Dumbing Of Age
that happens we'd all be long dead and forgotten, so we'll make do with what we have.
|Original review author:||SmashLampjaw|
|Webcomic name:||Dumbing Of Age|
|Start Date:||September 10, 2010 at 12:01 am|
|End Date:||Painfully On-Going, with a 3 month advance buffer|
|Defining Flaw:||Being endlessly beaten to death with unlogic and self-contradicting horseshit to make everything work out in accordance with the author's various biases.|
- 1 Foreword
- 2 Background
- 3 Downfall
- 4 Story And Plot
- 4.1 What Pass For Characters
- 4.2 Shit That Happened To "Characters"
- 5 Art review
- 6 Writing review
- 7 Author biography by Plarblman
- 8 Conclusion
- 9 Other comics by this person reviewed on this site
- 10 Links
In writing this review, there may have been some Willis subtext leakage as a result of having to internalize the comic to review it. I do not agree with taking a political side in these reviews (fringe craziness notwithstanding) so much as beating down the stupidity of how someone made a point. This comic, for example, is increasingly flooded with one-sided horseshit to the point that Willis' sometimes ludicrous stories only work out to support what he wants to say because they have to. When plot demands physics or reason shut their mouths and take it, Willis whips out the duct tape.
I'll strikethrough Willis' subtext whenever I catch myself writing it. Probably won't happen too often.
I had originally followed Dumbing of Age as a reader, rather than a reviewer, because I'd heard Willis was putting out a webcomic that was just a webcomic. It wasn't flooded with his deranged social, political, and spiritual horseshit (yet); it was just a webcomic. I decided to give him a fair shot... but after a while I found myself making notes about what I'd do if it was bad enough to review.
Recently there was strong demand in the forums someone review it. Apparently the final straw for a lot of people was a throwaway moment of forced comedy during an incredibly stupid drama storyline. I mention this because there will be some items that may make you wonder if I have unlimited free time, because if I hadn't known to track them as I went along, they'd have required hours of miserable backtracking to collect.
By the time I wrote this article, I had effectively read this comic 3.4 times. If I seem hostile to the author now you know why.
This is tricky to place, as there's an endless rain of shit that never stops once it gets going. I got sick of reading it during an incredibly stupid moment of forced drama in a throwaway comedy storyline a little over a year ago.
Story And Plot
Normally we would have a "Storyline" section, but stories in Dumbing of Age are threadbare. Most of what happens in Dumbing of Age is character interactions. Occasionally something gets flung past the characters so there's an event splattered in the background for them to react to. There is an overarching storyline, however...
Dumbing of Age is a semi-autobiographical web comic that fictionally chronicles Dave Willis' transition from being a Christian Fundie into an Anti-Religion Fundie. The whole thing serves as a
reminder that the only good Christians are the ones who realize how utterly inferior everything about Christianity is subtle expression of Willis' views. Issues of all kinds are brought up with utterly non-existent resistance, because his leftist stances and social justice truthing are objectively correct to such a truthy degree that detractors are stunned into silence by the inescapable crushing force of realizing of how wrong they are to have thought otherwise proper representation.
Sex is also rampant. While that aspect of college life has a lot of foundation in reality, nearly everyone is depicted as gay/bisexual
just like real life according to the internet which was such a severe over-representation Willis wound up having to lampshade it. There are a handful of in-the-closet gay characters, both to remind everyone that being gay isn't a choice but being straight somehow is not everyone accepts what they are right away and that others are hypocritical right-wing hypocrites WHO ARE IN THE CLOSET BECAUSE ALL REPUBLICANS ARE FUCKING GAY RACIST SECRET GAY HYPOCTRIEONAONF!1!!11 uncomfortable openly being who they are. Racism comes up as a story point on occasion which as we all know is anything white people do other than apologize, and a couple of the stupider examples will be highlighted below, but the comic is overwhelmingly about sexual topics.
The kind of sex Willis chooses to depict makes it hard not to start forming judgments about him. Women are almost always the aggressors, the scenes are almost exclusively where women are on top (like the late-night Skinemax flicks Willis apparently learned everything he knows about sex from) or lesbians making out. In fact, in case there isn't enough sex for you in the main comic, you'll be regularly bombarded with ads for a hard core porn comic behind a paywall. Ever wonder what nearly identical cel shaded characters look like when their thick borders penetrate each other? Hell no? Well don't worry, you'll regularly have to ignore porn banners above and below every comic, often destroying the tone of the comic that comes between them. Sometimes the porn ads make their own context.
