Dash Shaw, writer/artist
Teenage Dinosaur Press, 2006
In theory I should love this book. A collection of various shorts from 2002-2004, it more or less epitomizes the abstract short-form comics that so excite me–an emphasis on repetition and rhythm, a disconnect (syncopation?) between text and image, figures and patterns bearing equal emotional and narrative weight, a pointed lack of “this means this, that means that” allegory or straightforward storytelling, emotionally rather than intellectually intelligible content. And yet it leaves me cold, both on its own terms and when compared to the Kevin Huizenga, Anders Nilsen, and John Hankiewicz comics of this sort that I find myself constantly returning to. Shaw’s line seems uncertain, frequently unattractive but for no discernible purpose, done this way out of lack of craft rather than intentionality. His stream of consciousness flows too frequently into the shallow waters of shock-value sexuality and easy self-reflexivity, neither of which seem to serve much purpose other than announcing themselves. The end result is scattershot, like it’s trying to do too much at once. The best work here is the lyrically minimalist day-in-the-life comic that concludes the volume, “Cheese”–the line shapes up, the visual language is clever (a one-panel shower scene riffs on the familiar breast self exam diagrams found in college dorm bathrooms everywhere) and, in the concluding sequence that uses the arching and flattening of a single line to signify the onset of sleep, quite poetic and beautiful. It displays the focus the rest of the book lacks. I think there’s enormous potential here–that he chose to do this kind of comics at all would indicate that–and obviously he’s got several more years worth of work under his belt at this point. But for now it’s not quite there.