College Drama and Personal Growth Take the Spotlight in “Dumbing of Age”
Going away to college is often touted as one of the defining times in a young person’s life, a period in which they are no longer under the supervision of their parents and placed in an environment that can’t help but change them. As cliche as this vision of academia seems, that’s exactly the situation of freshman Joyce Brown, one of the leading players in David Willis’s slice-of-life dramedy Dumbing of Age, which is set entirely on the campus of Indiana University.
Joyce (like Willis himself) has been raised in a loving but sheltered and strict fundamentalist Christian home and is attending school to, in her own words “hunt down the wonderful, godly man [she] will someday marry.” But Joyce’s worldviews will be tested and turned upside down by a widely diverse and intricate cast of characters. These include Joyce’s misanthropic roommate, her Yale-bound new best friend who happens to be an atheist, her rebellious convicted felon neighbor, their despot of an RA, and an emotionally unstable girl masquerading as a caped crusader (or is it the other way around?)–and those are just the people on her floor!
Fans of Willis, who’s been making comics for nearly 20 years, will recognize the strip is populated by characters from his previous works, such as Roomies, It’s Walky, and Shortpacked! However, Dumbing of Age is meant to be something of a reboot, and rest assured you need not be familiar with Willis’s previous work to understand or enjoy the comic.
Dumbing of Age at its core is about growth and acceptance, both of others and yourself. Among the cast are characters grappling with their sexuality, their religion, their moral center; and the plots explore internalized misogyny, racism, sexual assault, alcoholism, depression, trauma, and perhaps most frightening, love. While this might seem like an overwhelming amount of material to cover, David Willis does so with aplomb. His characters, though likable, are flawed and still floundering in the early throes of emotional maturation, which makes their relationships and interactions ripe for exploring the very recognizable social issues that affect real people in the real world.