What Pass For Characters
Willis' main cast are designed with one character flaw so he can pretend he still presents his mouthpieces as real people. They all have the same flaw because he's fucking lazy; all of them are obnoxious. Why yes, it does become grating reading a comic where this is everyone's flaw! Enough about that. Let's see what "varied" and "fully-realized" amount to.
Joyce - Willis' first self-insert. She is a collection of positive traits that represented him when he arrived in college. Joyce is a super whitebread Christian who spends most of her time thinking positive, being wrong, saying painfully stupid things, making ridiculous faces, and
quietly accepting the utter inferiority of Christianity to nihilistic self-interest being open-minded. She is one of the main characters in the comic and is surprisingly likable, which is a shame since she spends most of her time learning how horrible Christians are mostly because she is a good person with character development. Absolutely no one should be surprised when she inevitably embraces atheism and "science", finally becoming cool thanks to abandoning her prayers to an invisible sky wizard turns her back on Christianity for moral reasons.
Walky - Willis' blacksona second-self-insert, in the form of a too-cool-for-school atheist who's gotten straight As all his life without doing any work because he tests well (which is mathematically-impossible), and a body "like sculpted caramel" despite a lethargic lifestyle of watching TV and eating junk food. Walky serves as a
half-black way for Willis to ram home how atheists are smarter and better in every way than everyone else, but especially smarter, since not believing in something you call stupid automatically makes you superior to anyone with a different and equally unsupported view foil for Joyce, and vice versa. Everything is handed to Walky so Willis can live vicariously through a character that the wise and loving creator of his universe showers gifts upon, and who is black, but not TOO black because he is more of a comic relief character. Unfortunately, due to Willis' alternating how he draws Walky's eyes, this is the character most prone to looking like a chimpanzee, rodent, or dog when mugging to show emotion.
Becky - Willis' wife-insert who everyone knew was going to turn out to be a lesbian as soon as she reappeared in book 6. A life-long friend of Joyce's from the same
cousin-fucking Christian Fundie monster RepubliKKKan brood background, who is initially going to another college. Even counting the throwaway parts of the cast, she is easily one of the most obnoxious characters in a comic where every character is obnoxious. If Joyce smothered her to death in her sleep, I would delete this review and build Willis a golden shrine. (Note: Using a dream sequences or retconning the fatal smothering will disqualify this offer.)
Jennifer "Billie" Billingsworth - A rich, slutty Asian alcoholic (1) former cheerleader. Willis has characters inform you she is Asian because you're probably racist and have never seen one before. If you weren't racist, you could totally deduce she's Asian from her round eyes and extremely slightly yellow-tinted skin (#F9EECD) which looks nearly identical to the darker caucasians' skin (#EFD9BE). Okay, okay! Willis can only draw one female face and Billie looks like how he draws himself but with a ponytail added! C'mon, she has great character development! She becomes a lesbian
out of love because being gay/bi is a choice and a beautiful thing and should totally have some make-out sessions depicted because empowerment despite a stated lengthy background as a heterosexual tramp. Hopefully you'll enjoy being reminded she used to be a cheerleader, because it just doesn't stop happening.
Sally "Sal" Walkerton - Walky's sister, who we're repeatedly informed is cool and a badass. She smokes, has a motorcycle, and speaks absolutely nothing like her brother. Sally is intellectually inferior to her brother, violent, and is a convicted criminal. In spite of these differences, she claims her parents favored Walky because she's blacker than he is (NOTE: THIS IS A PLOT POINT) even though they have the exact same skin color (#CEA87E). This leaves open a troubling question: since Sal literally can't be talking about skin color, which part of being an inept, ill-educated, violent criminal did Willis write-in to make her "blacker" than Walky?
Dorothy - A selfish, controlling bitch who waits to dump her boyfriend of three years until after he follows her to college. She leaves him for not having aspirations of his own, then immediately does all of the work to pursue and hook up with Walky, who has no aspirations whatsoever and is a lazy slob. Admittedly, women are well-known to be attracted to broke, semi-filthy men who lack direction, but Willis had already established Dorothy as one of those rare gals who prefer a man who knows what he wants with his life and taking steps to achieve it. She's also an atheist, but is much less obnoxious about it than Walky.
