On -isms: Doing It Right

By | Thursday, December 03, 2015 Leave a Comment
One of the webcomics I regularly read is David Willis' Dumbing of Age. Willis describes it as "a webcomic about college freshmen in the girls wing within a co-ed dorm at Indiana University, learning everything about life and themselves usually in the most difficult ways." Willis does an excellent job blending drama and comedy and, despite being basically set up like a newspaper comic, he's generally able to move the plot along fairly briskly AND end nearly every installment on a solid story beat, often in the form of a joke. His illustrations are good, but it's really his storytelling chops that make the strip as impressive as it is.

And that's all the more impressive when you consider the large cast he's dealing with. Depending on how you count, he's got maybe twelve primary characters and another six really solid secondary characters. They all have distinct personalities and different interpersonal relationships with one another. And, frankly, that's why I was able to keep reading past my first few weeks.

See, the "main" protagonist is a student named Joyce. She is a devout, Bible-quoting Christian that's out to save everyone she meets. And it's that type of self-righteous, sanctimonious, hypocritical, small-minded asshole that I hate more than just about anyone. And while I'm sure there are plenty of Christians out there who are perfectly nice people, the ones I always seem to meet are the assholes who claim to know better than I do because they believe God. I can't tell you how much I hate that.

And so I came to hate Joyce pretty quickly. I mean, really, really, REALLY hate Joyce. Not in a "love to hate" way, but in a "as talented as Willis is, and as much I enjoy everything else about the strip, I might stop reading it entirely because her very appearance pisses me off" way.

Interestingly, though, Willis' cast includes several other characters who are more likeable and he has several of them exploring their sexuality in various ways. Including an old friend of Joyce's who's recently come out of the closet, much to the rage of her insane, gun-toting step-father. And with several other characters questioning their sexuality, the strip does a good job of showing a range of issues people face when confronted with the possibility that they may not be heterosexual.

Including the reactions of others, like Joyce...
(This is my favorite strip Willis has done. Primarily because I thought -- however briefly and vainly -- that Joyce broke. I was initially disappointed to see she recovered, but Willis has since shown Joyce to grow somewhat as a person. While she's still a Bible-thumping evangelical who can't accept dinosaurs exist because it denies the concept of original sin, she has grown to accept that not everything done in the name of her God is indeed righteous. I still hate her though.)

That the strip is set in college gives Willis something of an excuse to play with sexuality identity. And with his larger cast, he almost guarantees that none of the characters will be mistaken as representative of everyone along the LGBTQ rainbow. It's easy (and common) to call out creators who aren't doing anything to diversify their cast, but it's worth taking a moment from time to time to celebrate those who are doing something positive.
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