Disclaimer: This is a long piece that moves through some pretty inflammatory areas, please read it to the end before commenting. Thanks.
BEA (Book Expo America) was a really enjoyable experience. So many publishers! So many books! But what made it even more fun (for me) was the two or three comic book publishers (and graphic novel divisions) that were in attendance. At the Boom! Studios booth I ran into Mel Caylo, Mel is the marketing guru for Boom! and we correspond via email often. We were hanging out talking about all the great books Boom! has put out (http://whatchareading.com/tag/boom-studios/) and how much we’ve enjoyed them here at What’cha Reading. When we touched on Lumberjanes I asked Mel if he considered it an all-ages book. He stopped and really thought about it and said yes he felt the violence level and language were all fine for all-ages.
I agreed but said that it was a book I hadn’t shared with my eight-year-old daughter yet. I explained that we hadn’t really broached the topic of same-sex romance with her yet and I really wanted that to be something she took in stride not got freaked out by.
Sounds completely reasonable right? But in the days following that conversation I realized that as truthful as that reason was the motivations were unclear. She doesn’t live in a bubble, this isn’t something she’s never encountered before. Is it? I set about figuring out where the disconnect occurred.
I think it’s a problem of context. Bear with me.
Recently a cousin of mine came up in conversation, my daughter asked where he lived (he travels a lot so she sees pictures of him all over the globe). I responded that he lives in Manhattan with his boyfriend Mark. She looked at me, nose crinkled in confusion and said “boyfriend?”. I was a little shocked, she knows them both well, why was she confused by this? I took a moment and reminded her what I thought she already knew, love comes in all types and ways and it makes no difference who you love as long as you truly care for them. One of the oddest things about the conversation was when I reminded her that a friend of hers in school has two moms, she shrugged and said yea sure she does. And that’s when it started to become clear. She’s eight. Things don’t gel the same way at that age, pieces to each puzzle drop at their own pace.
What does all this have to do with LumberJanes? Well while reading it I realized that it held another piece of the puzzle. My daughter is only now entering that moment where people “like” each other. And that’s only really presenting itself as teasing each other mercilessly in the school yard. So I admit I’ve kept the romantic stuff to a minimum in her upbringing.
Is it a question of romance in general? Well let’s see she watches tv right? Sure, Austin and Ally, Dog with a Blog, Jessie. All those shows have dating and crushes (though handled for the most part very innocently) on them. But any show that strayed too far (for my sensibilities) into the dating realm we passed over. I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing, I guess I was just being a dad but I worry about how that stuff will affect her. Her self esteem, her self image. So most of the comics and tv she’s been exposed to have been fairly benign, mostly Scooby-doo and Garfield, with the occasional Archie winding up in the pile as well.
So what is it? Am I a hypocrite? I claim to be pro marriage for all, I have friends and family who identify in all different shades of sexuality. Hell I’m no shrinking violet, no prude, at times my lifestyle has strayed far across the “alternative” line. I had a healthy social life and I know that those experiences are what made me the confident, loving, happily married person I am. I’ve always believed everyone has the right to love whomever they please. So what’s the problem?
This is where context comes into the picture. Society has already trained her to expect boys to like or not like her. Girls in her class already have crushes and talk about Ross Lynch being “hot”. I feel like she only has a couple of years before that awkwardness that comes with knowing this or that person might/could “like” her extends to everyone she meets. I don’t know if I’m ready for my daughter’s world to get that big, that open. To have that much potential for confusion and heartache. I worry, I worry about how all these things will affect her, her self-image, her self-esteem. So when a comic comes along, especially one as cool fun and well done as Lumberjanes it slows me down, makes me think. The tv shows? Most of the heavy romance is happening to the older brothers and sisters (for context Zuri on Jessie is my daughter’s age, so is Chloe the little redhead on Dog with a Blog). In comics? Come on are Archie and the gang cool? This is one of the few books I can actually see her looking at as containing upbeat, cool, emulate-able heroines. The first since Princeless that has the potential to be part of her lexicon, her remembered past.
I’m not ashamed to say it scared me just a little. For some (myself included) there’s a need at times to see our children as asexual beings. To ignore the day-to-day sexuality they’re exposed to. It becomes fairly easy to do, until something shatters that perception. Lumberjanes shattered it for me.
So I guess what this book and an innocent conversation with Mel have done is made me think.
I’m going to share Lumberjanes with my daughter. I’m going to share it and be there, as usual, to answer the questions it may raise and take another step with my little girl towards growing up.
When I finished the article I realized (okay my wonderful wife and sometime editor Jennifer mentioned) that I hadn’t really said what the prevailing problem was with Lumberjanes. So I went back and edited trying to reference things about the book I found too much. Funny thing, when I tried to pull out specific parts I found it to be a little hazy. So I re-read it.
Then this happened…
Until I started examining why I hadn’t let my daughter read it I hadn’t really put any thought into how I felt about this book. Or more appropriately how this book made me feel.
This is a great book, both issues one and two are well paced, tightly scripted, and beautifully drawn. But the fact is the book made me uncomfortable. That sounds absurd when I say it out loud but there it is.
I automatically assumed it was the sexual themes that are being ascribed to Lumberjanes.
But after i reread issues one and two I realized that there is no romantic component to linger over here. This is a comic about a bunch of girls having a summer adventure at camp. Granted there are witches who turn into bears and three-eyed foxes, and oh a really cool sea serpent that they battle. But sexually? Romantically? This is innocent real feeling stuff.
(It’s interesting that we have the word “Bromance” in our current vernacular. The way I interpret bromance is a crush-like relationship between two men that isn’t sexual. What’s the corresponding term from women? If there is one shouldn’t it come to mind immediately?)
The fact is this book is a slam dunk for me. It’s a true five out of five. So what’s the problem?
I’m not on the page. There isn’t one character that I can identify with. I’ve read a ton of stuff over the years, books with all African-American or Spanish or Asian characters. But there’s always a character that feels familiar to me, on some level I always feel represented.
This is the first book that didn’t have that.
And beyond that this a book that moves past the stereotypes, there are no boys in this book (as of issue #2), and what would normally be perceived as boyish behavior is never looked at or referenced that way. But that’s not to say the characters were androgynous. They are girls. In fact that’s one of the things that threw me. Boys and girls are not the same. Sorry, universal truth. And for me, reading a book devoid of male roles and seeing girls as total characters (without men to be sounding boards for) was eye-opening. It was also a little strange. And yes a little uncomfortable.
I wish I could give this book five more stars. For not only being great but for showing me that a comic doesn’t need to be relatable for a forty-something white married dude to be a great comic.
I always assumed that was the case, Lumberjanes proved it.