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Review: ‘Lumberjanes: The Infernal Compass’

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Lumberjanes: The Infernal Compass
Writer: Lilah Sturges
Artist: Polterink
Boom Studios; $14.99

Lumberjanes Infernal CompassIn Boom Studios’ apparent ongoing efforts to get as much Lumberjanes material into the world in as many formats as possible comes The Infernal Compass, which maintains the ‘Janes’ comics origins but foregoes serialization in favor of an original graphic novel. It works quite well.

The short-ish, 90-ish-page story reads and feels almost exactly like a story arc in the Lumberjanes ongoing series, but, perhaps because of the format or perhaps because of the different writer or perhaps a combination of the two, it is much tighter and more focused, as well as being free of the stops and starts and false jeopardy of artificial cliffhangers.

As ever, our five heroines from the Roanoke cabin of Miss Qiunzella Thiskwin Penniquiqul Thistle Crumpet’s Camp for Hardcore Lady Types start their day attempting to earn a nice and safe—but cleverly named!—merit badge, despite their by-now well acknowledged propensity for getting into some kind of supernatural shenanigans or time travel hijinks in the strange woods that surround the camp. And, despite the best efforts of their put-upon camp counselor Jen, who only wants to teach them about orienteering and help them earn their “mappy-go-lucky badges,” the expected shenanigans and hijinks find them.

The form the weirdness takes this time is that of extremely polite but menacing robot butlers—although they prefer to be called “fully-articulated, gear-driven, flywheel-powered service automatons”—who whisk the girls away one at a time, as each falls prey to the curse of the infernal compass. They were built by a lost explorer, a one-time member of Her Majesty’s Club For Lady Explorers, Adventurers, And Other Die-Hard Womanly Sorts.

The high strangeness drives the action, but the book’s real subject matter is the relationship between Mal and Molly and, more particularly, Molly’s anxieties about how two members of the cabin’s budding romantic relationship might affect the overall cohesion of the group. Her insecurities ultimately mirror those of the explorer, and the way to rescue the ‘Janes from the clutches of the automatons and the spell of the compass naturally comes in realizing the similarities of our hero’s and our villain’s issues, and resolving them through acceptance.

The writer is Lilah Sturges, a novelist and comics writer whose previous work mostly consists of contributions to DC Comics’ Vertigo and superhero lines, and she presents what is pretty much the Platonic ideal of a Lumberjanes story, nailing the milieu, the personalities of the characters, and the relationship to their daily adventures and their inner lives, while also moving the characters’ ongoing mega-plot forward…but not too much, as the essence of comics characters like the ‘Janes is extremely gradual change. Maybe even just the illusion of change. That is, they have forward momentum, but no so much that they ever sacrifice their brand.

Sturges is teamed with Austrian artist Polterink, who strikes a pretty perfect balance between representation and cartoonishness, as one can better appreciate even more fully when one gets to the back-matter for the book, which includes a reprint of 2014’s Lumberjanes #1 by original artist Brooklyn Allen.

Polterink has a very delicate line, which gives the comic the look an feel of the illustrations from a classic illustrated chapter book, only here having come to life and replaced all the paragraphs of prose. It’s black-and-white…ish, with washes of gray in the background and in the characters’ clothing, as well as adding additional shading. Spot green color comes and goes throughout, usually employed for effect, as in the green eyes of the robots—er, automatons—when they are at their most threatening, or to illustrate the magic of the compass at work.

The page count between the covers far surpasses the storyline and includes the full-color reprint of the comic’s first issue and another dozen or so pages of process work, including Polterink’s character designs, thumbnails, and finished art, juxtaposed against the relevant portions of Sturges’ script. These should be particularly welcome to young readers who might want to follow in Sturges, Polterink, Allen and company’s footsteps in the future and make their own comics in addition to reading those of others.

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J. Caleb Mozzocco About J. Caleb Mozzocco

J. Caleb Mozzocco is a way-too-busy freelance writer who has written about comics for online and print venues for a rather long time now. He currently contributes to Comic Book Resources' Robot 6 blog and ComicsAlliance, and maintains his own daily-ish blog at EveryDayIsLikeWednesday.blogspot.com. He lives in northeast Ohio, where he works as a circulation clerk at a public library by day.

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