Dumbing of Age is a Slice of Lifewebcomic by David Willis, set at Indiana University and revolving around the freshman class of whatever year this is. Though it has Loads and Loads of Characters, its primary focus is on Joyce Brown, a naive fundamentalist Christian with a friendly demeanor and a rigid but upbeat outlook on life, and her unlikely best friend Dorothy Keener, an ambitious atheist and law student. Also along for the ride are Joyce's roommate, a snarky, nigh-misanthropic sophomore named Sarah Clinton, and their next-door neighbors, alcoholic and wannabe-Alpha Bitch Jennifer "Billie" Billingsworth and Book Dumb, Bad Ass-incarnate Sal Walkerton. And then there's local vigilanteAmazi-Girl, secretly fellow freshman Amber O'Malley, who uses the alter-ego to compartmentalize her anger issues. All these people have assorted friends and relations, any of whom are capable of taking center-stage at any time—it's probably a good idea to take a look at the character sheet to get a sense of the sheer scope of the work.The comic is a Ultimate Universe counterpart to Willis' other comics, playing fast and loose with the personal histories of the characters, stripping out the science-fiction elements altogether, and leading to characters co-existing and forming relationships when they'd barely met in the other 'verse (or vice versa.) In a sense it could be said to be a reboot of Roomies! specifically, given the college focus, but with characters from everything up through Shortpacked! included.First page can be found here.
Referenced by Walky. He loses his shoes, so Dorothy tells him to just wear another pair. Walky responds that he only owns one pair of shoes because he's a man, and begins a quest to find a man who is girly enough to actually own multiple pairs of shoes so he can borrow a pair.
Alt Text: Willis discovered how to do this on February 14th, 2013.
what i can add HOVERTEXT???
Alternate Universe: The basic premise is that none of the characters got abducted like they did in IW. Character ages are different as well, with some who were older in the Main Verse (like Ethan) being college freshmen while others such as Leslie and Robin are closer to their original ages.
Aluminium Christmas Trees: Hymmel the Humming Hymnal is based on the very real Psalty the Singing Songbook. Cue YouTube comments expressing disbelief that it actually exists (that and "Oh God, what did I just watch?")
Dina. Many readers have speculated whether she has Aspergers Syndrome given her obsessive interest in dinosaurs, social problems, frequent lack of expression, and various other traits. David Willis has gone on record saying that she has not been diagnosed with anything.
Ruth shows many of the traits of Anti-Social Personality Disorder. Her low threshold for frustration, violence, impulsiveness, criminal behavior (assault, drinking, etc.), abusive behavior towards Billie (someone she likes ), etc. are all major red flags. Not to mention it's been implied she may have grown up in an abusive family...
Walky even teases her when he sees her frowning as Dorothy kisses him.
Danny's interactions with Ethan have been surprisingly flirty and a few readers have pointed out Danny has never been confirmed to be heterosexual. When Amber asked him if he was closeted, since her gaydar was terrible, he confirmed he liked girls but not that he was straight. He's basically confirmed as bisexual in this strip.
Ambiguously Brown: Walky and Sal. Joyce originally thinks they're Native American (though Walky's nickname was part of that), and doesn't really have enough experience to know any more. Eventually lampshaded:
Joyce: I...I've been trying to determine if it's rude to ask what, um, flavor of human you two are. Walky: Well, my sister is black, but I'm generically beige.
Amnesiac Dissonance: When under the influence of a date-rape drug, Joyce defends herself, cutting her hand in the process. When she wakes up the next day...
Sarah: You smashed a cup in a boy's face. Joyce: ... Th-that doesn't sound like me.
Ryan, who appeared in a grand total of four strips back in Roomies! Redux as part of a Ruth-flashback subplot, has a much bigger role here, having gone from mild Jerkass to full-blown rapist.
Sierra has gone from "Tootsi," the least developed of the already heavily objectified Squad 48 with a grand total of one throwaway line to, well, a human, with a hippie persona to explain some fetishistic traits from the original.
Dana appeared a grand total of twice in the original universe, but here she's a key plot point in Sarah's backstory.
