October 4, 2016

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All-Ages or Small-Ages #27 (Lumberjanes Volume 1 by Noelle Stevenson, Grace Ellis, Brooke Allen and Maarta Laiho)



See all of the past entries of All-Ages or Small-Ages here.

There are a wide array of all-ages comics out there from the classic Archie comics, through the  Sonic the Hedgehog and Disney, all the way to the original properties such as Lumberjanes. You might look at one of these books and think that, as an adult, it doesn’t have much to offer you. As someone who has discovered a deep fondness for titles such as this, I’ve been surprised by how rich and complex the stories can be. All-Ages or Small-Ages? is a feature that takes a look at the books that fall under this banner and attempts to analyse whether or not their assigned label is apt; is it a book that you can read along with your children?

The column about this comic has been a long time in the making. It’s been on the periphery of my vision for this feature’s lifespan and I’ve kept putting it off for fear of my reaction to it. It became this monolith of all-ages literature in a way that terrified me. I knew that it had all of the ingredients for something that I would love: a diverse cast, phenomenal creators and a story so far into the fantastical that it almost comes out the other side. There was always that nagging thought at the back of my mind: what if it simply wasn’t for me?

Lumberjanes is a story all about a group of young girls at a finishing school for ladies camp for hardcore lady types. One night that seems just like any other, they discover a mystical layer bubbling just below the surface; as a team, they decide to venture into the unknown and find out exactly what’s going on. Lumberjanes, at a metacontextual level, began as an eight issue miniseries and, due to its immediate and immense popularity, turned into a sprawling and beloved ongoing series that recently had its first crossover with the DC property Gotham Academy and has surrounding buzz of a blockbuster movie. From a basic glance at the series, it’s easy to see why.


There’s an undeniable energy to it from the very beginning that comes in part from Allen’s vibrant and expressive art, but credit is also due to Stevenson and her witty and yet immensely shrewd dialogue. You get drawn in from the first confrontation with the three-eyed wolves and the comic refuses to let you go until that final page. What originally seems like it may be simply a fun adventure story quickly becomes something far more engaging.

Allen's art immediately allows each character to feel unique and are recognisable from a cursory glance. Far too many characters are only discernible from their clothes and hair, which is still the case here, but Allen takes this a step further. Each member of the gang has their own body language and manner of facial expression. The gangly Jo always looks as though she's slightly uncomfortable in her body whereas the youngest, Ripley, constantly feels as though she's about to burst with excitement and anticipation. It allows you to form instant and concrete bonds with these characters from their very first appearances.

Looking at individual panels, there are body proportions and positioning that might, at first glance, appear unrealistic. However, Allen's aesthetic is one that prioritises functionality over surface-level photorealism. It forces you to look at each page as a discrete entity and appreciate the incredible storytelling and inter-page connectivity that she's able to create. There's a clear intention that follows through into the execution in her work that pushes her so absolutely into the echelons of artists that you need to keep an eye out for.


Stevenson and Ellis have crafted such a strong foundation in this introductory volume. What initially seems like an extrapolation of the imagination of the five protagonists at their summer camp becomes a narrative rich for plucking from. Mysteries and questions come barreling around each corner and you get drawn deeper and deeper into this world that they're creating together. With all of the intrigue that they sow, it's interesting to imagine where this story would have ended in its original eight issue context, but it makes me grateful that I have so much of this story to look forward to.

The diversity in this book has been rightfully lauded from people of all backgrounds. Without going into a list of everyone in the book, there's such a broad spectrum of races, sexualities, shapes and sizes that there's going to be somebody here for everyone to empathise with. Without feeling the need to spend time revealing each character's origin story and background, you can infer a large proportion of it from context. Unconditional friendships are formed and continue to grow and develop before your eyes, unlikely though they may be, and it really does give you much-needed dose of positivity.


Beyond all of that, underneath everything that this series does to divulge from the norm, it's still an immensely fun and exciting series. Everyone as a child dreamed of heading off into the woods with their friends to uncover a secret and magical world, so it's fulfilling and entertaining in a very innocent, yet enticing way. You get drawn alongside them in their adventure, trying to put all of the pieces together, solving all of the puzzles first and you come out of the other end immediately and intensely craving more.

This is a series that I regret not jumping onto when it began. With over 30 issues to catch up on, I feel like my appetite has been whet for more. When the writing and the art are as strong as they are here, it's immediately clear why this series has attained the heights and the popularity that it has. It's unique in a way that far too few books are at the moment, acting as a shining beacon for people from all walks of life as a place to gather. If you're a human on this planet who wants some happiness and pure enticement in a world as bleak as ours at the moment, then you need to consume all of this series immediately.
Let me know if there's a comic that you think I should be checking out. I'm always on the look-out for some more hidden All-Ages gold. Contact me at mark@thegreengorcrow.com or head over to check out the podcast that I co-host You Know What I Like...? on SoundCloud.