The Belfry WebComics Index

Better Days

CID:1548 Subscriptions:553Readers this Week:13
Frequency:Completed
Url:http://jaynaylor.com/betterdays/
Genres:Action-Adventure, Comedy, Drama, Furry
Description*:Better Days follows the life of Fisk, a young man from Georgia growing up in a fatherless home and finding his role in life. The result is a blend of comedic and serious moments along the way.

Contains strong violence and sexual themes.
* Descriptions are user submitted and might not express the views of the admins of this site, or of the comics creators themselves.
Flags:A Adult Situations
L Adult Language
V Graphic Violence
X Explicit (NC-17)
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Higher percentages are more closely related.
Entry Added:Mon, May 12, 2003
Entry Modified:Sun, Sep 28, 2014

Reviews: 11   Average Rating:
 

10:37am 10/08/2014
 
Appreciating it for what it is.
I don't generally write "counterpoint" reviews but Better days has (despite having concluded some years ago) been such a source of controversy that I feel compelled to add my two cents (discounted at a bitcoin rate).

I have several webcomics with political agendas on my reader index, including Ozy and Millie, Sandra and Woo, and the collective comics of Ralph Hayes, Jr. Obviously I can't agree with the political viewpoints of each, and in fact there is no single comic artist with whose politics I agree 100% (or even close).

I also subscribe to many comics with strong adult content, and which are in many cases far more explicit than Better Days, which leaves its actual "action" off-panel. Mr. Naylor's comic does address some taboo issues but doesn't glorify them; the preteen sexuality between Nikki and Fisk is shown to be ultimately harmful, and the infamous relationship between Fisk and Lucy becomes more distant and eventually nonexistent as they age and mature. I have to applaud Mr. Maylor for attempting to address issues that are not rare throughout childhood sexual development without turning them into a giggling thrill show for drooling Aqualung perverts.

I am rating Better Days for what it is: Well above-average artwork, compelling storylines, and engaging characters. It occasionally falters in its story consistency, sometimes reaches for a joke or a plot point, and at times becomes bogged down in side stories that don't seem to advance the flow of the script.

If you are offended by discussion of childhood sexual development and the paths that it can sometime take, or if you dislike a neoconservative political slant to your webcomics, then by all means avoid Better Days. Neither of these things particularly appeals to me, and yet Better Days is enough of a quality comic that I've read it from beginning to end more than once.
01:16am 10/02/2014
 
Five years later, a 'better' review
I originally wrote a review of Better Days in 2009, and like most of my critiques at the time it was brief and largely off-the-cuff. Having re-read the comic afresh, Lamar's review still stands; but as a matter of scholarly principle I feel honour-bound to submit a new critique that better elucidates my original one-star rating, particularly given the many laudatory reviews the comic has received.

It is well-illustrated; the cartoon's conventional black-and-white style is detailed (if lacking in background depth), but not so cluttered that it becomes distracting. And by and large Naylor is not deficient in the technical aspects of narrative: his characters grow and develop into relatively rounded and distinct personalities, and the story itself, which oscillates between playful-if-perverted humour and truly sobering themes, maintains an engaging pace. From a simple cursory reading, it's easy to see how it attracts such widespread appeal.

But much like The Da Vinci Code, just because the story can hit all the right emotional triggers to keep the reader 'hooked', doesn't mean it is a profound work of literature. From a purely structural standpoint, Better Days' biggest flaw is its stilted pacing. Whereas most complaints over "webcomic time" concern a series that has run for years yet only progressed an in-universe week, this comic does the opposite: chapters are set within a limited, episodic timeframe, and the early arcs in particular will jump forward a year without any indication, the characters aging seemingly overnight. Without a stable time reference, the reader becomes disoriented; even on a second read-through I found the characters aging unnaturally fast, with almost no time given for the reader to digest the arc properly before being vaulted into a new setting. Indeed, rather than provide a sense of meaningful closure, the final chapter was startling in its brevity and left me asking: "That's it?"

