Whether you get sucked into his cartoons, Web comics, illustrated short stories, animated shorts, storyboards, minicomics or graphic novels, Dash Shaw's particular brand of complicated emotional realities, bizarre epiphanies and surreal imagery is sure to pull you in before spitting you out. Constantly immersed in some form of graphic art or another, it would perhaps be less surprising if the prolific 26-year-old were an octopus.
Born in Hollywood and raised in Richmond, Shaw (now a Brooklyn resident) attended Godwin High School and the Henrico High School Center for the Arts prior to graduating from New York's School of Visual Arts in 2005. But his most intense travels happen within the walls of his home. “This is the first month or so I haven't been on Page 200 of some huge thing taking over my whole life,” says Shaw, just back from Brazil, with plans to travel to more conferences and book expos in the coming weeks. “It's unusual to be out of the house so much. For the past few years I've been in the middle of big projects every day.”
Shaw's visual ideas come from following a train of thought. “When I'm at the drawing board I want to be transported to a different place and a lot of stories involve arriving at a place. I just imagine what characters are saying. None of them are based on me or directly based on someone I know.”
So how does a guy in his mid-20s navigate the interior landscape of a divorced single mom or a telepathic writer experimenting with psychedelics in the year 2060? “I don't put any pressure on myself to be realistic,” Shaw says. “If I have to draw a Cadillac and I don't really know how to draw a Cadillac, I'm just going to go into my memory bank and draw what I think is a Cadillac. If you Googled it, it wouldn't be accurate, but it's similar to what a lot of people think of as a Cadillac. And so that's the case with all of these different characters. It requires a level of irresponsibility. If you don't know anything about Cadillacs, maybe you shouldn't draw them, but it's interesting to do.”
Although his 720-page graphic novel, “Bottomless Belly Button” was named Graphic Novel of the Year by New York magazine in 2008, “The Unclothed Man in the 35th Century AD,” a series of animated shorts written for the Independent Film Channel, is scheduled for release this winter and his Web comic, “BodyWorld” will be published in 2010, Shaw seems nonplussed by accolades. “It's pretty easy not to feel successful,” he says. “You only feel successful, like right now, doing an interview. It's not like I have to deal with paparazzi.” Yet.
Dash Shaw will be speaking on several panels at the James River Writers Conference on Oct. 9 & 10 at the Library of Virginia. The conference is sold out, but visit www.jamesriverwriters.org or call 230-4575 to join the waiting list.