A little over a year ago I reviewed Jay Naylor’s anthropomorphic comic Better Days, which focused on the life and experiences of a young man as he grew up in a single-parent household. While I had some issues with what I considered to be the Sueification of the comic’s primary protagonist Fisk, Naylor was able to tell some powerful stories, often with some level of sociopolitical commentary intertwined in the comic as well. With his sequel comic, Original Life, Naylor has allowed Fisk to fade more into the background while focusing on Fisk’s children, and in doing so has created a much lighter comic in tone and content.
Undoubtedly fans of the early hard-hitting stories found in BD (which included rape, consensual incest, adultery, and more) may be unhappy with the lighter tone of OL. Personally, I find it a breath of fresh air. Naylor took the things that worked with BD (the depiction of a tight-knit family that could overcome adversity) and has tossed out most of the more controversial aspects of BD, leaving us with the depiction of a happy and healthy family. And while Naylor can’t resist occasionally poking fun at such things as religion or the press, he usually manages to keep it light-hearted and amusing. The comic will occasionally focus on Fisk and Elizabeth and has the occasional adult theme, but for the most part the stories are much more suitable for most audiences.
Naturally the stars of the comic are Fisk’s children, Janie, Thomas and Abigail. At my most cynical I could claim these characters are incipient Sues (with Janie being an extremely talented athlete who tends to succeed at nearly everything she works at, while Abigail… well, let’s just say she has one of the most interesting set of Lego toys I’ve seen as she can make model medical instruments out of them) (interestingly, Thomas seems the most ordinary of the three for all that he seems very much like his father Fisk in some ways), it could also be said that Janie works hard to succeed athletically, and tends to be resented by her classmates as a result. I’m not sure about Abigail, though she’d make an excellent M should Thomas decide to go James Bond in the future.
And no, I’m not joking about the M crack; recent updates have delved into a somewhat more sociopolitical venue with a student journalist working with bullies to try and dissuade a student vigilante from protecting their favorite target. Abigail seems to be building devices for a second student vigilante to use (including a spitball cannon) (I kid you not) (no, I have not been drinking. Yet). Naylor’s actually had several interesting concepts in this storyline that are well worth thinking about – such as the right of a businessperson to deny service to a customer because they don’t like the customer, or on potential abuses that journalists can get into (though it would be interesting to see a counterpoint with a student journalist who didn’t let her power go to her head and stayed true to the purpose of journalism, though I suppose that wouldn’t be as interesting to read).
The problem is that I’m not sure they belong in Original Life. This latest story-arc has stepped away from wild imaginings and glimpses at what it’s like to be a child and started to slide down the slippery slope of sociopolitical commentary. What’s more, it’s not as much fun to read as the earlier stories that focused more on family and less on the ills of society. (Especially as the realist in me knows that Jeffrey would be shut down for selling muffins without a permit, the student vigilantes would be stamped down quickly by school authorities and the bullies would get off scot-free.) But even with the recent sashays into social commentary, Original Life is still a rather enjoyable comic to read, and one I recommend for nearly all ages (after parental preview and consent, of course).