Imitation of Life is a journal comic that acts as a blog, or, a web log for those of you not up on the lingo. It chronicles the day-to-day events in the life of its writer and artist Neil (who never gives his last name on the site), as he struggles to cope with the hardships of law school in Pittsburgh, PA. Sometimes metaphorical, sometimes gruesome and introspective, Imitation gives the reader a look into one man’s life that is, in all accounts, real.
This might be a little hard for some people to take. I felt weird when I started reading about Neil’s fits with depression, which recently caused him to drop out of school. I felt like I shouldn’t be reading these things, but this is a comic where the reality of it all is the point.
To say there is a storyline to this comic verges on the inaccurate, because the story is real, and therefore the comic has to be a reflection of real events. The pattern of events in the strip instead runs similar to that of a gag comic, where things just happen and then you move on to something else. However, this is real life, and the events that Neil describes do happen. The unfortunate thing is that sometimes there is no follow-up to an event that might strike a reader as being particularly interesting, like Neil about to get hit by a truck, for example. This lack of closure or denouement occurs because this comic, like many journal comics, only focuses on what happened that day, and what is on the mind of the creator that day. The next day’s events might be totally different or unrelated, and in the case of Imitation, they usually are. This might leave some readers of storyline-based webcomics with an empty, unfulfilled feeling.
The artwork, while improved since the comic’s debut in September of 2002, has never really been the strip’s strong point. The early strips look like they were done in MS Paint, while more recent strips have been enhanced with the use of a digital drawing tablet. The difference in quality is remarkable, yet even the current strips do not seem to be the definite style of the artist, who is constantly improving and revamping his technique. One day he might lean towards using a Kolchaka-style color simple drawing, while another day might be heavy on line work. One might argue that because this strip is very stream-of-conciousness-oriented, the artwork style doesn’t need to be concrete, as it reflects the ever-changing moods of the artist and his growth. That’s all well and good, but it can still have a distracting effect if or when one is reading the strips for their "reality-based" events – for the content rather than the style.
When it comes down to it, you’ll either find yourself relating to Neil, or you won’t. You might find his life boring, because after reading about everyday mundane events, things can get a bit monotonous. What keeps you reading a strip like Imitation of Life isn’t the artwork or the real life characters, however, but rather the distinct possibility that something tremendous will happen the next day. It might be horrible, it might be amazing, and the way Neil thinks about it will determine how we will see it. Imitation of Life is not the strongest journal comic out there, but it is one that shows growth, both creatively, and personally.
[Note: Some of the archives of Imitation of Life by Neil Babra are available at his new website. The URL linked to in this review no longer hosts this webcomic.]