Danny - A proper man, in that he is
a doormat and understands his place is the bottom, being walked over for the happiness of women who have done nothing to be entitled to his endless sacrifices understanding and forgiving. Most of his characterization consists of being passive about his endless mistreatment. His identity in the comic Dorothy's ex, Amazi-girl's current boyfriend, and Joe's roommate. There's very little else done to establish him as a character. According to Willis, this is the comic's least popular character. Who's fault is that?
Joe - A penis with eyes. He's written as being Jewish, for some reason, which we have to be told because he lacks any actual cultural or physical indicators, stereotypes, or even so much as a side comment where the Judaism/ethnic Jew thing actually becomes a factor. If there's any proof Willis hasn't gone full-SJW, it's that Joe has yet to be forced to apologize for anything. He is mostly used as a mouthpiece for Willis to challenge notions of manliness using his idea of a masculine character when he's not fucking, talking about fucking, or planning who to fuck.
Roz - A cunt with a mouth. She's a
driven woman who is sometimes so passionate about the truthiness of her true and unassailable beliefs that she sometimes drowns people in the tsunami of how wrong they are selfish, blindingly stupid hypocrite who constantly bludgeons everyone around her with whatever leftist talking points Willis feels like putting in her mouth but never gets genuinely challenged. More on that later. The only other defining character trait she has is being the sluttiest slut in this comic who ever slutted.
Sarah - Joyce's irritable black roommate. She was supposedly going to be the second main character (Joyce being the first) before being side-lined for Dorothy. She mostly serves as an angry, violent, mother hen type character who alienates nearly everyone around her.
Ruth - An angry character who is intense and angry as a result of her role as a shitty Resident Assistant. Alcoholic. Canadian. Parents killed by a drunk driver. Oh, and she discovers she is a lesbian and winds up in a relationship with Billie because why not. Willis has a quota to fill.
Mike - Asshole. Terse. Gets away with shit nobody should because... comedy? That said, the more you hate the cast, the more you'll find yourself liking Mike.
GAYGUY - Amber's ex-boyfriend who discovered he was gay. I couldn't remember his name so I wrote "GAYGUY" as a placeholder when I started writing this review. Then I realized there's no good reason to bother relearning his actual name because the entirety of his character definition can be described as "Amber's Ex" and "that gay guy with gay guy problems". GAYGUY is not depicted as having any responsibility for the suffering he caused Amber. Because he's a decent person, GAYGUY nonetheless shows remorse for it. He also exclusively tries to "accidentally" seduce Amber's current boyfriend in spite of knowing the two are dating. Because that's what remorse looks like.
GAYGUY also serves as a constant reminder Willis is incapable of making a consistent argument. Going by the bullshit I read 3.4 times, Willis believes homosexuality is genetic as long as the plot doesn't need to be a choice, at which point turning gay or bi is not only possible but portrayed as a wholly positive act. Meanwhile, turning heterosexual is an absurdity that is offensive to even consider trying.
Amber / Amazi-girl - A
fearsome but troubled woman who channels her negative emotions into crime-fighting pathetic, "real world" version of Batman, in the form of a doughy computer science major, whose secret identity should have been retired with Shortpacked. Amber has to do constant exercise to stay in shape to fight crime, as you would expect, except it takes the form of sitting motionless while playing video games for days at a time. She is easily the most poorly-written character who isn't a strawman. Amber likes Danny for no good reason, venomously hates/fears/hates Sal for no good reason (more on that later), frequently wins fights / doesn't die solely because the plot needs it, and is able to maintain a secret identity in spite of so many reasons that the stupidity of it has to be repeatedly lampshaded in the comic.
If you though that last group was diverse, get a load of these:
Yes, the entire cast of villains is almost exclusively white and male. The comic features a very small number of antagonists who
shouldn't be rounded up and put in work camps to make up for the crimes they've committed against social justice aren't straight, white, or male, and the worst of them are all Christians. Here are the ones worth knowing:
Ryan "Gash Face" McRaypsem - A straight white male pastor's son who, naturally, is a serial rapist. It's worth noting that the series of comics where he tries to drug, date rape, and then violently rape Joyce that ends with a joke lacks a trigger warning. I mention that because 5 years later, this relatively tame comic, where a line art version of Becky's mom fails to escape her annoying daughter via overdose, begins with a spoiler trigger warning and ends with a picture of a kitten and suicide help resources.
