A review a day: <i>Jane's World</i> volume 1

All right, so this is a few years old, but what the hell, right? It's new to me!

Jane's World is Paige Braddock's online comic strip. So yeah, you can read it for free, but why would you want to? Reading stuff for free is for suckers, man! This giant omnibussy type thing collects the first 15 issues, which doesn't make a lot of sense when you consider it's online. But what the hell do I know, right?

Anyway, I've never read Dykes to Watch Out For, Alison Bechdel's long-running comic strip, but from the few examples I've seen, it appears Braddock treads some of the same territory in Jane's World. Not that there's anything wrong with that; superhero comics have been treading the same ground for 70 years and no one says boo about that. It appears that Jane's World is a bit more surreal than Bechdel's strip, which makes it slightly more off-beat. I could be wrong, but have any characters from Dykes to Watch Out For been abducted by aliens? Maybe they have ...

Jane's World stars Jane Wyatt, one of the more refreshing star characters in comicdom, as she's, well, not exactly unlikeable, but not exactly the world's best person, either. Braddock simply follows Jane around and puts her through various situations - some very realistic, some not so much (the aforementioned alien abduction). She crushes on various people, gets into pseudo-relationships but never actually commits to anyone, and whines about the fact that her life sucks because no one else thinks the world revolves around her. On the surface, this might sound annoying, but Braddock keeps everything fairly light, and because Jane is so goofy, we can't hate her. Despite her immaturity, Jane is a fascinating person, mainly because Braddock has fun toying with lesbian clichés throughout the book - one reason Jane gets so annoyed with people is because they often try to turn her into a stereotypical lesbian, and she wants nothing to do with that. One of the running gags of the comic is that Jane doesn't understand women at all - she's much more comfortable hanging out with his disgustingly male (but charming in his caveman-like way) roommate Ethan, mainly because Ethan doesn't try to change her. He mocks her, but doesn't try to change her.

The big plots of the book are largely inconsequential - they're funny, but they come and go with only mild impact. An example of one is when a woman Ethan likes accidentally gets turned into a chimp on the alien ship (it's Jane's fault, naturally) - she remains a chimp for quite some time and shows up every once in a while. (Yes, she gets turned into a chimp. Roll with it!) Mostly, the big plots are just ways for Jane to interact with the large supporting cast and act foolishly. The best parts of the book are the throwaway stuff - Jane and her cast often get meta on us, commenting on the direction that the comic strip is going, for instance. At one point, Ethan hires Terry Moore to spruce up the strip, which means all the women have bigger breasts. Later on, Jane meets Stephan Pastis, the creator of "Pearls Before Swine," and tries to get art lessons from him. It turns out, however, that Pastis is just a male chauvinist pig, and at one point he actually hijacks the strip and draws it in his own style. Stuff like that is very funny, and it's fun that Braddock puts it in there.

Braddock does a good job creating these characters without falling into stereotypes. Jane might complain about the stereotypical behavior of her friends, but they're just people - some of them are more aggressively lesbian, others aren't. Some experiment with same-sex relationships in between heterosexual ones (or maybe they're experimenting with heterosexual ones in between lesbian ones?). A few years ago I ranted about the issue of Buffy where she ends up in bed with that chick because the implication was that women could sleep with women without being "lesbians." A lot of people took me to task for that, which is fine, and Braddock does a nice job showing the various "shades" of lesbians. Jane, for instance, bemoans the fact that she has absolutely no interest in men (she's a 6 on the Kinsey scale, for instance - Ethan says it's the only time he's glad he's a zero) while some of her friends can switch back and forth. It makes for some uncomfortably (but funny) moments as Jane tries to navigate her world. She gets crushes on the wrong people at the wrong times, and while it's highlighted to the extreme a bit by Braddock, it's still a situation we can all relate to. Who hasn't had a crush on the wrong person at the wrong time, no matter our orientation?

Braddock's art is very cartoony, which doesn't work against it at all. Occasionally it's sloppy, but in general, she does a fantastic job squeezing a ton of information into the panels. The book is set near San Francisco, but ironically, Braddock only does a lot with the setting when Jane and her friends go on road trips - to Memphis, to beautiful Quartzsite, Arizona, to the forest to get a Christmas tree - and even then, she still doesn't do a lot. That's okay, though - the book is about the characters interacting with each other, so Braddock needs to concentrate on them. She does a wonderful job showing Jane's wild range of moods, which is really the heart of the comic.

I know you can read Jane's World online, but it's still nice to have almost 500 pages of comics in one handy volume (for only 20 dollars, to boot). It's not a perfect comic strip, but it's still a very good one. Jane might be amazingly selfish, but she's also good-hearted and just wants to find love. We can all relate to that!

Tomorrow: It's Kubertastic!

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