The Webcomic Overlook #45: Better Days
The Wikipedia entry on “furry fandom” has this to say about media coverage:
Portrayal of the furry fandom by the media is generally unflattering, although recently there have been some attempts to supply a balanced viewpoint. Articles in Loaded, Vanity Fair, and the syndicated sex column “Savage Love” focused sharply on the sexual component of certain furries…. Most furry fans claim that these media portrayals are misconceptions, and some recent coverage focuses on debunking the myths and stereotypes of furries. A reporter attending Anthrocon 2006 noted that “despite their wild image from Vanity Fair, MTV and CSI, furry conventions aren’t about kinky sex between weirdos gussied up in foxy costumes”, that conference attendees were “not having sex more than the rest of us”, and that the furry convention was about “people talking and drawing animals and comic-book characters in sketchbooks.”
I can see where this entry is coming from. No likes to be stuck with the stigma of being a sexual deviant. In a way, I sorta hold furries in the same regard I hold cosplayers. They open themselves to ridicule by dressing up in ungainly costumes that they should’ve outgrown by the 5th grade and play childish games like furry Twister. Still, I imagine they’re no more goofy or perverse than Man-Faye or the guy in the Hello Kitty Vader outfit.
What really chafes me, though, is the unashamedly editorial nature of this particular wiki entry. There are fingerprints everywhere that this section is heavily guarded by defensive furries. Take the part that says “recently there have been some attempts to provide a balanced viewpoint,” for example. What are they talking about? That one article that no one read about an undercover reporter infiltrating AnthroCon? Call me a Wiki elitist, but this is one of those entries that should be flagged. I especially love how the entry needs to point out that, at the conventions, furries are “not having sex” and they spend their time to drawing animals. Wow! Just like your grade schooler does when she draws herself riding a pony! How can drawing animals be anything but pure and lovely?
When it comes to Jay Naylor’s Better Days, you come to the frightening realization that drawing animals isn’t the innocent, harmless hobby it’s made out to be. All those “unfounded” stereotypes in that Wikipedia entry are right here — shameless, naked, and out there for everyone to see. While there is no overt pornographic content, I should warn you that the content and links will be Not Safe for Work and Not Safe for Children. So if you’re either wasting company time or under the age of 12, I humbly suggest you follow this link to my review of Dean Trippe’s Butterfly, a whimsical little tale about a superheroic young boy. There’s nothing overtly pornographic about Better Days, but it is explicit. There’s also a very good chance you’ll run into ads for Naylor’s other pornographic projects.
Jay Naylor is an anomaly in the world of furries. Only 7% of furries who identify themselves as “conservative.” Not only is Naylor part of that honored few, he’s so far to the right that Rush Limbaugh would refuse to interview him for being too out there. (Heck, from Naylor’s world view, it might be possible he regards Limbaugh as a stinkin’ liberal.)
The story follows two fraternal twins, Fisk and Lucy. They’re supposed to be kittens, but to my eyes they look like wolf cubs. Despite their arguments, it’s clear that these two love each other. More on that later. The first story starts innocently enough. Fisk asks Lucy to deliver a note to a girl he has a crush on, Lucy loses the note, and the girls in the locker room have a big laugh over it. The story ends on a bit of a risque note, but it’s a little endearing to see Fisk’s naivete as he stumbles towards puberty. The comic continues in a similar tone for the first couple of chapters: childhood shenanigans, misunderstandings, and a healthy sprinkling of je ne sais quois to keep things interesting.
Things don’t quite go off the rails until Chapter 5. The signs were there in the previous chapter, though, when the twins’ mother, Sheila, goes off the rails on a teacher for giving him bad grades on his patriotic essays, and is later given an apology by the school principal. Now, I don’t necessarily disagree with Naylor’s sentiments here, even if it is a bit of a strawman argument. However, there’s a smug, self-congratulatory tone to the chapter, which boils down to “I’m right and anyone who disagrees with me is evil and and a traitor.”
But then there’s Chapter 5. Good Lord. The title, “Predators,” should give you a clue for what lies ahead. The principal from the previous story, Longfellow, takes Sheila out to dinner. Over the course of the meal, he reveals that he’s a Vietnam vet who served with the twins’ deceased dad. He also claims that the dad cheated on Sheila. What happens next is one of the most unintentionally hilarious examples of “stacking the deck.” It turns out that Longfellow lied about the unfaithfulness of Sheila’s husband. Not only that, it turns out that he lied about his Vietnam service. NOT ONLY THAT, it turns out he pulls a Bill Clinton in the Principal’s office. NOT ONLY THAT, he physically abuses Sheila, followed by attempted rape. There’s only one way to deal with a lying, cheating scumbag who hits women. That’s right, head trauma and, eventually, death. The characters who perform the assassination are portrayed in the webcomic as good guys, so I assume this is how Jay Naylor assumes problems should be solved. Because due process is for liberal sissies!
