September is a busy month for Jews. It’s our New Year (l’Shana Tovah!), we go through some redemption, we pray and chant and eat. So religion’s on my mind a bit and I started looking around for religious webcomics as a result. Readers, have any suggestions for me?
Dumbing of Age
David M. Willis
Release Schedule: Everyday (even weekends!)
SFW for the most part (he does draw porn of his own characters and there are a lot of side ads for it, though…)
Dumbing of Age follows several characters–some of them familiar faces, if you’ve read other webcomics by Willis–as they learn how to study, date, and be functional human beings during their freshman year at Indiana University. One of the protagonists, Joyce Brown, has been homeschooled by her conservative Christian parents her entire life. When she befriends the liberal atheist Dorothy Keener and joins a gender studies class, she begins to engage in critical conversations about her dedication to religion. The reappearance of her lifelong best friend Becky further complicates things, because Becky is gay, freshly out, and learning to cope with her own incredibly conservative Christian background while being a gay woman.
Becky’s storyline is currently a big focus of the comic, but before she jumped into the plot, Joyce was dating Ethan, a closeted gay man. Ethan entered college intending to suppress his homosexuality and while Joyce did not initially know he was gay, she eventually decided to continue dating him in order to try and “cure” him. If this aspect of the comic has you completely freaked out, don’t worry! Willis’ intent is clearly to show how these anti-gay, Christian perspectives are ultimately damaging and ineffective. Joyce is learning to love, accept, and support her friends but she is not renouncing her religious beliefs. As a queer person who does not come from a religious background, I find it very interesting. Additionally, I read a lot of webcomics with queer themes, and I’ve never read one that did quite what Willis is doing.
If you’re looking for a guide on how to reconcile religious faith with queerness, this is not it. Willis is likely more aligned with the Dorothys of the world than the Joyces, and while watching Joyce’s transformation has been informative, it doesn’t dive too deeply into the nitty gritty of “this is what the Bible says/what people quote from the Bible, and here’s how to talk about it.” (If you’re looking for that, there’s a documentary called Fish out of Water that does a pretty good job.) However, Willis’ exploration of how religion and non-straight sexuality can clash is light-hearted, and, for the most part, humorous. Most readers will find it very accessible, and perhaps Joyce’s and Becky’s journeys will help some learn to reconcile the gay and religious aspects of their lives.
The Last Cowboy
Release schedule: Weekly
A while ago I interview the creator, Zoe, and one of the things I was most excited about was how she creates religion. Well, I suppose she’s created a whole lot of stuff. There are all of these awesome species and races of aliens. There are histories of violence between them, and destruction, and love and compassion and rebuilding. I admire Zoe greatly because of the incredible amount of work she’s put into worldbuilding.
And religion is a big aspect of that. When I spoke the her about it she said, “The Ovidran religion is mainly polytheistic and inspired by mixture of Hinduism, Paganism, and Ancient Egyptian mythology. Ovidra don’t really believe in a literal interpretation of their religion and see it more as a series of lessons and a part of their culture. I feel like that’s the direction religion is heading in generally, at least here in the states, so I thought it would be interesting to include something like that in The Last Cowboy.”
Release Schedule: Mondays and Fridays
NSFW for the whole comic, this story arc is SFW
As a whole, Meaty Yogurt does not discuss or deal with religion. However, one of its story arcs, “The Smile Time Cosmic Farm Co-op,” focuses on the protagonist’s experience with a religious cult. Jackie Monroe is Meaty Yogurt’s dysfunctional heroine, and she’s pretty unfocused. Each story arc of the comic focuses on Jackie’s most recent, harebrained plot to make herself rich and/or famous. When “The Smile Time Cosmic Farm Co-op” arc opens, Jackie has secured a job as a journalist. Her co-worker, Slogar, a journalist with a degree in journalism, is about to go undercover and infiltrate a vegan co-op/cult. Jackie muscles in on his assignment, and at first it seems like she’ll have no problem ignoring the brainwashing mumbo jumbo. However, when she begins to make friends, feel supported and loved, and possibly do some weird drugs, things take a turn.
While it doesn’t deal with a specific religion or a specific cult, the story arc is an interesting exploration of why people are drawn to cults in the first place. Drugs do play a role, but Jackie also takes some time to reflect–during and after–about the positives and negatives of her experience. “The Smile Time Cosmic Farm Co-op” arc is very brief–you can probably read it in less than half an hour–and Gedris keeps the story focused on why someone like Jackie might fall into such an environment. There are some very, very bad aspects of the cult, but when I finished the story I didn’t feel like I’d just read a condemnation of cults. Rather, I felt like I’d engaged in a reflection on how being given very strict, direct goals paired with a supportive, communal lifestyle could help relieve a person’s sense of loneliness and aimlessness. The pages dedicated to Jackie’s post-cult recovery are also very emotional, but ultimately very sweet. It’s a fascinating read, and a great example of Gedris’ unique brilliance.