Summary: A webcomic about group of (not really) normal, random kids from different backgrounds who are unceremoniously shoved together in college. Shenanigans ensue.
Review: That’s a bit of a lacklustre summary, I know, but this webcomic is one of my favourites. I do maybe two things when I use my laptop: check my email, and read that day’s Dumbing of Age strip.
The format of the comic is pretty much your newspaper comic strip. Every day, a three- to five- panel strip is posted. Each day in-comic is around 10-15 strips. The story is about the misadventures of the comic’s cast starting from the day they enter college. There are loads and loads of characters, and they’re all from the creator, David Willis’, previous comics: It’s Walky and Shortpacked. You don’t need to read them to understand the plot, and I didn’t read them, but there are inside jokes and things from the previous series.
One of my favourite elements of the comic was the characters. They’re all so diverse and interesting. Often, with such large casts, there’s problems with a few characters being very alike, because developing personalities for so many individuals is hard. It may just be the fact that these characters have gone through several iterations so Willis was able to write them well, but even so, they were very well done. They were all also really likeable. Aside from the ones that were purposefully unlikable, there was no one I could really hate. Pretty much all the characters are weirdly adorable, not just the ones meant to be.
The characters’ dynamics are also really well done. Their dialogue is snappy and entertaining, probably because of the short format, and it’s just so much fun. Each character has their own narrative voice, which is really nice, actually. And when Willis wants to set up a relationship, by god, does he do it. It’s kind of disgustingly cute. My face sometimes can’t help but break into a smile, and then I need to force myself to come back to normal, because I can’t let Willis win.
I also like the humour. It’s a combination of sheer outlandish scenarios and funny dialogue, but it’s not really slapstick. However, it’s pretty coarse sometimes, and it doesn’t always hit the mark.
Ultimately, the story is about dealing with today’s problems. Things like being open about your sexuality, coping with your friends’ needs and your needs, and facing your responsibilities are all shown over the course of the comic. In the best way, too: with humour. It also tackles religion, Christianity in particular. From what I’ve heard, Willis grew up as a conservative Christian himself, so (arguably) the main character Joyce is a devout Christian, but she eventually comes to accept her homosexual friends and even (gasp!) an atheist. However, she never gives up her religion, and I liked how it showed the flaws of religious indoctrination without saying religion, as a whole, is bad.
However, I can see how the way it tackles these topics could be offensive. The comic is rarely truly serious, so even very heavy things are treated kind of lightly. I’ve never really had a problem with it, because it does show consequences, but given the lighthearted air of the comic, it could be an issue. When dealing with a repressed character, it’s less: “I wish I was able to be open and honest with myself and others” and more: “I REFUSE TO BE OPPRESSED INTO NOT BUYING CHICK-FIL-A EVEN THOUGH THEY HATE ME AND OTHERS LIKE ME!”
It also lacks a real plot. The story is of character development, but that’s not really a plot. It’s more like each character stumbles into a certain scenario and then deals with it. The end. It’s more a set of vignettes, or an anthology, rather than a cohesive story. Sometimes characters disappear and pretty much only make cameo appearances.
However, this is one of those things that again, really appeal to me. It portrays serious issues with parents, sexuality, race, substance abuse, religion, and trans people through comedy. It shows the variety of people and problems we may come across, but in a lighthearted way without demeaning those issues. That’s probably my favourite thing about the series, how it strikes a balance between the heavy topics and the humour, so that it’s enjoyable to read, but also worthwhile to read. It’s really pretty great, and I’d actually recommend it to anyone with time to kill.
If anyone would like to check it out, the link is here: Dumbing of Age (it’ll take you to the first strip)