Girl Power to the Max: SLJ Chats with the Creators of the “Lumberjanes” Comics

The all-female conceived and produced “Lumberjanes” comics are truly a unique team effort. SLJ caught up with three of the creators, Shannon Watters, Noelle Stevenson, and Brooke Allen to discuss their collaborative process and inspiration for the campy series.

SLJ1503-UpClose_Lumberjanes_pg20SLJ1503-UpClose-Lumberjanes-CVThe all-female conceived and created “Lumberjanes” series is truly a unique team effort. Boom! Studios has collected the first four issues of the friendship-centered comic about a crew of girls who fight monsters at a sleepaway camp into one volume. SLJ caught up with three of the creators, Shannon Watters (cocreator and coauthor); Noelle Stevenson (coauthor); and illustrator Brooke Allen to discuss their collaborative process and inspiration for the campy series.

How did you all come to collaborate on “Lumberjanes”? Shannon Watters (SW): I’m a senior editor at Boom! It kind of came out of an idea that Grace Ellis (cocreator) and I had about a Girl Scout camp where weird supernatural stuff happens. Brooke and Noelle came on early. We’re really lucky. Without one piece of this puzzle, it never would have gotten off the ground. Brooke has such an understanding of the characters and the way that they move is so organic.

Brooke Allen (BA): The script and the writing were already there. Characters were already so realized I didn’t have to do much—just bring them to the page.

Shannon Watters Photo by Carolyn Yates

Shannon Watters
Photo by Carolyn Yates

Why do you think that this was the right moment to work on this project? SW: The industry is waking up to what’s been true for a long time: That there are diverse readers. That there are women working in comics, such as DC editor Karen Berger, the incredible visionary who discovered Neil Gaiman and Alan Moore.

Noelle Stevenson (NS): I know that I wouldn’t be in this industry at all if it weren’t for the many women comics creators who are doing inspiring work on the web. We’re all here as a result of this environment that has been nurtured by these very smart badasses on the Internet. Female-created and female-led stories have always been there. Maybe the visibility wasn’t as clear then as it is now. We’re all bringing something to this that is uniquely our voice. It’s the fact that we all ended up here together that this specific thing exists the way it does now.

What is your creative process like? SW: We [the writers] brainstorm elevator pitches. One of us will expand it into a longer draft. The others will tear it up a little bit. After a few rounds of that, we switch off and write the bones of the script. We continue to pass it back and forth. Then it goes to Brooke, and she elevates it, adding great visual jokes.

NS: In terms of the creative process, Brooke’s art influences us, too. We write a scene in a certain way, knowing that Brooke will be able to bring it to life in a satisfying [manner]. In the first issue, I wasn’t sure where Ripley was going as a character, but Brooke fleshed her out. The type of working relationship that we shoot for is one in which everyone’s voice is spotlighted in every possible way.

SW: In a medium like this, it’s really all about graphic storytelling. Artists could create comics without writers, but writers couldn’t create comics without artists.

BA: Maarta [Laiho]’s colors are also amazing. She does a gorgeous job. Everybody on the “Lumberjanes” team is great and essential.

Why do you think the series has become such a success? SW: People are hungry for stories that are different from the usual content—including white cisgender males. It makes our industry healthier to have different points of view represented. Ensemble stories like this one truly seem to resonate with people

Noelle Stevenson Photo by Leslie Ranne

Noelle Stevenson
Photo by Leslie Ranne

NS: When parents bring their children into comics stores, I think they don’t have that much selection for kids in general. Maybe superheros—but nothing else in the vein of an adventure story. But finding a nonsexualized portrayal of girls is even more difficult to find. There’s definitely a gap. It’s foolish to ignore that demographic. And even though we’re writing it for young women, it doesn’t mean that they’re the only ones who can enjoy it.

We wanted to provide stories with girls that people can look up to and boys that are sweet and caring. We want to round out the offerings that typical comics shops tend to have. There can be a girly girl who is really strong or a tomboy who gets scared: there are so many different ways to write female characters. My favorite parts of the series are the offhand references to powerful female cultural icons.  SW: I think that was a Grace inspiration. I usually choose a person based on the story. In issue #10, they were running from dinosaurs, so I chose to include a pioneering paleontologist. “For the love of Mary Anning,” I think it was. It’s usually ladies that are cool and that we think nine-year-olds should Google. Diversity has become such an important conversation in children’s literature and publishing. Where do you think “Lumberjanes” fits in that conversation? NS: I think the stories that kids grow up on change their perception of how they see themselves. For kids, characters are very important, because they project themselves onto the protagonists and learn life lessons through them. If a boy grows up reading about people who are like him, going on adventures, slaying dragons, and rescuing princesses, that can affect how he will see himself and what he believes he’s capable of as he grows up. Whereas a girl who sees female characters behave only in a certain way, might not think the same possibilities that exist for a boy can exist for her. The same thing can be said for a kid of color. You’re putting limitations on their imaginations. If kids see someone who looks like them succeeding and failing in the pages of a book and learning lessons, their ideas of themselves broaden. When you have a character like April, who likes to do her hair and cute things, but still is the strongest person on her team, a girly girl can say, “I’m a girly girl, but I can be strong too.” Or they can be more like Mal, who is a tomboy, but often is afraid of things. And it’s okay to be scared. There can be a future where limits don’t exist. SW: And we want show kids that gay people exist, that they have stories too, and they’re not bad or going to die at the end of the story as a result of being gay. Brooke Allen Photo by Kevin Panetta

Brooke Allen
Photo by Kevin Panetta

Why do you think that it’s important for kids and comic fans of all ages to read about these girls who’s battle cry is often “Friendship to the Max!” SW: Female friendship in pop culture, because of patriarchy, usually plays into the same mentality: Girls have to be at each other’s throats. BA: If you’re not, then you’re too close—like The Craft. SW: I think it’s really important for there to be positive depictions of young female friendships. It’s one of the most important things for girls. Female friendships are so lovely and wonderful. It doesn’t seem right that it’s not depicted that way in pop culture. We wanted to show friendship as a positive force. BA: Growing up, there weren’t many franchises or shows depicting a group of girls whose relationships weren’t strained by popularity or a boy. SW: I’m a “Baby-Sitter’s Club” (Scholastic) scholar and advocate. It was such an incredible behemoth. You can talk to any woman of a certain age about it, and BSC was so important and influential to her. But it’s totally written off because it’s about and written for girls. “Lumberjanes” is based on the idea that this group of young women, who are ambitious and smart, become friends for life.

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