Carol Brown - Joyce's mother, a straight white intolerant Christian fundamentalist intolerant! THAT BITCH!
Amber's Father - Straight white male, spiritual beliefs unknown, wife beater status likely but unconfirmed. He basically yells at Amber about how weak she is and gets beat up. He has almost the same face as Ruth's little brother. That's all there is to him. I could find his name but what would be the point?
Becky's Father - A straight white intolerant Christian fundamentalist intolerant who is intolerant! Loves his god and guns, which he brings to the campus in order to retrieve his gay. Also known as "Toedad" in the fanbase. Wasted a staggering amount of his life weightlifting only to be punched out by a girl with zero physical conditioning because plot.
John Brown - Joyce's brother who is a straight white male fundamentalist Christian missionary. Intolerance status unknown but highly suspect. He became a bit of a problem, since it wasn't obvious to people outside of Willis' psychotic-leftist fanbase that he was a villain. Apparently sane people viewed his calm concern that in a single month his youngest sister turned into an angry psychotic as familial love instead of a superiority complex, so Willis hamfistedly villainized him by giving him a Church-issue Mustang. The explanation of why a missionary to India visiting the USA would be given a car in the USA instead of where he lives has not been offered by the comic.
Mary - A straight white Christian woman who is repeatedly mistreated by the cast and hated by Willis' fanbase of bigots.
Shit That Happened To "Characters"
GAYGUY begins dating Joyce, in spite of him being gay. Their relationship is based around resisting temptation. In GAYGUY's case, he is trying not to be gay. In Joyce's case, she wants to help GAYGUY not be gay and needs a man she feels safe with. We're informed by Willis through Sarah that Joyce is a horrible person for trying to help GAYGUY not be gay even though that is what he wants. Joyce
immediately recognizes this truth for its truthiness, because the worst thing a person can do is change their sexual preference toward heterosexuality clearly believes this argument as her fear of Dorothy discovering it recurs in future comics. This relationship is passed off as a negative, where Joyce is the bad guy. Keep that in mind because...
Billie and Ruth had a long-running feud, marked with repeated mutual physical abuse, mutual verbal abuse, blackmail, intimidation, destruction of property, and so forth. Naturally both characters discover a lesbian streak during a violent confrontation. Sorry, that's unfair of me. Ruth discovers she has more than just a murderboner for Billie while belittling and attacking her... uh... to toughen her up? Moving on. Billie
is so touched that she becomes gay, which is possible because sexuality is a choice as long as you're choosing to be bi/gay decides to ignore her sexuality to go lesbian for Ruth to keep her from literally drinking herself to death or maybe just has lampshaded Stockholm Syndrome. This is a beautiful relationship that can only exist between women, demonstrating both that Billie isn't entirely selfish horrifying self-destructive relationship based on the constant threat of self-harm (1, 2, etc.) by Billie's long-time abuser that is passed off as positive.
Amazi-girl is Willis' attempt at a real-world female Batman. Stories involving her mostly involve her landing in the scene from above even though there is nowhere to have jumped from, flashbacks, failing to throw a punch correctly, and other violations of physics. Willis also has her treat Amazi-girl as a separate person.
Amber's backstory that led to her becoming Amazi-girl is told in a series of flashbacks. When Amber was a teenager, Sal incompetently held up a convenience store she was in, sort of took GAYGUY hostage, and Amber's father kept calling her weak until she snapped and stabbed Sal through the hand. Amber was so traumatized from stabbing Sal through the hand that she freaks out whenever she sees Sal, who I must remind you Amber stabbed through the hand. After that, he had Amber in self-defense classes, which apparently covered the use of grappling hooks and fighting while wearing what amounts to a wide rope on your back.
So after a beating up enough
rapemongering colonialists white men, Billie (and later, Dorothy) are assigned to track down Amazi-girl for an interview. This is absurdly difficult for no good reason, to the point that Willis repeatedly lampshades how stupid it was nobody made the connection later on. It eventually leads to a chase where Amber performs acrobatic feats that you'd think would be difficult for a wide-assed, large-chested woman in a janitor's outfit that's one size too large, but hey, plot demands it.
