College, Everyone: Should You Be Reading ‘Dumbing of Age’?
When you look at the sheer range and number of original stories being told in comics form today, it’s hard to imagine a better time to be a comics reader. Online and in print, from all around the world, artists and writers are telling stories with their own voices and styles, and there’s so much to choose from that it’s sometimes difficult to know what to read next. With Should I Be Reading… ?, ComicsAlliance hopes to offer you a guide to some of the best original ongoing comics being published today.
There are a lot of impressive webcomics out there, but very few creators have the chutzpah to reboot an entire line of webcomics as one slice-of-life strip. That's how David Willis's Dumbing of Age was born, and the result is some of the finest comics storytelling being published today.
WHAT'S IT ABOUT?
College is a huge life change for everyone. Most college-goers will spend thousands of dollars to move away from the place and people they grew up with, and pay even more money to have their fundamental beliefs and thoughts about the world challenged by professors. Some thrive on that change and welcome it. For others, like Joyce Brown, it's not so easy.
Raised in a fundamentalist Christian/homeschool bubble in La Porte, Indiana, Joyce is an Elementary Education major, "but really, I'm only here to meet the wonderful, godly man I'll someday marry."
A big-eyed (figuratively and literally) lover of the Lord and sweater vests with a sunny attitude, Joyce makes an unlikely group of friends that edge her out of her comfort zone. There's aspiring president/atheist Dorothy, the slacker man-child Walky, former head cheerleader/rampant alcoholic Billie, Joyce's taciturn roommate Sarah, and Walky's twin sister, the brooding, rebellious Sal. There's also Dorothy's ex-boyfriend and hopeless romantic Danny, nerdy, reclusive Amber, dinosaur-obsessed Dina, gay nerd Ethan --- who wants to be known more for being a huge nerd than for being gay --- and Ruth, their RA, who's not so much welcoming as "constantly threatening to break femurs."
Bouncing off of each other in various ways at Indiana University, these freshmen learn about life's ups and downs and that adulthood isn't easy.
WHO'S IT BY?
Dumbing of Age is the brainchild of David Willis and it's his own Crisis-style reboot of his webcomics universe, the "Walkyverse." It began in 1997 with Roomies, which also took place at IU, but was centered around Danny and his perpetually horny roommate Joe, and actually started out running in IU's Indiana Daily Student newspaper while Willis was a student there, later migrating online.
Willis later transitioned Roomies into It's Walky, which focused on a group of government alien hunters fighting in Colorado. That ran from 1999 to 2004, and was followed by Joyce and Walky, which ran from 2005 to 2010 as a paid subscription strip that then went on hiatus --- although it's since been finished and can be purchased from WIllis' online store.
From 2005 to 2015, Willis ran his longest strip, Shortpacked. Following some characters from It's Walky, the strip also split focus between storylines along with topical gag strips typically devoted to satirizing toy news and/or Transformers fans --- not surprising, given that Willis is the head admin and owner of the official Transformers Wiki.
Since 2014, Willis has also drawn in-canon pornographic stories featuring Dumbing of Age characters, along with two for Shortpacked, exclusively through the subscription porn comics portal Slipshine (NSFW). He's also been rerunning the Walkyverse strips in chronological order over on itswalky.com.
WHAT MAKES IT SPECIAL?
From both a writing and artistic standpoint, this is Willis' magnum opus. Over the five years and change that Age has run, Willis has honed his skills, and the result has been some deft, emotionally true storytelling. It's all the emotional resonance that made the Walkyverse work without the two big problems that would dog those strips (awkward art and similar-sounding characters).
In particular, a character's abusive father is depicted in a more realistic and affecting way than he was in Shortpacked, and the resulting story is much more terrifying because of it. Willis's crack sense of humor is in fine form as well, breaking up the drama with some great jokes. The character of Dina is of particular note in this regard, which is why she's the most popular. Also because she's the best.
On a personal level, I discovered Dumbing of Age my own freshman year of college. While my childhood was in no way similar to Joyce's, I was still raised religious and, yes, I found my faith challenged during my college years --- and I went to a religious college! Factor that in with Willis' consistently excellent work and the close-knit warmth of the comments section (seriously, it's generally an awesome place), and you have a strip that I'm glad to not only read every day, but to read and reread over and over again.
WHO SHOULD READ IT?
Anyone entering college, in college or in high school. Fans of WIllis' previous works, and webcomics like Questionable Content, Girls With Slingshots and Something Positive. Fans of Jillian and Mariko Tamaki, Faith Erin Hicks, Gene Luen Yang, or Transformers: More Than Meets the Eye.
WHERE CAN I READ IT?
Dumbing of Age updates seven days a week at its website. Four crowdfunded book collections are available in print from Willis' store and digitally from Comixology Submit, and a Kickstarter is running until March 30th for the fifth collection. The strip is also available on the Comics Chameleon app for iOS and Android. Strips and bonus material can also be found on Willis' Tumblr and Patreon.