It’s tough to top that, but Naylor tries to do so in the very next chapter. It says a lot when the scene of Fisk losing his virginity — at the tender age of ten — is the least offensive part of the story. In a parallel to the previous story, things hit the fan when someone does a little research. It turns out that the father of Fisk’s girlfriend is named “Muhammed Aziz” … and if that doesn’t fire off warning flares in your mind, then you haven’t been following this review very carefully. It turns out he’s a murder, a cop killer, a rapist, a child abuser, and the most racist caricature of a violent Black man you’ll likely ever see in webcomics. Of course, the only solution to this problem is DEATH. But the little girl feels absolutely no remorse, see, so this really was the best solution to all of life’s problems after all!
The entry in Comixpedia, by the way, was far too forgiving about Better Days‘ racist aspects:
Criticism has also been levelled at Naylor for racist attitudes, but most of these are confined to subtext – for example, the hyenas in the comic occasionally conform to African American stereotypes, and the mice appear to represent the Jews. The author has stated that the various species are intended to be direct equivalents of real ethnic and cultural groups, but has also maintained that the specific species chosen were not selected for any perceived negative connotations.
Pro-tip for Jay Naylor: here’s a quick way to tell if something’s racist or not. Would you be comfortable showing this comic to your Black friends? Assuming you have Black friends, of course.
But then that’s it, right? No way in Hell Naylor’s topping that bit of loathesomeness, is there? No, Naylor goes on to confirm every last stereotype we’ve ever had about rednecks from Georgia. We’ve already got the hillbilly justice, the super-conservative self-righteousness, and the self-delusion over racism. There’s only one way to go: INCEST. Better yet, TWIN-CEST. Even the title of Chapter 10 should give you the heebie-jeebies: “Brother’s Arms.” I guess you can say that Naylor keeps it vague enough that we could concluded that the two didn’t do the dirty deed. I mean, it’s possible that they were just platonically sleeping in the same bed … naked. (Brrrrrr…..) I think the mildest hint of shame at the end seals the deal, though.
At this point, I dropped the comic. It was originally going to be part of an all furry multi-”One Punch Review” last December. I got busy, though, since I soon discovered I had much better things to do than read a webcomic about neo-con furry incest. Like, you know, keeping my mental sanity. But I decided to revisit the comic for one reason and one reason alone: this site was woefully bereft of one star reviews, and no matter what Better Days did from this point on, it would never rise above that rating.
While Better Days never again descends into the Unspeakable Depths of Revulsion as it did in Chapters 5, 6, and 10, it never gets good, either. For one, Naylor has made the characters so unlikable that it’s a pain to follow them any further. It’s a good thing that Fisk and Lucy are shipped off to college in Chapter 14. He gets an excuse to surround the twins with a new cast of characters with none of the “My father is a child-rapist and therefore he must die” baggage to hold them down. Fisk also gets to go to the military, which plays to Naylor’s less offensive and whacked out beliefs. (Though, unfortunately, he does portray Operation Desert Storm in the most boring way possible.) As an added plus, now that everyone’s of age we don’t have to feel too uncomfortable with its perpetual focus on screwing. Still, none of them — perhaps with the exception of Fisk’s gothy girlfriend, Beth — are interesting at all.
And what about Naylor’s legendary conservatism? You’ll be happy to know that his characters are still being used as mouthpieces for whatever stokes his anger. Witness as Naylor rails against modern art and the NEA! (Seriously, Naylor… modern art? You’re losing your touch, man.)
It’s too bad that Naylor’s crazy political views get in the way of his webcomic, because the art is actually quite nice. His character designs are quite pleasing and very distinct. The anthropomorphic characters have bodies that seem congruous with their heads, a compliment that can’t be paid to some furry designs. And if you’re a fan of big butts (and who isn’t), you’re in luck. It’s quite clear, from the beginning, that Naylor is an Ass Man.
Now, to give Naylor some credit, there is one storyline where I felt he did hit his stride. The girls are looking around for male strippers to hire for a friend’s bachelorette party. Lucy runs into Marvin, a nerdy little guy from one of the earlier chapters, who turns out to be the, uh, King Cobra to everyone else’s garden snakes. His unique talent is so impressive that, by merely waving it around, he could settle violent disputes.* (The phrase “The penis spoke. And it was wise” was almost enough to raise the rating to two stars.) God help me, for the first time, I wasn’t laughing at unintentional humor. This was the first and only time I can say with total confidence that Naylor knew exactly how ridiculous his webcomic was. He immortalizes this event with an uncensored illustration of Marvin and his amazing trouser snake in his Adults-Only Gallery, which I will not be linking to this site.
Its difficult to say how the predominantly liberal furry community views Better Days. I suspected it would be the red-headed stepchild of a genre that’s already a red-headed stepchild. Indeed, the Crush! Yiff! Destroy! website has nothing but hate for Naylor. The Belfry Webcomics Index, which ranks the popularity of webcomics among its furry subscribers, paints another story. Guess which webcomic, at this very moment, is #1 on the list? Hint: it ain’t Achewood.
Seriously, furries … what the HELL?
Rating: 1 star (out of 5)
*BONUS: Can’t get enough weiner-shaking humor? Check out this Youtube clip of former WWE wrestler Heidenreich (as impersonated by the crew of Between the Ropes).