Eventually a boss fight is called for. First she beats the shit out of her father, who is holding Danny hostage. This is an entirely one-sided fight that Amber wins, which isn't what you'd expect when a woman attacks a man who is a foot taller and more powerfully built than she is. Then she attempts to start a fight with Sal, but due to
Sal's able friends race and gender pandering Amazi-girl is successfully restrained by a pudgy lesbian, in spite of being strong enough to beat the shit out of fitter, taller men. This ends without a fight.
Having subjected us enough to Action Batman, Willis decides some Detective Batman is called for. Amber runs up and down the halls of her own dorm trying to discover who vandalized whiteboards. It was Joyce because almost-rape you don't remember is traumatic. There, I saved you a chapter of wasted time.
Willis Goes Full-Retard
After shitting up an entire book being an obnoxiously out lesbian, Becky's father shows up to save the readers from her. For some reason this is presented as a crisis.
Becky's father shows up and kidnaps Becky at gunpoint while invoking God so you know he's a Christian fundamentalist. Like most
cousin-fucking Hitlers religious people Willis depicts, he's a completely irrational monster. After somehow being jumped by a tiny Asian who should have bounced off of him, Toedad catches up to Becky. He even fires off a shot on a school campus as he's abducting her. This leads to a car chase - no, really, an actual fucking car chase - during which Amazi-girl is being dragged behind Toedad's car on a skateboard by her grappling hook. It depicts a series of violations of the laws of physics so appalling they should be capital crimes.
Oh, there are a couple of near-death moments. At one point Amazi-girl's fat ass nearly goes through someone's windshield instead of her bouncing off of it and over the car she hit. She and the driver have a telepathic girl power moment then the pursuit continues. She's eventually rescued by Sal which results in more Amber spazzing out for no reason while looking like a hungry, hungry hippo.
The storyline wraps up with Joyce punching out a man with at least 150 pounds of muscle over her. She doesn't merely knock him out but sends him flying several feet away without reducing the bones in her hands to powder from the force that would take. It wraps up with both Joyce and Becky seeming to lose faith in a divine power, in spite of the incredible unlikelihood of anything that happened actually working out like it did (as was brought up at length on our forums).
The Strawmen of Roz
Roz, as mentioned earlier, is a cunt. I'm not mincing words: she is easily the worst character in the series even counting Becky. The reason being is that while most of the comic features Willis gently smothering us to death with his idiotic notions, Roz absolutely hammers the reader with his opinion. This is made worse by the fact she is literally never challenged on anything she says. Instead, Willis dumps out a strawman argument to create the illusion she's getting push-back, and has her silenced by something totally unrelated to the agenda she was pushing.
Roz makes a sex tape with Joe, publishes it on the internet, and alerts the press (considering it showed up in the following morning's paper). Why would she do this? To
draw attention to her deeply held beliefs get attention while fucking over her sister who is a conservative congresswoman. What are her beliefs? Well... Willis pretty actively avoids getting into specifics, but they seem to revolve around the idea that young attractive women best serve humanity as voyeuristic dick-recepticles. Probably something in there about empowerment. The one time it looked like Roz was about to explicitly state them, we have a cutaway before jumping back to the discussion ending.
In any case, the strawman argument from her congresswoman sister amounts to "you pissed off some redneck voters". (In Shortpacked! she was an open lesbian congresswoman, so one must assume she was made conservative in DoA so Willis' reactionary fandom would know to bark at her like trained dogs.) Roz then silences her sister with a bunch of idiotic noise about it being her body and her beliefs and a bunch of other bullshit that doesn't justify gaining attention by potentially destroying someone else's career instead of meriting it. Roz is then shut down by an entirely unrelated argument in a shallow attempt to make it seem like she got push-back. Willis even hamfistedly has Roz say the non-argument was "solid" so his critics will notice his characters don't go unchallenged.
Oh, but Willis wasn't done. Dorothy gets stuck interviewing Roz, which requires Dorothy attending a college party because this will (somehow) introduce Dorothy to Roz's mystery beliefs that justify everything. Dorothy asks Roz some "tough questions" in this comic which can be summed as, "Did you check your privilege?" Actual tough questions would be something like:
- How can you justify this by claiming you wanted to get your message out when you used your sister's career, possibly ending it, to do so? If being heard is inherently valuable, aren't you a hypocrite for trying to silence your sister to do it?
