Monday, February 16, 2009

Tyler Page's "Nothing Better"

Jane Fisher arrives at St. Urho College in the way so many freshman do; nervously excited, she has an indistinct notion of what college life will bring, but hopeful that it really will be the greatest experience of her young life. Jane's your classic nice Midwestern girl, with a nuclear family, church on Sundays, and a high school boyfriend behind her.

Lightly rebellious Katt Connor seems born for college life. To her, it's a time to have adventures, seek out the occasional comfort of a warm male body, and pursue her dual passions of art and biology. But she never expected that going to a Lutheran school would challenge her non-beliefs.

On the first night they meet, Katt tricks Jane into getting horrifically drunk. Jane wakes up the next morning with a hangover and late for course registration. It's a less than auspicious beginning to their new lives as college roommates.

It would be easy to see these girls as poster children for any number of false dichotomies -- the good girl and the bad girl, the virgin and the slut, the rich girl and the poor girl, the Christian and the atheist. But in Tyler Page's Nothing Better, they're simply girls, new roommates, anxious college students, and only superficially different from one another. And by letting his characters just be themselves, not saddling them with any preconceived expectations or wedging them into some artificial plotline, Page manages to capture some honest truths about the college experience -- the loneliness, the disappointment of those first few days, and how unnerving it can be to discover you're no longer sure just who you are and what you want from life.

But it's also about how college is like entering a strange parallel universe where everyone is your own age. How you're suddenly in a fresh place with fresh people who are full of stories and small secrets. How lifelong friendships can be forged over harmless adventures and a shared love of Labyrinth.

It's a welcome respite from teenage melodramas, blissfully free of morality plays on sex and booze and season-spanning will-they-or-won't-they tensions. Sure, there's socioeconomic talk, discussions on female sexual morality, hookups, broken hearts, and plenty of meditations on the nature of God, but it's all in the normal rhythm of college life. It also calls those hallowed college traditions like pulling all-nighters, tray sledding, and finding a guy who'll sell you pot.

Nothing Better is drawn in lovely, thick-inked lines that are at the same time loose and incredibly detailed. Page has manage to assemble a sizable cast of characters who are distinct both visually and in personality, and they flit and settle into Jane and Katt's lives in the way college acquaintances do. Even though we see these characters primarily through their relationships to the girls -- the geeky art boy who has a crush on Jane, the other girls on the hall -- they're fully realized people, many of whom have their own plotlines even when they're offscreen.

There are, admittedly, some nitpicky problems. On rare occasions, Page's loose style gets away from him, although it happens less in later books and is so minor when it does happen that it's barely worth noting. There are also some small spelling errors that have hopefully been resolved in the print editions. Most distracting, though, is that the paneling in some of the early books is reversed, so readers are sometimes forced to read from right to left. But he employs a stricter paneling structure as the series goes on.

Unlike most webcomics, Nothing Better is formatted as a traditional comic book, in sets of 22 page books. Each book is loaded on a single page, which is nice in that it recreates the experience of reading a comic book, but gives my browser a stroke every time I load the next book. Appropriately, Page has collected the first seven volumes in a trade paperback, and plans to release a second trade this year.

Jane and Katt are the sorts of girls I would have wanted to be friends with in college, and even though they're fictional, they're fun to spend a few afternoons with. For better or worse, they'll remind you of the joys and stumbles of those first days away from home.

Nothing Better updates Wednesdays.

[Nothing Better]


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Attila Kovacs said...

Watch the first part of "NOTHING BETTER" by Tyler Page & Attila Kovacs.
The ups and down of two university college girls Jane and Katherine, sharing the same room.

Short movie animation

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