Reviews: Better Days

A lack of courage

Lets ignore the controversy around Naylor. Let's ignore the other work he's done. Let's have the clarity to look at this on it's own. The author is dead, the author remains dead, and we have killed them.

The story has a VERY strong start. So much so that I almost feel like everything after they leave highschool is written by a different author. Throughout the work, there is a consistent theme of 'living your own life your own way'. Which is, y'know, not a bad message. I'm not a libertarian, but I feel like this is a pretty universal message; he doesn't bring up economics, and only brings up politics in the vaguest of ways. I say this as someone who is pretty opposed to Naylor's politics.

However, once they leave college, everything falls apart. The story takes twists and turns, ultimately going nowhere. The characters wander about, and not even in an entertaining or on-message way. They just sort... do things. It becomes very boring. Additionally, the two main characters abandon their romance (with every romance thereafter feeling pointless, unfounded, and tacked-on)because they are twins, and 'they could never be together in public'. What the fuck happened to 'living your own life your own way', Naylor? I never before yelled 'fuck your sister' at a screen before, but this work made me.

Additionally, I found the portrayal of Jewish characters to be fairly offensive, as a Jew. We do NOT practice arrange marriage. I have no idea where he got that from. It's not something we do. It's just not. Also, portraying us as mice? Okay when it's Maus, and you're portraying the holocaust. Not okay when all Jews are mice, and all whites are cats; the Jews never suffer discrimination, so it doesn't make any sense as a choice.


A Flawed Magnum Opus

In Better Days, Jay Naylor bares his true self in a way seldom seen in webcomics. The downside of that is that Naylor's true self seems to be borderline racist [1], aggressively conservative [2], and generally a douche [3]. Looking past these flaws reveals a greater story of the main characters overcoming hardship and remaining true to themselves.

Overall (+10):

The art style does not disappoint. It's consistently attractive.

Plotwise, things vary a bit more. Chapter 3 was positively touching. By showing us the characters going through these trials, Naylor builds up the sympathy that makes us care about what happens when they grow up and go off to war. As the twin author-stand-ins try to find their passions in life, their struggles become our own. (The same could be said for the Tommy subplot; he's just such a nice guy, I can't help but sympathize.) Bringing together so many threads and retaining the essence of Fisk's and Lucy's characters is certainly impressive. It was also nice to see the Nikki subplot finally wrapped up in Chapter 15. Naylor proves himself as competent a storyteller as he is a drawer of porn.

Also to his credit, Naylor's treatment of incest and rape were more nuanced than his ham-handed forays into other subjects.

Flaws (-1):

[1] Stereotypical treatment of Jews and black people.

[2] The political spiels in Chapters 4 and 8 were unwelcome.

[3] Spoiler: Fisk lets a suicidal friend off himself. This is never brought up again. See also, Naylor in real life.

Score: 9/10

A Furry, Westernised Neon Genesis Evangelion without the Mind Screw.

The series’ main Aesop, a recurrent theme in the comic, is roughly the same of NGE: live your own life for yourself and take responsibility for your actions. A secondary one is similar to that of Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann: persevere, stay optimistic, and fight for your beliefs. They are presented here in a more Western-friendly way and with far less misogyny (virtually absent variation in body types aside), breezing through The Bechdel Test and the Mako Mori test.

Also, the comic included sorely needed Aesops about personal growth, interpersonal relationships, and dealing with trauma (some of which are often missed even by adults), and I think they fit in very well with the series as a Coming-of-Age Story as they pointed out the various stages of characters maturing. This, I think, is the comic’s main strength: you can actually see the Character Development, so instead of characters learning a 1-2 lessons throughout the whole comic, as in too many other works (e.g. Walter White realising only in the finale that maybe he is a power-hungry arsehole after all), they grow and learn like real-life people.

This is all intertwined with decent art and humour, nuanced characters (even if a bit stereotypical sometimes—well, Maligned Mixed Marriage is definitely Truth in Television among Jews, as I can attest from living in Israel), and a nuanced plot I found engaging. The Brother-Sister Incest plot was tragically moving—while I find the trope revolting, I really felt for the characters. The morality was more complex than portrayed: early on Fisk said he thought war was about Blue and Orange Morality rather than Black and White Morality, and I think his actions near the end were meant to be just one shade of that strange spectrum rather than beaming white. Fisk explains his reasoning for enlisting as his own personal one, so while I disagreed with Naylor politically, I could accept this difference of opinion. Tommy’s priest continues this trend, giving Tommy sound advice when asked, even if it’s rejected.

My main beefs with the comic were with the unaddressed massive Unfortunate Implications of Fisk’s essays and glorification of Israel and denouncing the Arabs around it as ‘savagery’.

9.5/10, -1 for that.

Ignore the drama and judge for yourself

Jay Naylor certainly has been a target of controversy. He has been accused of being racist and sexist and of using the comic to attack people he knows in real life. In interviews and on his blog, he doesn't always come across as a particularly nice person. But judged on its own merits, how does Better Days hold up?

Pretty well, actually, although the early chapters fare a lot better than later material. It was my introduction to the Slice Of Life comic and it does it very well, following Fisk and Lucy at various points during their life. And a rough life it is too, because withing a few chapters we've hit terrorism, child abuse, rape and incest. It's not always subtle, but I like how Naylor has the guts to meet these subjects head-on, especially the incest, which is shown in a more nuanced light instead of either simple titillation or something abominable, like usually. For me, this was the most interesting turn of the comic.

Nuance, alas, is something we don't find a lot of, especially in later chapters. Fisk joins the military. Fisk joins a paramilitary organisation. Fisk kills some mobsters. There is no subtlety and nothing of interest. His girlfriend Beth is suddenly revealed to be polyamorous and this is treated as if we've known it all along... even though we haven't. Lucy's storyline fares slightly better. Realising she can never be with Fisk, she starts a relationship with Tommy and here Naylor has Tommy boldly renounce his faith. How often does this happen in fiction as a positive thing?

All in all, it's a comic that is more often than not crushingly unsubtle, but much of it has an odd charm. Unfortunately, sometimes unpleasant subtext creeps in. I don't think Naylor is racist, but using hyenas as an analogue to black people is questionable choice and their portrayal seems a bit stereotypical at times. Likewise, women are sometimes portrayed oddly, such as when Sheila defines women's rights as the right to give a man "such a hard orgasm that he won't be able walk for a day"... What.

For better or worse, it's a comic that shows the creator baring his soul. It's not always pleasant, but it's worth a look.

Utter garbage

I don't particularly care about Jay Naylor as a person, but this pile of crap of a comic isn't doing him any favours.

Its first arcs begin as frankly horridly written, with the Mary Sue nature of the characters emerging imediately. After that, it merely degenerates into political crap and finally blooms into a frankly pathetic attempt at redemption that is clearly insincere and rushed.