- Isn't it hypocritical to claim your video promotes your beliefs about sex, safe sex, and birth control when your partner wasn't wearing a condom? You walk around passing out free condoms wearing a condom hat; why didn't you use one? (Joe indicates the only birth control involved was "the pill", Joe's dick is visible in the video, and Dorothy's seen the video.)
Bitch, did you check your privilege?!
In Gender Studies, Leslie the Lesbian quotes a statistic that claims 33% of homeless people are LBGTQOSDJF, were mostly kicked out because religion, and can't get help because religion. Joyce makes the mistake of showing weakness, causing Roz to verbally unhinge her jaw and try to swallow Joyce. Technically this was more Leslie getting a strawman out of Joyce, but I'm attributing it to Roz because she was the loudest.
What was Joyce's response to Roz asking "Where was this outrage 4 weeks ago?" Any of these would have worked:
- Reasonably-Informed: That estimate is based on a report that ignored some of the studies it claimed to be based on, and none of them had a large enough sample size to use for a population of hundreds of thousands of people.
- Hostile But Valid: We've only been in college for 3 weeks, you stupid cunt, and 3 weeks ago we were discussing the Bechdel Test!
- At Least Not Caving In: Why should I have been outraged weeks ago about something I'd never heard of before now?
No, instead Joyce's response is to give faith-based charities shit for not spending money to support people who don't support them while crying, followed by running away crying. Roz is finally silenced by a non-argument that amounts to either "Check your privilege" or possibly "Stop appropriating", but I'm unwilling to huff paint until I'm stupid enough to know which nuance of SJW retardism applies here.
Where to begin with the comic's most frequently-abused and pointlessly-villified character? Mary is a repeated witness to / victim of what a completely shitty R.A. Ruth is, insulted for no reason by someone she drew art for just 2 days prior, has her privacy violated and is mocked for it.
Mary's roommate is Roz. Just let that sink in a minute. Roz is
so passionate about her beliefs such a rabid social justice warrior that the roommate agreement ban Mary referring to her god as "Him". That's in addition to all of the disruption Roz presumably causes from being a mindless slut. Mary is so traumatized by her time with Roz that she refuses to even enter the room when Roz's sister visits, because she assumes she'd be getting the Roz Treatment in stereo. Where did Mary sleep? Willis knows his fans won't care.
Then there's Mary's encounters with Carla, who is the second most obnoxious piece of shit in this comic. Willis' fans give her a pass to because she's a transsexual and they don't have free will
where social justice is involved. Most readers will be surprised to learn this, as the hints for it are so vague nobody outside of a Shortpacked! reader will catch them before the reveal in this storyline.
In any case, Mary is unable to concentrate because Carla is making so much noise skating in the halls she can hear it through her door. Mary asks Carla to stop and is told she won't. Mary points out it's against the rules and is ignored, then tries to stop Carla by lying in her path while studying. Finally, Mary uses cartoon glue to gum up Carla's skates. Since Carla is too fucking stupid to dissolve the glue she keeps stomping outside Mary's door to continue tormenting her. While chasing after Mary down the hall, Mary announces she's leading Carla to the boy's wing. This apparently triggered a massive argument between people who didn't think it was a big deal and SJW allies acting like it was the end of the world. Since the comments are gone, you still won't know Carla is transsexual until a couple comics later.
This is when Ruth shows up looking furious at Mary. You know, because college is about going into debt for the rest of your life so perpetual victims of imaginary oppression can unwind noisily, not so you might one day be able to pay the debt off with your education. Ruth becomes furious at Mary for "punching down" instead of taking Carla's rule-breaking abuse, which leads to Mary calling out Ruth with a list of entirely accurate charges that prove Ruth sucks at her job and blackmails Ruth into not abusing her. Ruth has to be blackmailed not to abuse Mary the victim of harassment by a rule-breaker Ruth was supposed to stop... and the fans call Mary a villain. Take a moment to drink that in. Just really imbibe the delicious bigotry from the comments section.
