Comics BOOM! Meet Grace Ellis, co-creator of comics' best all-ages all-girls series

Justin McIntosh, Columbus Alive

The name that's stuck, much to Grace Ellis' chagrin, is Lumber Jumbies. Without thinking, Brooke Allen, Ellis' artist on "Lumberjanes," blurted the word out at an Austin, Texas comics convention in March when asked what to call fans of the NY Times bestselling comic.

The term caught on, "like, immediately," Ellis said. "Now we're stuck with it forever."

Fortunately for Ellis, Allen and co-writer Noelle Stevenson that embarrassment shrinks considerably in the face of the comic's growing popularity. There is the aforementioned bestseller list, an Eisner award nomination for best new comics series, and, of course, the legion of Lumber Jumbies.

"At every convention I've been to there have been a lot of kids, which is honestly the best part about this - interacting with kids who are losing their minds over how much they love this book," Ellis said. "That's really overwhelming and I get really emotional about it. There's no higher praise than a child being super into it and dressing up like the characters made up in your bedroom one day."

From the first issue on, "Lumberjanes" is a treat - a charming Saturday-morning-cartoon-inspired comic about a girls' summer camp rife with adventures not too dissimilar from those found on "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" and "Gravity Falls." Mysteries abound, as do three-eyed foxes, river monsters and candy-bar-stealing eagles.

The real magic, however, is derived from the friendships of the five main characters, Jo, April, Mal, Molly and Ripley. The "Lumberjanes" Twitter account uses the phrase "Friendship to the max!" which gets at once to the refreshing level of sincerity and enthusiasm that hangs on the pages of "Lumberjanes" like Spanish moss on tree limbs in the South.

"My whole thing with the series is I wanted to do something that I would have enjoyed as a kid, but this didn't exist," Ellis said. "Nothing even close to this existed. So I think we were coming from a really sincere place. We just created a group of characters that were genuinely good friends with each other and that genuineness seeped over into everything we do."

Like, for instance, the trade paperback versions of the comic, which contain pages from the Lumberjanes handbook, along with a pledge every scout should memorize. The pledge, like much of "Lumberjanes," was inspired by Ellis' time in Girl Scouts, but enhanced to more fully realize the potential of a group like Girl Scouts.

"These are things I believe in; I didn't want to make anything up for that [pledge]," Ellis said. "I had a specific writing session devoted to this and what it's going to say because it was going to set the tone for the rest of it; it was going to touch on all the topics that we want to cover. But these are things I think about a lot for myself and the guiding morals that I want myself to have and that I wish other people had too."

Another part of the appeal, of course, was the all-ages all-girls approach. Unlike comics at large, men are hardly found in "Lumberjanes" (the first one isn't seen until Issue 4).

"I'm not stupid," Ellis said. "I know that's part of its success. It hit the market at just the right time, when it was already being talked about how there's nothing for women in comics. Even since 'Lumberjanes' started its run, there have been a hundred more great comics for girls."

That won't change anytime soon, even with Ellis in discussions for a few other major projects that she can't reveal just yet. "Lumberjanes," she said, will continue "until they get sick of us or people stop buying it. Whichever comes first."

And, scout's honor, neither seems likely.

Photo by Meghan Ralston

Grace Ellis

Age: 24

Neighborhood: South Campus

Hometown: Sandusky

Influences: "The Weekenders," "Recess," "The Baby-Sitters Club," "Calvin and Hobbes"

Describe your work in one sentence: "All-ages comics that are truly for all-ages."

Twitter: @graceellis, @lumberjanes

ohheygrace.tumblr.com

The Lumberjanes pledge:

I solemnly swear to do my best

Every day, and in all that I do,

To be brave and strong,

To be truthful and compassionate,

To be interesting and interested,

To pay attention and question

The world around me,

To think of others first,

To always help and protect my friends,

To practice prayer and faith in god,

And to make the world a better place

For Lumberjane scouts

And for everyone else.