The crux of my complaint is not so much the story itself, but the particular way that Naylor chose to tell it. There are few webcomics willing to make an honest effort to interrogate such themes as domestic abuse and sexual violence, and far fewer that do so successfully. While Better Days aspires to the former, it sadly does not rank among the latter. I can best describe the story as plagued by contradiction: it tries to foster female independence yet constantly emphasizes the need for a male protector; it claims love is more than lust but devotes half its time to blatant objectification; it decries exploitative relationships at the same time it trumpets the primacy of individual self-interest as the root of all morals. The juxtaposition of vulgar sexual humour against the early shocks of "Predators" and "Tough Love" left a niggling sense of unease throughout the rest of the story, to the point that I almost couldn't take later discourses seriously.

This is problematic because the comic -desperately- wants to be taken seriously. Better Days is a story about relationships: love and loss, friends and foes, responsibility for others and duty to oneself. It is commendable for seeking to delve deeper into social psychology than its contemporaries in the genre (to a degree I did not fully appreciate in my first encounter); but it is perhaps -too- ambitious in its bid to tackle life's big questions. The comic can't seem to decide whether it wants to be a family drama or a psychology essay: at story's start, Fisk and Lucy are only nine years old, but speak with the intellectual sophistication of adults. Not only is the plot's timeline disjointed, but the characters feel out-of-sync with their own age; given Fisk's precocity in his psychiatric sessions, I cannot help but think he is too smart to make the choices he does. Naylor is bold (but not unique) in using children to address adult themes, but they respond as adults rather than children, and character believability suffers as a result.

Heretofore the complaints I've raised are over technical flaws that even by my most critical reading would not demerit Better Days below three stars; what makes the comic so controversial (outside of the infamous chapter "Brother's Arms", which I will also examine), what the positive reviews have failed to address, and what ultimately broke my immersion, is the politics employed in its construction. Blocky pacing and miscast protagonists can be forgiven as inexperience in writing a 'longue durée' narrative; what cannot be excused is the subversive social agenda that dominates the story. Whiffs of this abound in the explanatory monologues throughout the comic, often so preachy that they read like a chapter's 'Lesson Learned'. The most unabashedly partisan example is "The Bedbutter Chronicles", which fortunately (for Naylor) is the only time he calls out his opposition by name. So ham-handed reads the chapter that AridLion dismisses it as a parody; in fact, it all but spells out the neoconservative philosophy that underpins the entire comic, repeated much more eloquently (and far less opaquely) throughout the later story.

Every main character derives his or her morals from the core principle of individual sovereignty—that we should have control over our own destiny. Literally every chapter, every major discourse, every Lesson Learned, concerns the idea that we need freedom of choice. Which we -do-, especially if we hold any value in democratic society and representative government. But Naylor interprets this freedom through the narrow libertarian lens of absolute autonomy, in contempt of greater social responsibility: we are obliged -only- to ourselves; everything beyond is discretionary charity. Not only must we be free to choose, we must be free from any and all forms of coercion and external authority that would limit our choice, regardless of cause, regardless of -consequence-. Whether Naylor himself subscribes to this philosophy is immaterial; it is the lens through which he chose to frame his story, and well within his right to free speech to present it publicly. But he goes out of his way to cast it as the -only- legitimate basis for social organization, presenting alternative viewpoints as crude strawman caricatures: Mrs. Bedbutter (arguably the only character in the entire comic -not- motivated by self-centred goals), whose very name reads like a joke, is depicted as the stereotypical 'bleeding-heart liberal' engaged in unpatriotic "social engineering"; when Tommy consults with his priest over Rachel's infidelity, in typical Catholic cliché the father ignores the actual issue to blindly reiterate obedience to God. Part of my discomfort in the early story stems from the hoisting of this partisan agenda onto the shoulders of children who, precocious though they may be, are not portrayed as politically conscious; conversely, my ennui with the later chapters concerns the childish simplicity by which the characters incessantly pontificate this ideology as if it constitutes an uncontested fact.

