The Lumberjanes have been a phenomenon since their debut in 2016 as a monthly comic published by BOOM! Studios under its BOOM! Box imprint. The monthlies have been collected into trade paperbacks but this month Boom! will release Lumberjanes: The Infernal Compass written by Lilah Sturges with art by polterink, the first original graphic novel in the series.
A quintet of girls at a woodland summer camp, the Lumberjanes have adventures, earn badges, and mix it up with supernatural creatures. Originally created by the team of Shannon Watters, Grace Ellis, Brooklyn Allen, and Noelle Stevenson, the LGBTQ-friendly comics series is popular with adults as well as kids, thanks to its humor and energy. A recurring joke is that in moments of stress or joy, the characters’ exclamations are the names of famous women (“Holy Joan Jett!”).
The new book’s plot focuses on the budding queer romance between Mal, the sensitive punk, and Molly, the shy archer with a raccoon for a hat. It’s also the first Lumberjanes book for writer Sturges (best known for co-writing Bill Willingham’s Jack of Fables series at Vertigo) and artist polterink (aka Claudia Rinofer).
PW talked with the artists and with BOOM! Studios senior editor Dafna Pleban about the creation of this book.
When did you first hear about Lumberjanes?
Lilah Sturges: I know exactly when I started reading Lumberjanes: April 9, 2017, because there’s a photo of me on my Instagram reading it! I was a little late to the party but I caught up quick.
polterink: I’ve known about it for a while because I’ve been following Noelle Stevenson’s work for years. I’ve started reading it start - to - finish sometimes in 2016 and have since been keeping up with all the current issues!
Did you come up with the idea for this story yourself, or was it suggested to you by your editors?
Lilah: One of the beauties of Lumberjanes is how collaborative the creative process is. I worked closely with the team at Boom! to come up with a story that felt like a Lumberjanes story but also allowed me to put my personal spin on it.
Dafna: We knew we wanted this to be a more character driven story, so talking with Lilah about how we wanted to focus on Mal and Molly in some way was all the direction she needed to take it somewhere really special!
Telling a story with five characters is pretty complex. How did you balance it so that everyone was able to play an active part?
Lilah: When you’re writing a book with a lot of characters, you really have to pay attention to how much fun stuff everyone is getting to do and adjust accordingly. This book focuses on Mal and Molly, so they get more attention than the other girls, but I made sure to give each girl a few moments to show off who they are and what they contribute to the group.
polterink: I’d also like to add that I love putting in extra details and interactions for characters that aren’t the focus of a scene. Just because they don’t have speech-bubbles doesn’t mean that they are forgotten!
Who is your favorite character to write/draw? Who was the most difficult?
Lilah: Ripley [the youngest character] is by far my favorite character to write. She’s just so fun! You just kind of set her loose in the story and let her do her thing; before you know it she’s bouncing off the walls and saying hilarious things, almost on her own. The hard part with Ripley is not spending too much time with her!
polterink: It’s Ripley for me as well! I actually was very Ripley-like when I was a kid, always running off and getting into all sorts of hijinks. The hardest to draw for me was Nibley. That damn hat is giving me nightmares.
Did you put any new twists on the Lumberjanes canon? Did you add anything to the backstory or tweak any of the characters?
Lilah: I got to create a new badge, the “Mappy-Go-Lucky” badge for orienteering! That was a treat. It was also fun to get to add to the list of inspiring women who get shouted out as interjections. I was especially proud of “Audre Lorde have mercy!”
This book is the first Lumberjanes original graphic novel. How did that affect your storytelling?
Lilah: Writing a graphic novel feels very different than writing a story issue-by-issue. It gives you room to tell a story in the way that the story wants to be told rather than forcing you to hit certain beats exactly every 22 or 24 pages. But it can also be a little overwhelming. I think most experienced comics writers have a strong sense of how much storytelling space they have in a single issue of comics; with a graphic novel it’s a little more of an adventure. I had to hope that my story would fit comfortably into around 100 pages and luckily it did!
Polterink, your art has a very distinctive style. How did you develop the character designs?
polterink: I love the designs and style of the first Lumberjanes issues, so I tried to keep my spin on it as close as possible to the facial features and proportions the characters have in those early issues. It was important to me that they all have distinctive features, because girls of all shapes and sizes are awesome and beautiful!
Nibley, who the girls meet in this graphic novel, is supposed to evoke very British explorers of the 19th century, very prim and proper. But she also has had quite a lot of experiences and grand adventures, and I wanted to reflect that in her design as well. Her automatons have been designed to remind you of British, distinguished butlers. They were a lot of fun to design!
The restricted palette is a very powerful storytelling tool in this story. How did you come up with it?
polterink: I was told right off the bat that the comic would be black and white with color spots, so it was easy for me to find a proper approach for such a color style right from the beginning, and I didn’t have to experiment too much. My biggest concern was that I definitely wanted to properly convey the ‘Janes’ skincolors even in black and white, and I often worked a panel’s composition around that.