I spent 11 summers at overnight camp, not so different from that of Lumberjanes series, as a camper, a staff member, and eventually a supervisor. I counted once, and I think by the time I was 21 I had spent almost a year and a half, more than 5 percent of my whole life, at camp, if I included every summer, every youth group retreat, and every event I staffed over the years. The thing is though, I never had the life-changing camp experience you hear stories about. I didn’t exactly make best friends for life. I’m still in touch with some folks, but not in a deep way so many of the kids I grew up with still are. I didn’t have any revelations about my life or anything like that. In fact, I probably spent half of my summers depressed (and sometimes even traumatized) and constantly regret not having had the kind of experience at camp I’m always told you’re supposed to have.
I think that’s why I’m so obsessed with Lumberjanes. Lumberjanes is a comic book series created by Shannon Watters, Brooklyn Allen, Grace Ellis, and Noelle Stevenson and published by BOOM! Box, a BOOM! Studios imprint. The 75 issue series, which just culminated after five years in Lumberjanes: End of Summer #1, follows the campers of Roanoke Cabin: Mal, Ripley, Molly, April, Jo.
At Miss Qiunzella Thiskwin Penniquiqul Thistle Crumpet’s Camp for Hardcore Lady Types, there are all your typical camp activities and scouting badges to obtain. But, there are also mythical creatures, Greek gods, and ancient magic. Most magical of all though, perhaps, is the pure joy, fun, and acceptance at the camp’s core.
Camp is billed as this place where kids can go to be themselves, grow, learn, and have fun. And to a large degree, this is absolutely what camps provide. However, I also know from my years as a camper and a staff at camp that camps have not always been places where every last camper can share in that same love. Kids and staff alike who did not fall neatly into the gender and sexuality binaries were so often shunned or shamed away from camp. The shame induced by the communal living environments mixed with deeply ingrained gender norms and roles simply made a lot of kids and counselors quit camp forever. This not only is a huge shame for those folks being excluded but for all the kids who remain too, who will not have the great joy of experiencing and loving people who don’t conform to gender and sexuality binaries. This is all not to mention the tokenization of the occasional non-white kid and the ostracization of kids deemed “weird” or “unpopular,” such as myself in the case of the latter.
In the camp of Lumberjanes series, it’s not just that every kid is accepted, they just get to be. Kids from different ends of gender, romance, and sexuality spectrums get to simply be themselves without other characters ever questioning it, pointing it out, or making some sort of grand plot of it. When two girls kiss, it’s just the standard fair of any teenagers. When a camper from the local boy’s camp decides they want to join the Lumberjanes and start using they/them pronouns, a cabinmate asks their pronoun preference, they move into the cabin to live there, and that’s just that. The examples go on and it is simply a joy to experience a world as it should be issue after issue.
I read the entirety of Lumberjanes in just about 24 hours. I became deeply invested in the characters, their relationships to one another, their wacky but often really deep plots, and their growth over the course of the summer. The greatest joy of being a camp counselor for so many years was watching my campers grow up, and continuing to watch many of them begin to graduate high school. Seeing them grow over a summer, and year after year is truly special. Observing this in the microcosm of a comic book series nailed all of those same feelings. Even if I had only just met the books’ characters, I couldn’t help but feel overjoyed at every fear they overcame, every lasting relationship they built, and every time they would love and support each other through difficult things.
The relationships in Lumberjanes whether romantic, best-friendships, camper to counselor, or older adult to younger adult mentorships, were what the series was really all about. There are so many things I could gush about: Ripley’s love for their counselor Jen, Mal and Molly’s budding romance, April and Barney’s newfound best friendship, and how it doesn’t preclude April’s existing best friendship with Jo. But there are two things I love above all.
I love that the characters in Lumberjanes, no matter their age, are all very willing to apologize when they’ve hurt one another, and equally willing to call somebody out when their apology is more of an actor of self-depreciation than something they should have to apologize for. I also love that the series spends time demonstrating the camp director Rosie, and other adults in the series’ mentorship of Roanoke counselor Jen. My camp director during my years working at camp always told the staff the really, camp was about the staff and the skills and experiences we gained during our summers there. These relationships in Lumberjane illustrate so beautifully the importance of intergenerational friendships.
Lumberjanes, whether you grew up at camp or not, is a masterpiece for its witty storytelling and writing, its beautiful art, regardless of who was drawing and coloring it, and the way its characters get to simply thrive to their fullest selves. But for anybody like me who did grow up at camp and maybe, also like me, didn’t get to have the beautiful, magical experience the Lumberjanes do, read this series.
When I finished reading Lumberjanes, I wept. Not only because the ending was beautiful. It was. But also because it helped me, perhaps just a little bit. The passage of time is a major theme in Lumberjanes. I didn’t have the life-changing experience at camp that the Lumberjanes did, or that so many of my peers there did. But, I also can’t suspend myself in an endless summer in my mind, regretting that 5 percent of my life didn’t turn out as perfectly as it did in a comic book.
Rather, if I want to take Lumberjanes‘ lessons about what camp could be for kids (and its staff) to heart, I have that opportunity through the work I continue to do professionally and in my volunteer time. And I should take it. It’s the Lumberjane way. Let my experience and my regrets drive me, not drag. me down, and may future campers have summers as transformative as the Lumberjanes’.