Lamar cites Naylor's soapboxing as detrimental to the work but stops short of explaining what and why that is; I find this regrettable because understanding the dangerous implications of unfettered libertarianism is crucial to understanding why Better Days ranks not merely as a mediocre story, but an objectively bad, even harmful one. The freedom Naylor advocates—amended in later chapters to include the belief that we must do what makes -us- happy, first and foremost—engenders a reckless disregard for broader social consciousness and public authority. Tommy abandons religion altogether the moment his personal desires conflict with Church doctrine. Fisk reacts with disgust when Carlos plans to kill himself but makes no effort to help him overcome his PTSD, instead angrily rebuking his fellow veteran for 'squandering' the little practical autonomy he has left. I agree that Better Days is mired in "macho wish fulfilment", but I contend this is not a narrative fault in of itself; rather, it is symptomatic of the comic's underlying ethos: when self-serving utility becomes the sole point of reference for moral decisions, the logical outcome is a 'might-makes-right' philosophy. Fisk says as much in "Chess" when he frames conflict of opinions as a struggle for dominance: the winning side need not be intellectually compelling or even factually correct, so long as it has the greater muscle. Not-so-coincidentally, many of the story's conflicts are both violent in nature and resolve through violence: Lucy exacts revenge on Randy by shearing his hair; Principal Longfellow is clandestinely murdered rather than stand trial; Nikki's abusive father is gunned down by police officers. It is thus entirely consistent that Fisk joins a private company engaged in vigilante wetwork, since it provides him the opportunity to pursue retributive justice without having to contend with the arbitrary imposition of such unfree institutions as American law.

And here the comic's internal logic breaks down. Without the rule of law, with only an anarchic arena to resolve the perpetual clash of differences, morality is reduced to personal subjectivity, and Naylor's moralizing becomes both intellectually and pragmatically hypocritical. Lucy's friends confront cheating partners, yet her own mother pursues an affair with Sam; Fisk saves their mother from the wanton violence of his principal, only to grow up into a vigilante assassin. If the reader was left to draw one's own conclusions about the characters' ethics, this wouldn't be troublesome. But the story -wants- us to sympathize with them, and practically twists our arm to make it so: we don't see Mrs. Tobs' perspective on the marriage; we know little of Persia's mother other than that she's an overbearing philanderer; when Nicholas accuses Beth of stringing him along, -she- is cast as the victim. Oftentimes what makes the protagonists' actions acceptable but the minor characters' contemptible narrows down to simple author fiat. The comic's moral atmosphere is decidedly 'grey-and-gray' (and dark shades at that), yet Naylor strives (and for me, fails) to depict it as black-and-white. The characters portrayed as 'villainous' (Longfellow, Nikki's father, Rachel, D'Anna) are, variably: coarse, violent, dishonest, and/or manipulative. Notwithstanding that the protagonists demonstrate equal propensity for dirty tricks as they feel their circumstances demand, Naylor either fails to recognize, or deliberately ignores that the villains adhere to the -exact same ethical standard-: they are pursuing -their- happiness, and while the reader should rightly find their methods detestable, for the reasons outlined in this and the preceding paragraph, Naylor has forfeited any right to moral judgment.

Which brings me to the infamous Chapter 10.