Dorothy definitely qualifies. Pretty much all of the pre-launch promotional material for Dumbing of Age listed the two leads as Joyce and Sarah, with Dorothy having been included for the sole purpose of giving Danny a girlfriend to break up at the beginning of the strip. Within the first year, Willis had discovered that Sarah's asocial nature made her difficult to build plots around and that he actually found Dorothy interesting. By the time the first book came out "one's a fundamentalist, the other's an atheist, they attend college" had become the stock description of the comic for book blurbs and fundraising sites, with Sarah having become a Recurring Character.
Meta. Willis became... annoyed at the running gag in the comments of naming every female but Amber as the identity of Amazi-Girl, for unknown reasons, and when it was explicity revealed in the comic Amber was AG, he made a proclamation that the joke was over, dead, and repeating it would lead to a ban. Also, people constantly accusing him of making Joyce a strawman fundamentalist, despite repeatedly stating she's based on him at that age, and is in fact way more socially adjusted than he was.
Billie fawns over and even attempts to make out with Sal while drunk, and only days after Walky had joked about the possibility. Not to mention her own confusion over her apparent attraction to Ruth even after attempting to report her for bullying and basically sexually harassing her.
Robin is attracted to Leslie in this canon too, despite being a Republican Congresswoman running on a "family values" platform. Roz is very aware of this and seems to be planning something...
Big "NO!": Walky, when Dorothy sacrifices an interview with Danny about Amazi-Girl to borrow some shoes for Walky:
Walky: ... Okay, maybe the stakes aren't quite that high.
Bratty Teenage Daughter: Can be inferred given that Billie mentions her father tries to buy her affection as well as her whole persona. Ditto for Raidah and her friends given their behavior as well as the fact that their parents are all lawyers. Sal passed "bratty" on her way to "rebellious" but she's better now.
Joyce is bordering on this now given that she was drugged and almost raped and is slowly having her whole sheltered, fundamentalist upbringing challenged. Whether she will snap at some point remains to be seen.
Sarah obviously became a much more guarded and bitter person after her experience with Dana and her friends.
Billie was a popular cheerleader and member of the school newspaper in high school but is gradually realizing none of that matters in college. So far she's struggled with problems such as alcoholism, loneliness, sexual identity issues and weight gain.
This trope hits hard particularly in situations when she expects to coast by. When she actually puts some effort into it, she does better. For example, recovering her cheerleader uniform and getting Ruth to back off.
To a much lesser degree, Sarah is being subjected to this as well; she's had to swallow her pride a few times over the course of the strip.
Brilliant but Lazy: Walky exhibits traits of this, especially due to the fact that he has said that he has been "very good at gettin' "A"s without havin' to do anything."
Broad Strokes: Willis stated at Anime Fest 2010 (where the comic was unveiled) that he plans to write the characters so that they are up to date with the other continuities. For example, Joyce starts off with the same level of maturity she had gained at the end of IW (thanks to not having been abducted and actually having a friend her own age), and Ethan came out some time in high school. This is so that he doesn't have to cover the same character arcs that people have already read.
Apparently, any "official" Twitter feeds from Walkyverse characters are from this version of them.
Could potentially date the story as the entries clearly reference current events/pop culture, some of which is already passed by now. (e.g. Joyce replying to a question about whether she would vote for Obama in the 2012 election). Comic-Book Time to the rescue?
Sarah swallowed her pride and apologized to Raidah for punching her in their altercation after Joyce advised her to. Raidah was clearly surprised and suspicious, but decided she sounded genuine. Both sides sound calmer and more civil now if not exactly friends.
While Billie is still in denial about her drinking, she has realized she's no longer at the top of the social pyramid. Not to mention how out of shape she is. And after both kissing Sal while drunk and being kissed by Ruth she's really beginning to question her sexuality.
Joyce might be perky and still a caricature of fundamentalists. But she is genuinely tolerant of others and has taken steps towards self improvement. She's formed friendships with people very unlike her (Dorothy, Sarah, etc.), tried dating and is clearly dealing with the trauma of having nearly been raped by Ryan.
Dina is making an effort to be more social lately (in her own Aspergers' like way) and is clearly bothered by how other people perceive/treat her.
Comedic Sociopathy: About half the main cast could get brought in on at least a misdemeanor charge, if you think about it.
