It’s the start of a new arc for the Lumberjanes, but unfortunately for Mal, they didn’t get too far away from the water for this one.
The issue opens with Mal, Ripley, Molly and Jo playing beach volleyball by the lake. Jo and Molly lose to “The Ripley Rocket” again, which prompts them to wonder just where April is. It turns out, she’s been working on getting her nautical skills badges to avoid the actions that transpired in the previous arc with the mermaids.
This is easily one of the best opening scenes for a Lumberjanes issue in recent memory. The beach volleyball scene is darling, but it also shows the camaraderie between the girls and just how strong it is. It also has the natural progression from the character arc April went through with the mermaids without pushing her towards the front or making significant changes to her character. It’s not surprising that she has an extension to her badge bandolier, knowing her. It also features the pun “I’ve Had the Mari-time of my Life.” Never change, Lumberjanes.
On for this three issue arc in art is Carey Pietsch, who had previously done art for the Adventure Time comic miniseries “Marceline Gone Adrift.” Pietsch is very good at the more rounded style that seems to have become more commonplace among Lumberjanes when a guest artist is filling in for regular series artist Brooke Allen. Much like the previous arc with Carolyn Nowak, Pietsch excels at facial expressions and body language, though her designs feel less cartoony. Her style doesn’t lend itself well to showing off the body diversity between the Lumberjanes themselves, but there are several new characters introduced that do really play up that part of her skills.
In this issue, we meet a new camp counselor named Seafarin’ Karen, a rather tall and imposing figure who immediately reminds of NXT Diva Nia Jax. Karen tells the girls that they can only earn the last badge as a team because “[a]s it is on the sea, you live n’ die by the skill o’ the sailor next to ya.” Yes, she talks like that for the entire issue. It’s not a huge deal though because Watters and Leyh do a good job at not making her sound too much like how people act on Talk Like A Pirate Day. It’s a natural accent that does a good job of shaping how Karen sounds in your head.
After asking Jen if going by the method of everyone passes or everyone fails, the girls decide to go and talk to Karen while Jen goes off to speak to Rosie. It’s a brief scene as Rosie tells Jen that Karen can provide the girls with a more challenging experience if they want it, but it serves as a good reminder that there is a larger story to Lumberjanes still at play beyond these few mini-arcs.
The Lumberjanes go out into the woods to an inlet where Karen is living on the shore instead of with the rest of the camp. They ask her why she isn’t living with the rest of the camp, but Karen insists that they don’t really want to hear the story. One heart melting hug from Riley proves otherwise though and Seafarin’ Karen regales them with a story the reader doesn’t get to see the most of, but it certainly made me want to read a mini-series about the adventures of Seafarin’ Karen. Pietsch and colorist Maarta Laiho seem to be having a blast in what little of the tale we do see though as Karen kicks a harpoon of the eye of a giant sea monster during a storm. Also, shout out to letterer Aubrey Aiese for her subtle color cues in the text boxes as Jo and Molly occasionally ask questions during Karen’s tale. It took a couple of reads to even notice, which made it even more brilliant.
At the mention of a giant sea monster, Mal naturally freaks out and wonders why this leads to Karen being at the camp. This is when Karen reveals that after dropping anchor and taking her dingy ashore to catch some food, her boat is hijacked and her dingy destroyed by selkies. To make matters worse, the boat is still out in the water, but there is something causing whirlpools along the shoreline, making it impossible for Karen to either swim or raft out to her boat. Hmmm… wonder if those knots will come into play.
The selkies are an especially interesting introduction into this issue. There are four of them, with only three named (Bon, Moirin, and Monday). Clothingwise, they’re shown more like a group of vagabond hippies in baggy clothes. Bodywise, they all range from big and imposing like Bon to tall and skinny like Monday and what appears to be their twin, to small and chubby like Moirin. Again, this is where Pietsch’s strengths come into play. They have trashed Karen’s boat and continue to mock her from it, which causes a hearty laugh as Karen yells at them to use the wastebasket.
Not certain how to handle selkies, what they think could be causing the whirlpools outside of the selkies, or the apparently non-magical nature of Seafarin’ Karen, the girls decide to split the party with Jo, April and a hesitant Mal going to help Karen by the shoreline and Molly and Ripley going to find the Bear Woman. Of course, before that, we get a look at April’s Bestiary (think what would happen if Mabel Pines created the journals on Gravity Falls) and Ripley excitedly declaring that she’s going to hug a seal. That’s the spirit, kid.
With the help of Bubbles, Molly and Ripley eventually come across the Bear Woman, who initially gives them a scare, but the commends Molly for standing up to her. She even calls her “Jolly Green,” which I’m guessing is the way she points out Molly’s height. The way Pietsch draws the Bear Woman is less haggard from Allen and Nowak, but still just as gruff and wizened. It might possibly be my favorite of how any of the artists for Lumberjanes have drawn her so far.
Any kindness the Bear Woman shows the girls quickly goes away as she gets annoyed by the two lumping her in with selkies when she has work to be doing and gets even madder when Ripley calls her a were-bear because she can control her emotions and her state. What does that have to do with anything? Just wait.
Down at the shore, Mal, Jo, and April share their plan with Karen after getting in a brief verbal sparring contest with the selkies. As the selkies watch from the boat, they reveal that they don’t really want to be on the boat, but they’re refusing to leave until Karen returns Moirin’s pelt, which suddenly explains why her clothing choices differ so much from those of her comrades. When they reveal this to Karen, she gets very annoyed and insists that she didn’t take it. When they don’t believe her, she begins shifting into a very large and very angry werewolf. Selkies, werewolves and whirlpools? Oh my.
With all the pieces set up for the rest of the arc, Lumberjanes #21 seems to fine tune all the issues that the team had after Noelle Stevenson’s departure. Focusing more on the ensemble and introducing fun and interesting new characters, Watters, Leyh and Pietsch create a super fun opening to the next three issue arc of Lumberjanes. Will it lead to more answered questions about the woods? Who knows, but it will have selkie and werewolf drama, which might be just as good.
Written by Shannon Watters and Kat Leyh
Illustrated by Carey Pietsch
Colors by Maarta Laiho
Letters by Aubrey Aiese
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Ashley is a writer based out of Atlanta with a penchant for all things nerdy and has done a whole other host of weirdness, including work at Steampunk Chronicle, Nerdophiles, the Ratchet Retrocast and the Killer Queen and 27 anthologies published through Red Stylo Media. Most of her current work is non-fictional and found at her blog as well as PopOptiq. She can often be found online crying about comics, TV, pro-wrestling and music.