I won't dwell on the general sexualization of Better Days; as a point for critique it's low-hanging fruit, and in any event is so ubiquitous as to speak for itself. Subject matter aside, it is not a particularly profound chapter, and while its aftershocks reverberate throughout the rest of the story, it is executed so casually that, as kiseki's review states, one wonders if Naylor fully thought it through. Yet in some ways it is fitting that "Brother's Arms" should be the centre of so much publicity, because it pulls together all the sociological currents and contradictions that drive the project. To Naylor's credit, it is -not- entirely gratuitous (the comic would never have survived if it had been), and while I have resisted citing his other works, anyone familiar with the author's money-making enterprises knows this could have been handled a -lot- less tactfully. And in terms of the characters' own reflections, it is the -only- scenario in which Naylor -doesn't- tell the reader what to think. But, while he takes great pains to cast the incident as the product of genuine, even altruistic affection, it nonetheless fundamentally remains a power relationship. Tellingly, Fisk describes himself as Lucy's "older brother" and makes it clear that he feels a duty to protect her; though the incident emerges out of a mutual investment of trust and occurs at her instigation, it is only made possible -because- Lucy is vulnerable and because she has vested him with protective authority. Even setting aside the incestuous context, it is -not- the same relationship shared by or with the other characters because, unlike their romances before and after, the twins do not approach it on equal terms. That Naylor leaves the chapter's ending ambiguous is perhaps an admission that he waded out of his depth; the hasty resolution reasserts that Fisk was acting out of compassion, but the reader still confronts the conundrum that "Brother's Arms" is essentially "Tough Love" with a happy face. Nikki's father -is- abusive and Fisk is -not-, but regardless of intent and outcome both scenarios constitute male sexual dominance over a helpless family member. I sincerely hope that Naylor merely missed this implication rather than wilfully ignored it, for otherwise he is proposing a hypocrisy far more alarming than during any other chapter when he asks us to condemn the former, but condone the latter.

I do not fault Naylor for writing politically—given the weight of the subject matter, it would be impossible not to—but for the dishonesty by which he advances his agenda. While the now-inaccessible sister project New Worlds employed the same social commentaries far less subtly, Naylor was more-or-less upfront about his intentions. In Better Days, he masks his agenda through rhetorical tricks and a seductively dramatic narrative such that most readers do not even recognize his writing is deeply ideological. As a reader, I feel duped: Better Days sells itself on the family drama narrative, promising us an intimate view unto the life narrative of children becoming adults; instead we get a front-row seat to a social soapbox, the characters' experiences serving to reinforce a narrow, and to at least two reviewers, deeply disturbing point of view. When I began this critique I thought the early chapters felt rushed because Naylor was writing to a real-time deadline, akin to such comics as For Better or For Worse; this is not the case. I now realize that they are episodic because they each have a specific argumentative goal. Instead of the characters driving the plot, the plot conducts the characters. We don't watch the twins grow so much as view carefully curated snapshots of their growth. Fisk's life can be summarized as a confirmation bias towards strict-father morality: "The Bedbutter Chronicles" suggests external authority can't be trusted; "Predators" casts him as the literal family guardian; "Chess" implies there are objective, non-negotiable moral truths; everything else reinforces the central libertarian tenet of individual autonomy and the pursuit of self-interest. The cruel irony is, for all the time Fisk lectures others on the inalienable necessity of free and conscious choice, he has been groomed to replace his father without even being aware. Yet this is the comic in general: it railroads its characters (and its readership) toward -one- choice, and actively blocks out the alternatives.

In the end, Better Days -was- worth my time to read, but not for the reasons its author intended. What few technical and narrative merits the comic does possess are overshadowed by the self-contradictory ethics upon which the entire story is premised. Despite the challenges I have raised and my final one-star rating, I feel it is a comic that -should- be read... but it -must- be read, from start to finish, with a critical eye. Though the story's many controversies are starting points for serious and worthwhile debates—as I hope this review has demonstrated—the comic does not wish to interrogate itself, and provides little room to do so. Like Fisk, we are told to accept Naylor's philosophy without the opportunity to ask why we -should-. The politically astute reader will recognize what Naylor is doing and -make- that opportunity, but the casual reader will -not- and accept his sermons (and their implications) at face value. Because of this intellectual duplicity, I cannot recommend Better Days to anyone unless they genuinely know what sort of story they are taking on.
09:28pm 06/30/2014
 
Fantastic drama and comedy with great art
I started reading Original Life, but went back to read Better Days and WOW! I was really pleased with the art style and the courage to address sensitive subjects. I read about the supposed "political rhetoric" in the comic. And I saw it as parody in CH 4. Elsewhere in the comic political views (on my reading) did not stand out. I loved the shifting tone of the comic and the slices of life for each character. Everything just kept getting better through the end of the comic. Best read as a drama with interludes of comedy, I would strongly recommend Better Days.
09:14am 05/12/2013
 
