way?
SW: Also, the woods are a very naturally terrifying, awe-inspiring kind of place. Being alone with only your friends to rely on in this living, breathing, mysterious space raises the stakes.
GE: Mhmm, I agree. It’s really easy to make the stakes high at summer camp for those reasons and also because it’s basically a giant writers’ sandbox. We can make whatever we want happen at summer camp because summer camp is an anything-goes kind of place anyway.
CA: There's a lot of places to go with a metaphor like that for younger characters, where it could be freeing to not have to worry about the rest of the world, or something scarier because you're isolated in a place where you're alone against the world. For the characters, is that sense of isolation something that's liberating, or something that's terrifying?
GE: I think for the most part, they find it really liberating. The scouts are all pretty rambunctious anyway, and some of their family situations are a little weird, so being at this camp is almost a relief, in some ways, because now they just get to be completely themselves. That’s not to say that there aren’t terrifying moments that are the result of total isolation, but for the most part, it’s a positive force.
NS: In my experience at camp, there was a lot of homesickness for some kids but you were never alone. You have a different family at camp. Loyalty is really emphasized, you're looking out for your friends and they're looking out for you. You're spending all your time with them. Like I said, the outside world seems very far away when you're there, so for a few weeks anyway they're the only people that really matter. Of course at real camp there's always the understanding that you're not in any REAL danger - the Lumberjanes take it to a whole new level with real threats, but it's the same idea. They're a team, they're inseparable, and so they don't feel isolated.
S: FRIENDSHIP TO THE MAX!