Comic-Book Time: Willis refers to this by name in the series FAQ. The result: Webcomic Time (it's shaping up to be a week equals a year, roughly) with a sliding timescale (what year said semester is in changes to avoid Dumbing from, in Willis's words, "slowly becoming a period piece.")
Ruth kissed Billie after months of foreshadowing and Tsundere-type behavior. Of course, this is deconstructed, since even with all her issues Billie reacts with anger and confusion like a normal person would, as opposed to someone in a bad harem anime.
We appear to be on the tail end of Ethan's, as Amber mentions spending the summer helping him deal with his family's reactions. And now Ethan is in a relationship with Joyce...
Sal practically owns this trope even though she wasn't swapped this time.
Ruth has shown signs of this too if her phone conversations and crushed reaction after are any indication. Not to mention the disastrous results of her Tsundere behavior around Billie, which further suggests she may have had an abusive home life.
It turns out that her parents were killed by a drunk driver, and her attempt to cure her depression by drinking ironically made her more depressed and even more of an alcoholic
Joe might count - his parents are divorced at the very least (and he mentions that they "yell a lot" when Joyce suggests a Parent Trap Plot), though there hasn't been any elaboration yet.
Amber's may be the worst. Having an emotionally abusive father who beat her mother. Her parents divorced and she was left alone a lot because her mother was busy working. And at thirteen, she could only watch while Sal took Ethan hostage and held a knife to his throat. Negative effectshavebeen shown.
Double Entendre: To conceal the fact that they're now essentially in a relationship, Billie and Ruth start pretending to fight each other, with Ruth pinning Billie against a wall. The ensuing argument is essentially one long string of unintentional Double Entendres, which does little to conceal the obvious attraction between them.
Double Standard: Abuse, Female on Male: Played straight, and then subverted — Joyce hires resident Jerkass Mike to punch Joe in the face whenever he steps out of line, then joins in at the end of the night after Joe was distracted by the waitress wearing a Stripperiffic outfit. The next day, he points out the Hypocrisy of a Christian paying someone to commit violence and joining in on said violence. Joyce is visibly shaken.
Joe: Pray for me? Maybe I'll pray for you to learn it's not cool to punch people in the face! [beat] Joyce: But... but... guys can't actually get hurt by a girl. Guys are, like, strong.
Dysfunction Junction: A lot of characters don't exactly have good parents. Walky has been coddled by his parents ( According to Sal, this is because he's whiter than her) and his maturity has suffered dearly while Sal had the exact opposite, Ethan's parents are very homophobic, Amber had an abusive dad, and Joyce's parents are fundamentalist Christians.
Roz. She encourages safe sex and even insisted on putting a clause of politically correct language in her roommate agreement, but is also not above sabotaging her sister's political career because the two have opposing views.
Joe, and he makes this crystal clear early on. (Turns out he's actually pretty heavy on the ethics too, to the point that his promiscuity appears to be his only character flaw.) For example, he's visibly shaken when Joyce freaks out at him after the (unrelated) incident at the party, and he nearly cries when Danny calls him a bad wingman.
Within the Dumbiverse itself, we have three cadres of childhood / high school friends coming together at IU. Billie, Walky, Sal, and Marcie have known each other since childhood, though Sal was alienated when she was sent to boarding school and Billie did not want to associate with Walky in High School. Danny, Dorothy, and Joe represent one group of high school friends, while Amber, Ethan and Mike represent the other
Extreme Melee Revenge: Blaine made Amber's life miserable during most of her childhood. Taking Danny as an hostage in order to lure her out of the campus was the final straw.
Fauxshadowing: The setup for Joyce (seeking a future husband) and Danny (plans to marry right after college) to hook up after Dorothy broke up with him. Instead, Joe asks her out, and Hilarity Ensues. Bonus points as a Mythology Gag, since Joyce was Danny's semi-stalker in Roomies!
Flipping the Table: Amber does this to Ethan when she finds out he's still dating Joyce. She feels bad about it later.
Forceful Kiss: Ruth does this to Billie after being confronted about her Tsundere behavior. It backfires spectacularly.
Ethan. He even angsts about the fact that he angsts so much.