Ruth skulks off, announcing she will turn a blind eye to whatever happens to Mary. This is exactly what Ruth has been doing since the comic started so Mary predictably is not concerned. Ruth goes off and breaks up with Billie over being unable to attack Mary over the
trauma even greater than soldiers experience in war when their legs are blown off or even the PTSD women suffer from catcalls incredibly tame insults Mary threw at Carla. Unfortunately Ruth is still an alcoholic, so her attempt to confront Mary later fails miserably. Eventually Mary is subjected to a totally uninspired recycling of a pie gag from Willis' previous comic.
Dumbing of Age features simple but passable art with a large amount of sameface. Billie looks like how Willis draws himself; Ruth's brother and Amber's father have almost the same face; Dorothy, Amber, and Amber's mom all look alike. It's actually be faster to list the recurring characters who don't look like anyone else. I can't think of any. See? Done already. Willis also has a weird hang-up about drawing eyes; most of his characters either have solid black dots for eyes, except when they don't. In a lot of cases he seems to use glasses as a substitute for drawing eyes properly. Most characters share one of a small number of body types. It's pretty much just palette/feature swaps.
As a positive, his laziness is limited to faces. I cannot recall a single comic where he didn't bother with a background. There are a wide variety of scenes and backgrounds, and a few angle differences. There's even a clear effort to keep the varied settings consistent. It's also worth adding that his comics auto-post with a buffer of about 3 months of completed work. As a return to the negative, sometimes there seems to be problems with the perspective of certain comics, but that's the least of this comic's problems. Coincidentally, perspective is also the biggest of this comic's problems. Also, he frequently draws inhuman facial expressions for laughs, making his characters look like their faces were stuffed full of wire hangers.
Surprisingly, Willis made a porn version of his comic where you can watch characters having sex with a Slipshine subscription. It seems like a waste of money to keep one, because with a fill tool and a small amount of copying and pasting, you could turn the characters in any scene into any characters you (inexplicably) wanted to see fucking. I have to assume people are paying for it because he keeps making new porn. I can't wrap my mind around it since pretty much anyone could do it themselves using his comic and very little editing.
Putting aside all of the
unveiled truths about what racist, sexist, omniphobe hypocrite everyone who differs from Willis' ideals are social and political commentary, one of the most glaring problem with Dumbing of Age is (surprisingly) the passage of time. No, really. This deserves special mention. Most of the comics happen contiguously in chronological order. Each day leads into the next (with only 3 exceptions) and most of the chapters are one day long. So, despite the relatively fast pace, in-universe time runs at about 0.001% the speed it feels like it should. Readers will be blown away when they find out that the characters haven't even hit the end of their second week when it feels like they should be toward the end of the school year. Willis seems to have gotten harassed about this, as he had a character begin shouting how long it had been since she got a boyfriend to mock confused readers who couldn't tell how many days had passed due to the almost omnipresent lack of clues and willful omission of narrative box dates.
How much time has passed? At the time of writing this, there have been 1,802 comics spread across 5 years, 8 months, and 20 days (or 2089 days). In that time, the comic has progressed a grand total of 35 days and it skipped 10 of them. It will be roughly 6 decades before Joyce's first day as a sophomore.
The passage of time also has a side-effect in the writing. Willis often has characters behaving in a way that is consistent with how much real life time has passed, despite how little in-universe time has. It most frequently happens when he follows a drama strip with a comedy strip 24 hours later (real time), even though 30 seconds has passed for the characters (in-universe time). I'll get into that shortly.
The comic also has a long-running problem of bad writing I can only sum up as "anti-tone" or "tone whiplash". Willis just seems to love to throw drama and comedy together as if they were chocolate and peanut butter, in spite of the reality that any media consumer will rapidly notice that it takes a great deal of skill to mix the two because they don't naturally go together. He does the same with other things, but the bad writing is most glaring in the case of this combination. The comic has multiple examples of horrible insertions of comedy in drama, attempts at comedy that make absolutely zero sense in-context for a character to say or just have horrible comedic timing. This and the real time vs. comic time results in tone whiplash for someone who isn't reading strips like these a day apart.
Author biography by Plarblman
If you've read the review for Shortpacked!, you would have read about how poorly Dave Willis handles criticism, and how on occasion he will fly off the handle for some of the most bizarre reasons whenever fans point out strange anomalies in his comics. I'd say the worst thing he's ever done is when he blatantly misrepresents real-life people in the comics industry, in one case to the point of outright defamation. Well, we only scratched the surface, because more recent events have been quite revealing. I had speculated for some time that Willis isn't simply immature, but outright mentally unstable. Turns out I may have been on to something.
