'Lumberjanes': A conversation with Noelle Stevenson and Shannon Watters
Consider Lumberjanes the best comic that you’re probably not reading — yet. The BOOM! Studios series about a group of girls at scout camp and their supernatural adventures debuted in 2014 as an eight-part story, but thanks to critical acclaim and a passionate fan response, it quickly garnered an audience that helped it become an ongoing series.
With it’s smartly written, pop culture-laden dialogue, quirky characters and strong female friendships, it’s not a surprise that Lumberjanes (billed as “Scooby Doo meets Buffy the Vampire Slayer”) has taken off. It earned a top spot on EW’s “Best Comics of 2014” list last year, and snagged a double Eisner award nomination. This past May, The Wrap reported that the property had been optioned for live action film rights. And this weekend at Comic Con, Lumberjanes took home the Eisner for its two nominated categories: Best Publication for Teens (Age 13-17), and Best New Series.
To say that the Lumberjanes team — Noelle Stevenson, Shannon Watters, Brooke A. Allen and Grace Ellis — are having a whirlwind year would be an understatement. While in San Diego this weekend, EW sat down with Watters and Stevenson (Stevenson will leave the series after issue #17) to reflect on what this experience has meant to them, and what’s coming up for our favorite group of ladies.
EW: I can’t even imagine the amount of fun you must have working on this book. I read it and I feel like it would be a dream to write or draw.
SHANNON WATTERS: We love the girls, we love the characters…they’re a lot of fun. They’re kind of goofy. [looks at Noelle] Who do you have the most fun writing? Who’s your favorite one to write?
NOELLE STEVENSON: Well, Ripley’s the most fun to write, but I think April is my favorite to write —
WATTERS: April’s my favorite to write.
STEVENSON: She wasn’t at first.
WATTERS: No, same! But she’s my favorite one to write now.
STEVENSON: She kind of morphed into something else. I really relate to April these days.
WATTERS: Somebody asked me that this morning, what Lumberjane was my favorite. And I was like, “Well, I don’t really have a favorite, but my favorite one to write is April these days.” Because I relate to April as well. There’s something very powerful…it’s nice having April as a power figure in my brain. [laughs]
I was actually going to ask if there were any of the girls that you felt you identified with based on their ideals or personalities, having evolved yourselves throughout the journey of this series so far.
WATTERS: I don’t know. For me, I kind of…there’s a part of me in everybody. I don’t know whose experience I relate to most. Maybe an April. Or even a Mal, honestly. There’s a part of Mal that’s kind of…Mal tries to put herself out there, but inside she’s a bit scared. So there’s a little bit of that in all of us.
STEVENSON: I think mine has evolved. Last year when we were her, I’d always say Mal is the one I’m the most like, but Ripley’s the one I wish I was more like — kind of just like, complete abandon and joy of life. But it has shifted. April’s over competitive, and that’s become a really driving force with her and her relationships. That is something that I relate to. In actuality, if I was there, I’d be Jen.
WATTERS: Well, Jen is all of us. Jen’s role is to be the reader. We love Jen, as a team…everyone loves Jen.
One thing I love about the book is how diverse all the characters look and feel. And I don’t necessarily mean visually, but everyone has their own personality, and it’s not cookie-cutter. They’re all different and real and you can relate very strongly to any of them without struggling to find something to identify with.
WATTERS: It was really interesting, because I think we made them almost too multifaceted at the beginning. They weren’t like, character-characters, so we’re kind of getting to explore their very strong character traits now. But I think it’s helped the book.
STEVENSON: We wanted to avoid archetypes. We wanted them to not be stereotypes. We didn’t want it to be the smart girl, the pretty mean girl, the spazz…and that’s not always a problem for me. I like a lot of media that always relies on clichés like that, like high school movies, like Scooby Doo. I kind of dig it in a way. For a book like this, it’s just a different challenge. So finding ways to kind of create our own archetypes out of it and for them to form their own distinct—
WATTERS: Oh, exactly. April is a great example. She’s a very “femmy” girl with an intensely ambitious personality and she’s super strong. The worst thing you can do to April is be not the best version of yourself. Like, that’s the only way April gets mad at you — how dare you not be the best version of yourself all the time! Which is a very interesting character: a super strong femmy girl who is just uber ambitious and believes the best in people, but not in a naïve way.
STEVENSON: She expects a lot with other people and she expects a lot from herself.
WATTERS: Exactly. That’s an interesting character to play with. But she evolved with us, writing her. I don’t think we knew that’s who she was when we started.
STEVENSON: I really like that she started out with a notebook, and I don’t remember the last time we’ve seen that notebook.
WATTERS: [laughs] We forget about the notebook! it shows up every once in awhile!
STEVENSON: That was like her defining character trait!
Can you talk a little bit about what your reactions have been to the fan response, both in the comics community and then on a more general level, and what that’s meant to you?
WATTERS: Shocked. Exciting. We’re honored, I guess, that its resonated with people.
It’s a book that I think appeals to everyone, no matter how old or young you are. The stories are engaging, the characters are compelling, and you don’t need 50 years of superhero backstory to understand what’s going on when you pick it up.
STEVENSON: That’s most of our audience. We sold trades. Cause kids and girls, most of them don’t go to comic shops. With a book like this, 80 percent of the battle is just getting the people that you want to read it into the store in the first place. And they’ll go to Barnes and Noble and pick up a book, and that’s where I think a parent will go and buy a book for their kid. It’s just really difficult to get people to buy single issues if they’re not in that world already. So the battle wages on.
WATTERS: And it’s crafted to be pretty accessible for everyone, so I think it’s an easy one to read. Retailers and the amazing folks that work in our libraries and bookstores, they can go, “Oh, you’re curious, this is accessible, this is kind.”
You were first announced as an eight-issue miniseries. Now that you’re an ongoing, how has that changed your storytelling process or thoughts about what kind of things you can introduce to the world?
WATTERS: We have a big story that kind of drops hints every once in awhile, heading into it. This recent arc does a lot for starting to reveal some of the characters’ backstories that we didn’t even think about having time for in eight issues. Noelle’s kicking booty as far as revealing everyone’s dark past. [laughs]
STEVENSON: I can’t get enough of those dark pasts! I think it was Scooby Doo, I think now it’s Scooby Doo: Mystery, Incorporated.
WATTERSON: There’s going to be riot girl mermaids coming, and they’re still going to do mystery kind of things, because that’s fun. But there is this story that we’ll be dropping little things throughout. We’ll kind of see where it goes.
Anything you can tease for us about the upcoming arc, or anything you want to share that you’re most excited for readers to see?
WATTERS: Seventeen is going to be a lot of fun. Again, it reveals a lot about Rosie if you want to know more about Rosie’s past. The arc after that, like I said, there’s some riot girl mermaids, after that there’s a ropes course instructor who’s got a dark secret, and they have to end up helping her out.
Obviously, the most important question: does the ropes course instructor, by chance, wear khaki shorts?
WATTERS: Yeah, a little. Definitely. [laughs] We’ve got a lot of fun things planned.