He is so starved for affection and uncomfortable with himself that he leads Joyce on, to the frustration of Amber, Mike, and Sarah. And even now after telling her the truth they're still in a relationship.. Because neither feels comfortable with their sexual feelings and Joyce misguidedly thinks she can help him avoid "temptation."
Genre Savvy: Sarah can actually see the character's archetypes miles away, but her flaw is that she's been right so many times she's built a wall around herself so that she wouldn't need to make friends ever again.
Hollywood Atheist: Both played straight and averted. Walky is quite snarky anddismissive about Joyce's 'invisible sky wizard' in contrast to his original Walkyverse self. However Dorothy is non confrontational in her atheism, to the point of making friends with Joyce, and is somewhat embarrassed by her boyfriend's behavior.
How the Mighty Have Fallen: Billie's life has been on a downhill spiral since high school ended, largely because of her alcoholism.
Informed Judaism: While Ethan and Joe have mentioned they're Jewish, neither one actually practices the faith, Ethan even attends Christian church with Joyce.
The Ingenue: Joyce at her worst, although she has been slowly growing out of this.
Innocent Bigot: Joyce frequently makes offensive remarks to non-Christians due to her extremely sheltered home-schooled upbringing. This is evidenced when she said she could "fix" Joe's judaism and expressed shock that atheists even existed. She also made racially insensitive comments such as calling her black room mate "a novelty." However as soon as she was called out on both these things she tried to improve. She was willing to ignore Dorothy's atheism and quickly became very close with her. She has also bonded with Sarah, particularly after Sarah rescued her from a violent sexual predator. Considering how little time has passed in comic her progress is already pretty remarkable although after being questioned about Mike on homosexuality her friendship with Ethan may be in trouble...
Ruth is clearly very bitter after having left Canada, a "sore subject" for her.
Jerk Jock: Danny is beaten up by Beef and several other Jocks, and then Amazigirl saves him. Then it is subverted later on when Danny tries to get her attention by trying to get beaten up, and approaches Tony (another Jock), who is appalled that Danny wants him to beat him up for no reason (and even more appalled when Danny says that he's gay and therefore deserves to be beaten up). Tony then leaves in disgust.
Mike, of course, although he appears to be trolling people for their own good in some cases
Raidah et al are an interesting case where they are definitely Jerk Asses (view their treatment of Dina), but they view their enemy Sarah as being a Jerk Ass instead of them, for getting their friend Dana, who was Sarah' roommate, expelled/withdrawn from school for (from their perspective) very selfish reasons— Dana's depression/drug use was interfering with Sarah's ability to study, and thus Sarah's scholarship, so she called Dana's dad. Dana's issues were actually severe enough to legitimately need help from an authority figure, but since she managed to keep that hidden from Raidah et al, Sarah's reaction seems like Disproportionate Retribution to them.
Deconstructed. Sarah points out that she's saved Joyce's life, therefore making it kinda rude to think that Sarah hates her. Joyce responds by noting that, while she is extremely grateful, she doesn't just want a friend who will show how she cares in big, dramatic ways, but in little ways too.
Likewise, while at first Mike seems more violent and cruel than his Shortpacked self over the course of the storyline it becomes apparent that he is taking a "tough love" approach to dealing with the problems of people like Walky, Dorothy and Ethan.
Billie is not quite as much of a bitch as she would like to pretend she is.
Lighter and Softer: Mike is very subdued compared to his Walkyverse counterpart and shows his "Heart of Gold" far more often. However, this is more likely a function of the Dumbiverse being sane, whereas Walkyverse Mike specializes in very over-the-top acts of jackassery and is almost superhumanly apathetic to other people's pain.
A blazing Ruth - Billie row that ends with both of them in tears is immediately followed by Walky being himself. And from there we shift to an exhausted Amber coming home from a violent confrontation with Blaine.
Every now and again. For example, this strip shows Leslie joking that every female in Gender Studies is a lesbian. Readers who've read Shortpacked! know that she is a lesbian. She also displays a noticeable crush on Congresswoman Robin DeSanto, the same dynamic she had with Robin in Shortpacked!.
Walky mentioning that Sal is basically Batman (and is thus prone to disappearing). Sal's usual method of entry (the window) was done as a Batman parody back in It's Walky!.
