Oh, My Pop Culture Religion: Complexity of Faith in Dumbing of Age

A couple of us here at Lady Geek Girl & Friends are fans of David Willis’s webcomic Dumbing of Age, a story about college freshmen trying to figure out life. We love it not just because of the great plots and characters, but because of the sensitive, realistic way it addresses real issues that people have to confront in real life, but that often don’t get much representation in mass media. Dom previously wrote about the phenomenon of racism within a mixed-race family in the comic. Today, my focus is going to be on the religious journey of Joyce, the comic’s main character.

I love Joyce to death. While the comic is full of characters I love, some of whom arguably are more interesting than Joyce (for instance, one character dresses up as a superhero and fights petty crime!), the more the comic goes along, the more I’ve come to appreciate her. She is kind, sweet, adorably naïve, unflappably cheerful, and fiercely loyal to the ones she loves. She also grew up in a sheltered, fundamentalist Christian household. Going from that to the huge, diverse, and largely liberal Indiana University was bound to cause some culture shock. But while this clash is sometimes funny, Willis has never portrayed her as a strawman (strawwoman?) parody of a Christian. It is one of the most sensitive, heartfelt stories of religious struggle that I’ve ever encountered in geek media. I feel as if I have a personal stake in the outcome of her journey because I’ve struggled with similar issues. Details—and spoilers—below.

Dumbing-of-Age-header Continue reading

Not Dismissing Problems in Dumbing of Age

racism not cartoon villainy dumbing of age“I’ve never seen this happen, so it isn’t a real issue,” is a line spoken way too often in geek culture. Unfortunately, with more and more types of people being recognized as consumers, more hate has reared its head. Geek culture has been progressing and has become more accepting than before of the increasing audience, but this hasn’t always been quick or easy. The previously mentioned line is at the heart of this slow process.

With more groups present, however, more experiences are available to the group mindset. Having members of various ethnic groups, genders, and sexualities provides more experiences than a single person can have on their own. However, it is not impossible for someone to speak on an experience they haven’t personally lived, as long as it’s handled with care.

David Willis, probably best known for his Shortpacked! strip about false equivalence, has been doing a pretty decent job with this. Another comic of his, Dumbing of Age, is a “slice-of-life” comic set at Indiana University chronicling the lives of many of his characters from other works, re-imagined as college kids. It’s like a reboot that exists parallel to the normal universe. In this comic, he explores issues like dating, struggling with one’s own religion, various college struggles, sexuality, parental issues, and race. For example, during the past year, he introduced a transgender character, an action which was met with much praise.

Spoilers for Dumbing of Age ahead. Continue reading