To begin with, the arc that brought this comic to our attention, the one where Becky is chased by her father, ended up having one of the more ridiculous climaxes I've ever read. Turns out, not only is Willis aware of this, he deliberately wrote it this way for two reasons. One, he wanted to write a revenge fantasy because he's still wrapped up about his fundamentalist parents. Two, he has this very bizarre reasoning that the universe has to bend over backwards for Becky because normally, gay characters get killed off in stories. In other words, "Bury Your Gays" is a universal law rather than something that happens in some stories. And his "subversive" story is meant to be an act of defiance against that. In other words, a revenge fantasy against other stories.
Putting aside the fact that the story could have been far better written where Becky still would have survived at the end, no one in your audience is going to relate to this kind of off-the-wall reasoning. They only care about what happens within the story itself. What happens in other stories doesn't matter. And for the record, if what Willis is saying is true about how stories with straight couples experience Deus Ex Machinas, that's no excuse for him to do the same. It's shitty writing regardless of the circumstances.
On a side note, Joyce should realize that, considering Becky, Dina, and Amber should all have died after what transpired, her faith in a higher power should be stronger, not weaker. Remember, Willis outright says that the universe got bent for them. I guess he's just too absorbed in patting himself on the back to realize the ironic implications of what he wrote.
To recap, here's some of Willis' mental gymnastics on display:
- "I don't want to see My Little Pony advertisements in my Transformers comic, because I'm obviously not the target demographic." = "I hate transsexual people."
- "The setup and punchline to this comic doesn't match up." = "I am living under a rock and willfully ignorant of social issues. Also, I hate transsexual people."
- "I don't understand what this protrusion on this vibrator is for. I don't normally see something like that on vibrators." = "I hate women and they should pleasure themselves with my dick!"
- "The comics industry needs to stop leaning on the Big 2 and support more original IPs to bring in new readers. Saga and The Walking Dead are proof that they can succeed." = "All comic books except Saga and The Walking Dead are fake."
- "In some stories, characters who happen to be gay die." = "Gay characters in fiction die all the time so I'm going to subvert the shit out of it through the power of Deus Ex Machina!"
What could possibly possess a person to employ such tortured, non-linear reasoning? I think it's a combination of things. To avoid making this any longer than it already is, I'll simply say that Willis started out as a traditionalist conservative fundamentalist before he left home and doing a 180 to become a radical neoprogressive atheist. The change wasn't immediate, though, and I think tumblr's brand of social justice activism, which is already very intolerant of any dissent or unorthodoxy, may have played a part in solidifying his current mindset (because let's be honest, some of the things they do are pretty damn culty). He had always been a zealot, he simply ended up swinging to the opposite end of the political spectrum and deluded himself into thinking that being on the "right side of history" gave him license to be as irrational and vindictive as possible. I don't think it's about the ideology itself, though, so much as his lack of maturity and his need to have an enemy. Most likely he's just emotionally immature and arrogant since he's basically a 30 year old teenager. John Cleese explains quite succinctly how being an extremist is more about personal satisfaction than any sincere belief, and based on his actions, I think Willis is more interested in attacking people he doesn't like than actually helping anyone, as I pointed out in the Shortpacked! review for the comic's finale. This is also why he can't handle criticism, he must be right! He can't even imagine the possibility of being in the wrong, he's a champion of justice! Everyone else must be horrific misogynist homophobic racist bigots!
Let this be a lesson to you prospective writers out there. Never be too arrogant to believe you always have the right answers. Not only will your work suffer for it, you'll also end up as a crazy asshole who nobody but the most sycophantic brown-nosers will want to associate with.
If you thought this review was too long, don't read the comic.
Other comics by this person reviewed on this site
- The comic itself
- A review of DoA from back when it was still readable.
- This parody strip has everything you need to know about Dumbing of Age.
- Willis' Tumblr for more social justice between comics
- Willis explaining his characters - Apparently he's all of them except Danny, because fuck Danny. He made his father Danny, who is currently fucking "Willis' rage" and may soon be getting sodomized by "the jerk part of Willis that interacts with fandom".
- The wikia for Willis' comics, because of course that's a thing
- DoA Patreon in case you want to depress yourself.