Not exactly a gag, but Joyce losing her memory when she was drugged parallels nicely with being mind wiped in the Walkyverse.
Dorothy's favorite episode of the "Dexter and Monkey Master" cartoon is the one where Head Alien crashes a wedding, a reference to the final (uncompleted) storyline of Joyce and Walky! Willis lampshades this in a Tumblr post.
Joyce's discovery of Walky in her old Hymmel the Humming Hymnal tape is supposed to parallel her meeting and then forgetting Walky as a toddler in the old 'verse.
Dorothy's decision to forget about Amazi-Girl's identity on the news by offhandedly referencing how Dexter and Monkey Master suffered a lacklustre Post Script Season and deciding to mindwipe everybody on the following season.
Amber's early dedication to her laptop is akin to that of her early Shortpacked! addiction to her computer. Only with several years advancement in technology meaning she isn't using Usenet, but playing online games.
Joe. Despite his reputation as promiscuous he never pushes anyone to do something they're not comfortable with and tries to be the best wingman and best friend he can to Danny. Of course neither of these things has exactly worked out for him lately...
No Good Deed Goes Unpunished: Sarah contacted her former roommate's father when the poor girl suffered a mental breakdown after her mother died. Now Sarah is ostracised because people think she narced on her just for being a party girl.
No-Holds-Barred Beatdown: Amber, as Amazi-Girl, delivers one on her father after he took Danny hostage. The fight is entirely one-sided, with Amber beating him to a pulp.
Not Helping Your Case: Billie's not a troubled teen, and she'll punch anyone who says otherwise in the face!
Obfuscating Stupidity: Dorothy thought Walky was a slacker until she found out he's so smart (he pulled a 4.0 in High School) he doesn't need to study.
Oddball Doppelganger: Dorothy and Joyce in a lot of ways. Despite the obvious differences in religion, upbringing and motivations they are surprisingly similar. They have the same child like interests (e.g. cartoons). They both have a tendency towards somewhat immature outbursts, in class in Dorothy's case and on a date in Joyce's. They both can be overly controlling when with boys. They both have expressed an interest in dating Walky in the original continuity. They both tend to dress modestly and have relatively similar hairstyles (bangs). Not that strange, then, that the two would bond quickly.
Old Shame: In-Universe example. Walky appeared in an episode of Hymmel the Humming Hymnal as a kid (he apparently had a Stage Mom), dressed in a pink mouse costume. However he was young enough for him to not even remember doing it by the time of the comic. That is, until he saw himself on Joyce's tape of the show. Then the memories came back to him and he had this reaction.
Once a Season: Every book ends with one or more characters in their beds, having experienced some sort of change or development. Lampshaded by Willis in the alt text.
David Willis: Its not the last strip of a book unless everyone is in bed and angsting.
Paper-Thin Disguise: Unlike in Shortpacked! people in this continuity don't seem to see through Amazi-Girl's disguise. (Granted, she actually operates at night or is moving too quickly for identification most of the time.)
Many readers have commented in the comments section that they find Joyce unbelievable. Willis' response was that it seems impossible to be just that ingrained in the fundamentalist lifestyle unless you've actually lived it, like he once did.
For reference, Joyce is considerably toned down from her Walkyverse counterpart's personality in Roomies!, and the author has said that early version of Joyce reflects his own beliefs at the time more than Danny, the intended Author Avatar.
It's also been said in the comments that Amber's "shyness" in the flashbacks is too exaggerated. Willis had much the same reaction there (with added "it's called anxiety disorder").
Early on in the strip Walky develops a crush on Dorothy. Whenever she's present, he got a wide-eyed, lip-biting expression frozen on his face (best seen here, since he's wearing it in his only panel). The two are currently dating.
Shadow Archetype: A recurring element of the strip and often quite subtle. Examples:
Sarah is outwardly Joyce's polar opposite given her self-proclaimed misanthropy and sour outlook. Yet she shares a strong connection to Joyce (her "little sis") and arguably is motivated by many of the same things she is. She is even shown entering her dorm room excitedly much the same way that Joyce did, and also has faced something traumatic in her first semester. Further adding to this dynamic is Joyce's unexpected ability to deliver clever comebacks and quipsin recent comics.
