Dumbing of Age: This Campus Is a Friggin’ Escher Print
I’m sure Dumbing of Age, by David Willis, is one of those webcomic strips that I’ve only just found but everyone else has been reading for ages. Still, I enjoyed it, and I want to talk about why.
Reason #1: There’s a book, Dumbing of Age: This Campus Is a Friggin’ Escher Print. The comic has been running for three years, with a large cast, but I can jump back to the beginning and find out who everyone is* with the first book, available either in print or digitally, for instant access.
(*Well, sort of. It turns out that Willis is using alternate versions of characters that appeared in his previous webcomics Roomies! and It’s Walky!, but since they’re alternates, that’s not too off-putting to new readers.)
The book is nicely done, too, with character bio pages and author note commentary. It reprints in color the first year’s worth of comics (September 2010-October 2011). And it gave me a starting point.
I’m glad, because I like these characters. I was first attracted by the premise, described by Willis as “a Christian homeschooled girl and her atheist best friend” at Indiana University. I’m interested in stories about how sheltered religious kids face the real world, once they’re out in it (see also Blankets and Nothing Better), although it’s mostly played for laughs in the first book. But there are so many other cast members, many of them women, that I wanted to keep spending time with all of them.
Beyond Joyce, the religious one, there’s Sarah, her older, grumpy roommate; Billie, the already-jaded alcoholic who’s bummed she’s no longer a popular kid; Dorothy, the determined one who gets to college and promptly dumps her boyfriend; Danny, the normal-guy dumpee; Joe, his slutty roommate; “Ruthless”, the violent Resident Assistant; Amber, the computer geek; and Amazi-Girl, the campus superhero. Willis draws several of them with similar looks (a later plot point, actually), so I’m glad to read bunches of the strips at once, so I can keep track of who’s who and what they’re worrying about this week. Another book bonus is a set of costume designs for the characters where Willis talks about picking their wardrobes and what it shows about their personalities. I was impressed that he’d paid attention.
The soap opera is engrossing, mostly realistic with just a bit of adventure overlay, and I love the reminders of what college life could be like. I’m hoping there’s another digital volume soon, so I can continue getting caught up to the current strips.
I’m so glad this comic is getting more publicity.
I’ve been reading Willis’s stuff since his ROOMIES days, and all of his comics are very good (although quite different in topic and mood.)
Since DUMBING OF AGE is most comparable to ROOMIES, his first strip which was also a “realistic” college soap opera, it is really impressive to see how much he has improved, both in artistic terms and in the sensitivity and subtlety of his characterizations.