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‘Roomies’ Webcomic Creator Heads Back to College in ‘Dumbing of Age’ [Reviews]

David Willis has made a living, and a very successful one, writing and drawing webcomics a specific kind of twenty-something. Silly, immature, well-intentioned, and obsessed with pop-culture, his characters blundered their way through life and relationships. From the start, the parallels with Willis’ own life were clear. His characters love toys, comics, geekdom, and questions of continuity, and he did too.

Well and good. Write about what you know. In time, though, Willis’ passion for drama, secret pasts, shocking twists, convoluted continuity, retcons and what ifs twisted the series into an untangle-able snarl. What started out as a few college kids moving in together in “Roomies!” became covert government missions to save the world from aliens in “It’s Walky!”, marital drama in “Joyce and Walky!”, and a soap opera set in a toy store in “Shortpacked!”, arguably Willis’ best known work.

And so maybe it’s right that 13 years after “Roomies!”, Willis has released another new webcomic about kids going off to college: “Dumbing of Age.”"Dumbing of Age” is the first Willis comic not to have an exclamation point, and the first one not to tie directly in to the continuity established thirteen years ago in “Roomies!” The title promises a more tranquil experience than the other series.

But Willis hasn’t strayed far from what he knows. “Dumbing of Age” is basically a do-over of the entire universe that he’s built up over the last 13 years. The entire webcomic so far is just the original characters from “Roomies!” and “It’s Walky!” moving into their rooms at college. After thirteen years, and multiple universes, we’re back at the beginning again. In many ways, that’s pretty frustrating. Isn’t there anything to be learned by new characters, or by these characters past the age of thirty?

On the other hand, these are characters that Willis fans know and love, and they’ve been given a fresh start. As long as Willis likes them, and as long as his drawing wrist holds out, there’s room for a fresh take.

How much you enjoy “Dumbing of Age” will depend on how much you enjoy Willis’s other work. He still has a good sense of timing and a simple but expressive drawing style. His characters are also well done. They’re able to keep a consistent personality, while still having many different sides. Willis is one of the few writers who lets characters show a dark side once or twice in extreme situations without letting it change who they are, or cruel characters show a softer side without heading on the path towards redemption. We all have moments when we step out of character. That doesn’t mean we don’t step back. If you enjoy Willis’ other webcomics, or if the only reason you don’t enjoy them is because you can’t catch up with all of them, “Dumbing of Age” provides a fresh start with worn characters.

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