Dorothy and Walky. Walky can be overly complacent, sloppy and childish at times. Dorothy can be overly ambitious, perfectionist and preoccupied with what others think of her (which is in itself somewhat childish). Both bond over cartoons, both are surprised by how similarly gifted they are, and both struggle to make the right compromises in their relationship.
Ship Tease: Many of the Walkyverse's canon couples or relationships that happened over the course of the comic are teased in the comic, though aside from Walky and Dorothy none of them have gone past "teasing" yet.
Sarah gets taken down several notches when Joyce replies to her lecture about the dangers of college parties. Unfortunately, Sarah was right about that particular party.
Joyce: Ever since I've got here, you've disapproved of everything I've been done. What I believe, who I hang out with! But every single time you're wrong! Look at me, I'm just a homeschooled girl. I've made friends. You're... still alone.
She has a less harsh comeback several strips later, when during another argument Sarah points out that she was right about the college party and that she saved Joyce. Joyce concedes the point, but in turn points out that Sarah's big, dramatic gestures to show that she cares aren't much good if she's not going to combine them with smaller-scale gestures as well.
"Shut Up" Kiss: Painfully deconstructed. Ruth attempts this on Billie right as she's being confronted about how hurtful and confusing her (abusive and antisocial) Tsundere behavior is. And it backfires on her so badly that Billie actually tries reporting her to someone. What works in the world of harem Anime doesn't go over well in real life at all.
Sal really seems to resent Walky for being the favorite child.
Roz & Robin.
Sibling Yin-Yang: Sal and Walky, again. No one seems to have even noticed they're twins.
Sink-or-Swim Mentor/Stealth Mentor: This seems to be Mike's modus operandi in this universe; most of his more dickish behaviour has seemed to be directed at forcing the character it's being aimed at to sort their lives out or at least come to some kind of realization about themselves, rather than just him being a straight-up Jerkass.
Slap-Slap-Kiss: Upon Billie demanding that Ruth tell her what she wants from Billie, Ruth first punches her (in one strip) and then kisses her (in the next strip). Incidentally, this caused a brief server meltdown.
Dorothy: You've seen season four of Dexter And Monkey Master, right? The Ultra-Car crossover episode where she and Monkey-Master get their brains merged? Joyce: Sex is like that? Dorothy: ...Not even remotely.
Tsundere: Ruth, towards Billie. Deconstructed: Ruth behaves this way because she has anti-social tendencies and a bad home life. Billie confronts Ruth demanding to know what their relationship is, after weeks of Ruth alternating between (awkward) displays of affection and bullying. When Ruth suddenly kisses her during all of this, she tells her to fuck off and runs away. Billie is very confused and hurt by whatever attraction she does feel. It's still played for comedy, but the situation is acknowledged by Willis as unhealthy and just wrong.
Two-Person Love Triangle: Danny admits that Amber's resemblance to Dorothy has made him set his sights on somebody else.
Vitriolic Best Buds: For all that she snarks at him and vehemently insists that she doesn't like him in any way, it's implied that Billie is a lot fonder of Walky than she lets on. At the very least, she seems to spend a lot of time with him for someone who apparently considers herself too cool to be in his presence.
Webcomic Time: Possibly one of the worst offenders of all time. As of December 2011, the strip had been running for roughly a year, and the amount of time that had passed was from Monday to Sunday. A year later, eight more days have passed, but only by skipping four days ahead in the middle of the week. At that rate, actual students in college at the strip's beginning will be sending their kids to college by the time the cast graduates.
Weight Woe: It's pretty obvious that part of Billie's insecurity stems from being out of shape, and she expresses frustration and embarrassment at times about it.
In the flashback, "And then Dana's mother died. Breast cancer. Suddenly Sarah's junkie roommate just got a lot more sympathetic.
Likewise, "I called her dad." Roughly 90% of the controversy about whether or not Sarah did the right or wrong thing dissipated.note The remaining 10% is largely about whether she did it for the right or wrong reasons.
Joyce's brother Joshua tells Ethan that his parents wouldn't like him if they knew more about him. Then he sends Ethan a link to his writing. JocelyneJBrown.com