Grace Ellis Sends Girl Power to Camp in Lumberjanes

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Enraged sea monsters, three-eyed foxes, angsty yetis — sounds like your typical slew of wildlife surrounding Miss Quinzella Thiskwin Penniquiqul Thistle Crumpet’s Camp for Hardcore Lady Types. Following the adventures of five girls at the quirky summer camp, Boom! Studios’ hit comic Lumberjanes has charmed kids and adults alike since the first issue hit shelves in April. The girl-powered tale written by Grace Ellis and Noelle Stevenson with art by Brooke Allen, in fact, generated enough popularity by only its second issue to expand its limited story arc into an ongoing series.

Paste recently caught up with Grace Ellis to chat about Lumberjanes, the Saturday morning cartoons that inspired her and what she hopes young girls will learn from the series.

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Paste: How did Lumberjanes get started?

Ellis: I was good friends with Shannon Watters, who is an editor at BOOM! Studios. We met because I write for a website called Autostraddle, and she’s a big fan of it; we just really hit it off. She had the opportunity through BOOM! to come up with a new series that they wanted to be girl-centric, so she approached me. We started hitting around ideas, and it didn’t take long for us to whittle it down to a girls’ camp. From there, we had this big Google Doc full of nonsense and dinosaurs and dumb stuff that we really like. We brought on Brooke [Allen] to do initial character designs and we brought on Noelle [Stevenson] to co-write it, and also to do a bunch of character designs.

Paste: What was your role at the beginning?

Ellis: I wrote the first script pretty much by myself, and then Noelle went back and punched it up a little bit. That’s not how we do scripts now, but the first script was mine.

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Paste: I love how the first issue jumps right into a fight scene with three-eyed foxes in the forest.

Ellis: That whole thing is so funny to me! I did a lot of scriptwriting in college, and that’s just the most logical way to start the story — that’s as close to the end as we could start it. Everyone comments on that, and maybe I just haven’t read enough comic books to know they don’t all start like that, in the thick of it.

Paste: How do you and Noelle coordinate co-writing the scripts from across the country (Ellis lives in Ohio while Stevenson lives in California)?

Ellis: We have an outline for the whole storyline, so when we go to write an issue we Skype. We’ve done pizza parties where we both order pizza and Skype. It’s super cute. And we talk about what the issue needs to have and what the character development is going to be. We work on the outline over Skype, and we’ll hit that back and forth until it makes sense. Then one of us will take a crack at the first two acts and leave blank spots we think the other person can write better, and we’ll hit the script back and forth again until it’s in some state of being finished. The editors don’t usually have to do much with it because we self-edit a lot.

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Paste: There are many fantastical creatures in the series. When writing the scripts, do you ever have to consider if it’s too crazy for Brooke to draw?

Ellis: There have been times where we’ll ask Brooke, ‘Is this the most fun way for you to do this?’ Like in issue two with the river monster, I asked her if it was going to be okay for her to draw. The way we described it didn’t really make sense, since it was a serpent, but kind of an octopus-thing. And she was like, ‘Yeah, that’ll be fine.’ A lot of the time we do consult her to make sure it makes sense, or to see if there’s something that would be more fun for her to draw. She’s great!

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L to R: Jo, April, Molly, Ripley & Mal

Paste: Do you have a favorite character?

Ellis: I identify the most with Molly, but I think Jo is maybe my favorite. Not for any particular reason, but she has a good storyline coming up. April and Ripley are the most fun to write.

Paste: Now why is it that April is the only character to not have little dots for eyes?

Ellis: It’s because that’s the only original character design from Brooke’s initial set of designs that we have. The rest were Noelle’s, so that’s why they look a little bit more like Noelle’s characters. But I think it works.

Paste: What’s been the most exciting part about jumping into the world of writing comics?

Ellis: It’s been really rewarding seeing people react to Lumberjanes. I wish I was the kind of person who didn’t read reviews and didn’t care what anyone thought, but I really like that people like it. Young girls are really excited about it and come up to us at signings and at cons, and that’s maybe my favorite part. It makes me feel like we’re kind of making a difference in some small, weird way.

Paste: I wish it had been around when I was growing up!

Ellis: I think it would have changed my life as a kid. I watched a lot of Saturday morning cartoons — One Saturday Morning on ABC was my jam! I always connected with the tomboy characters, like Spinelli on Recess and Lor on The Weekenders. When I was thinking about these characters, I thought, ‘What if all the characters were Spinelli? Five variations on Spinelli!’ Characters like that really resonated with me as a kid, because I saw a tiny bit of myself in them.

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Paste: Have you dealt with any criticism from having an all-girl comic in the historically male medium?

Ellis: Surprisingly, there hasn’t been a lot of it. I had to dig through the depths of the Internet to find the dudes who hated it, and they’re out there. This is going to sound really dumb and like I’m super into myself, but I’m going to say this anyway: comics needed something like this. They needed a rallying point, a hero — and I guess it was us. Big names have thrown their weight behind it, which I appreciate very deeply. But I think we struck it at just the right time. This conversation about women in comics was happening, and we happened to release this comic about all women by all women. We couldn’t have planned it better than it happened.

Paste: Even though Lumberjanes was originally conceived as an 8-issue arc, did you initially plan for what would happen if it became an ongoing series?

Ellis: We’d been talking about it since the very beginning. We had the outline, and we were putting things in it that, if we were picked up as an ongoing series, they’d mean something. Like the name of the camp (Miss Quinzella Thiskwin Penniquiqul Thistle Crumpet’s Camp for Hardcore Lady Types) will mean something more now that we have time to talk about it. We planted some seeds, but now we get to water them.

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Paste: With Lumberjanes’ success, would you want to write comics full time?

Ellis: Definitely! I have another job — I write for Autostraddle — and I do this. I’m in good shape, but I think at some point I’d like to exclusively do scriptwriting … comics or any kind of scripts. I think Lumberjanes is making that possible for me, which is amazing and not what I was expecting. I was expecting it to be this side project, this fun little thing.

Paste: Do you have any other comics ideas in the works?

Ellis: I don’t think I’m allowed to talk about them. [laughs] They’re comparable to Lumberjanes, but not the same.

Paste: What do you hope the young girls who read Lumberjanes will take away from the series.

Ellis: I want girls to feel good about themselves and feel that they can take on anything. Lumberjanes is all about friendship, too, and I think a lot of media focuses on women tearing each other down. If Lumberjanes can tackle that differently and make girls feel like they should be building each other up, then maybe they can support each other. I want girls to value other girls and value themselves.

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