Five stars is an insult to how high i want to rate this comic
I can honestly say over the past few years I have read more comics then I can honestly count but this one got me good for a long time after I finished reading it. While everyone has their pro's and con's I will keep it short starting with the cons that certain timelines didn't connect as well as others while certain characters seem out of place on more then one occasion in my own opinion. But the pro's far outweigh the con's in this one with it appropriate plot twists and ability to express it characters very well. What truly got me is how the author does such a amazing job replicating modern day life, showing the good and bad and everything in between with the main character as he grows up. maybe just due to going threw a lot of those experiences first hand I am probably giving this comic a overly high rating. But at the end of it the title really sums it all up rather well as no matter what we go threw we can always hope for better days lol.
02:30am 01/09/2010
 
<--- Add another star here!
Definetely deserves 6 out of 5 stars, just an amazing comic.

Better Days shows great artistic work by it's author. I can clearly see a lot of time and effort has been made into it. The setting ranges all over the place from New York to the Middle East. Characters were drawn at good view points and the backrounds are clear and vissible.

The overall plot is good as well. As a drama, it shows the life of two characters (twins) growing and progressing through grade school, college, and their careers. The comic is also very emotional, showing realtionships in every direction.

Although it is finished, it still is great to read. I've even reread it. Since it consists of 25 chapters, I would say it has a good length to it.

Better Days is probably my favorite comic, and I recommend it to everyone. Read it from beggining to end.
08:40am 04/02/2009
 
Almost
This is a comic on a mountain peak. By which I mean, it is one step from being a one star comic, and one step from being a four star comic. It could have fallen either way, and I would have given it a two and a half if possible.
The best word to describe it is "dichotomy".
The time between each story arc varies widely yet there is little indication that it has changed. It skips from character to character, and it is both interesting and frustrating.
The incestuous occurrence is handled seriously, and the aftermath elicits both a "wow that is interesting" and a "what the hell was the author thinking?" response.
The characters are well drawn, but there is almost nothing in the way of backgrounds which adds to some of the confusion of the comic.
It has some serious plot of drama webcomics, and some of the sex scenes of the fanservice comics, but not enough of either to be taken seriously by fans of either.

Adding to the uncertainty of the comic: I would not recommend it to my friends, but YOU might enjoy it if only to understand the controversy. That is, after all, why I started and finished reading it. I do not regret it.
11:44pm 10/11/2008
by
 
High recommended, a real "page turner"
Better Days tells the story of Fisk and Lucy Black, twin boy and girl, growing up and finding themselves. The story is well drawn, has good writing and has a wonderful mixture of comedy and drama.

While I enjoyed the earlier comics better (which is purely an individual opinion), Better Days is still worth a read.
05:15pm 07/20/2008
 
Great story, really hard to put away.
About a mother and twin boy and girl, growing up in a single parent environment. The kids are often left to their own devices, forcing them to mature more rapidly. Many elements combine to make this comic adult in content, but the author manages to wrap it neatly into a cohesive story. It literally took years to be compiled and could fit into a few graphic novels. Hours of reading.
08:16am 07/15/2008
 
An imperfect cast in an imperfect world
Well written but certainly mature themes. A good Fictional Drama. Not for the squeamish or easily offended.
11:53am 07/12/2008
 
Well drawn, and regularly updated, but disturbingly poorly written.
To start with the plus side, Better Days has been regularly updated from it's start, and is drawn to a professional standard. However, it is substantially let down by it's content matter, which amounts to macho wish fulfilment, pushing a somewhat disturbing social and political agenda, and excuses for sexual content.

One of the notable story lines in the strips history, was that of an incestuous relationship between the main brother and sister characters in the plot. This 'dramatic' and disturbing subject, as with most subject matters in the comic, was handled like soft core pornography.

Not recommended.
09:43pm 07/11/2008
 
Fun, entertaining, and reliable
His comic tells the story of the Black family and follows their lives through the years. You get to see the characters grow and age, experience life, and learn from it. Jay Naylor started Better Days in 2003, and since then he has never gone on hiatus, been late, or stopped producing to take a break. He's never even used guest strips. Highly recommend.
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