“Validation” is one of the more gentle, heartfelt and affecting webcomics out there. (As a side note: there are quite a few webcomics! At some point, they’ll constitute a major part of the comics world, if they don’t already.)
But “Validation” is the story of Ally, a transgendered girl, and her path through life, told in three-panel increments. Like many of the great autobiographical comics, the actual incidents are in and of themselves a bit trivial, because that’s the way life is on a day-to-day basis. The latest strip, for example, #194, shows Ally enthusiastically receive a PayPal payment for an article she’s written, and joyfully hugging her stuffed dinosaur (dressed as a cowboy), “Mr. Dino.” I can identify with the joy of seeing a piece of writing published (the thrill never really goes away), and it’s an honest, true moment.
Creators Christian Beranek and Kelci Crawford also have an eye for the sort of small details us rather geeky types look for, such as having Ally wear a T-shirt with the Fibonacci Sequence on it. Ally’s T-shirts are actually a great running joke, sort of like Judah Friedlander’s ever-changing baseball cap on 30 Rock. In strip #192, Ally sports a shirt with a piece of cheese and the phrase, “Praise Cheezus!” Another running joke is Mr Dino’s costume, which evolves from nothing, to a Sombrero, finally to a full cowboy ensemble.
Ally is a great, complex and evolving character. Even though she’s a transgendered woman, and issues specific to those people do arise for her every now and then, most of what she deals with are universal concerns, and deeply human and affecting. Ally struggles with shyness, so much so that she can’t even work with customers at Target, preferring the stock room. She tries to balance having a day job with writing articles, and struggles with the sometimes difficult challenge of coping with the reactions of an internet audience to one’s writing.
Another major recurring character here is Roxie, a punk rock enthusiast and old friend of Ally’s. Roxie might look like a formidable punk rocker, with her spiked hair and multiple piercings, but she’s also used as a way to critique comics culture, such as the five-part strip in which she visits her first comic book shop. Ally, a serious comics fan, talks about them all the time, so Roxie gives it a try. Right away, a guy who introduces himself as “Lenny” comes up her and starts talking about Batgirl’s breasts, to which the increasingly irate Roxie says, “Why are you talking to me about boobs!!?” A staff member intervenes and explains to “Lenny” that “We don’t talk about ladies’ breasts with strangers,” and takes Roxie away to show her some other titles. More reasonable comics fans (or at least, fans with better-developed social skills) start recommending titles such as Saga (a good choice), but then a creator’s name comes up, and Roxie bristles. She tells the shop clerks that her and Ally met this creator at a convention once, and he acted like a “jerk”, therefore she’ll never read anything written by him. When the shop clerks protest, asking what a writer’s behaviour at a convention has to do with their talent, Roxie cuts them off, saying, “Don’t defend him. Jerkiness is jerkiness. I don’t care how ‘talented’ he is.”
This isn’t the first, nor the last time Validation makes points about comics culture, but it never makes fun of comics themselves, just the culture around them. The obsessive, inside-baseball culture that, yes, has a lot of sexism at times, but beyond that a general “exclusivity” that doesn’t help the growth of our favourite medium.
Validation is often serious and consequential, often really funny, and often touching in the way it captures small moments like Ally hugging Mr Dino in bed. And it’s all done through quirky three-panel strips, and through the perspective of an unlikely comics hero. It’s well worth checking out for any fan of the medium.