Sunday, September 20, 2009
by Dash Shaw
Hillary Brown: So, even though I bought Bottomless Bellybutton fairly recently, my first experience with Dash Shaw was actually chapter 1 of Bodyworld, his webcomic that's due to be published as a book in the nearish future and was posted in serialized fashion. Let me say that it kind of blew my head off, which is not an experience I'm that used to having. Not since the Matrix pizza twirling performance in Pizza! The Movie has my brain been so thoroughly confused and delighted at the same time (which is not to denigrate Shaw's work by comparing it to a bunch of douchebags twirling pizza dough but rather to provide a comparable for the experience of addlement and amazement). So then I went and read Bottomless Bellybutton (which we should cover soon), and then I went back to Bodyworld, and I was still totally impressed. I'm not sure Shaw maintains that mind-reeling pace throughout the whole twelve chapters--this is a sizable thing--but he certainly does for quite a bit of it, which is notable enough. It's kind of like the Internet got put into a comic and then directly injected into your brain, and I guess what I mean by that is that he's got this way of jumping extremely quickly between different things (scenes, thoughts, characters) that is disorienting and, perhaps more accurate, reorienting. It's like clicking on link after link to see where they go and discovering the connections between this and that all over the place. (This is hard to describe.) Anyway, I find it exhilarating, and I think it really captures something webcomic-y, as opposed to book comic-y, especially in the last chapter, which has a massive scrolldown panel. It's also important for the themes of the book, which I guess you could summarize as loneliness versus sublimation of identity. So, am I hyping it too much?
Garrett Martin: No, not really. It is like a controlled Wikipedia trawl, popping off on what feels like tangents without losing sight of its goals. And yeah, when people talk about the internet's infinite canvas, BodyWorld should be exhibit A (or maybe B, after this amazing Drew Weing strip.) Thing is, I don't know "reoriented" BodyWorld leaves me. I remain thoroughly disoriented after three (partial) readings. That's the point, though, right, that it's impossible to really know other people, and even if something made it possible to completely share their thoughts and experiences, it'd still be impossible to make any sense of it?
HB: Yeah, that might be the point, and yet, it's also so easy for us to overlap. We have so much in common, with our fears and desires, our self-hatred and desire of obliteration, our need to rub our parts together and take whatever will get us out of our own skulls for a little while. I think you're right when you bring up Wikipedia, as well as that Weing strip (which I'd never seen before, despite being a big fan of his stuff), and there's something that's extremely pleasurable about that disorientation. I guess, although I've never been brave enough to take anything hallucinogenic, that it's probably analogous to what that experience can be like at the best of times--or extreme religious experience, for that matter. Both involve this sense of scale, of not being quite able to grasp the full hugeness and connectedness of everything while at the same time being able to put your finger on just enough of it to get a sense of it. It's not like thinking about infinity, for the most part. That's too big. It's more like being up on top of a really tall building. But it's also funny. Did you think it was funny?
GM: Yes. I chuckled. The humor's never forced or obvious, though. It's like David Lynch's humor, less overt than a natural part of the unusual atmosphere.
And both psychedelics and "extreme religious experience" involve not just that increased awareness, but the willful sacrifice of your own God-damned mind. I felt like I had to do that a bit to even begin to understand the drug trips in BodyWorld. I don't know if there's any better way to visualize what happens in those scenes, though. They required great attention to follow, but the more I focused on them the less visual sense they made. Is that intentional, or simply a result of attempting something that can't be done in static two-dimensional illustration?
HB: I think it's intentional. This "book" (and, obviously, to call it a book is kind of a stretch, although it's going to be one in April) is very into empathy not only in terms of the obvious content, but also in terms of the way it works on the reader, which is an unusual experience. The only thing I can think of, off-hand, to compare it to is Paradise Lost, at least the way Stanley Fish looks at it, in which it creates the same narrative in the reader's relationship with Satan that it does on the page with Adam and Eve's. Clever shit, yo.
GM: Too clever for me to write about. It's intimidating. Where's the punching? Where are the steroid guys complaining about how the punching isn't as simple as it used to be back in the good old days of punching? I'm way outside my comfort zone. Speaking of which, are you ready to go on Tyrese Gibson's Mayhem?
HB: Okay, there's not very much punching. But there is a little. And there's kind of a lot of sex. Shouldn't that keep the layman interested? I think it's the most original thing I've read in years, and it might be kind of important as far as, like, the future of comics..
GM: It's definitely important, no doubt. Could it be so idiosyncratic that any attempt to follow in its footsteps will feel too much like a rip-off? Maybe it could inspire major artists to do more web work, but then I think that's already happening and Shaw wasn't exactly the most famous of men when he started this. But yeah, there should be more comics like Body World, comics that hurt your mind through thinking.