As a graduate of Mahattan’s School for the Visual Art who has been actively creating his own comics since middle school, it seems like a stretch, at best, to consider Dash Shaw an outsider artist, in spite of his penchant for non-traditional forms of graphic storytelling. Still, the Shaw argues that, in many cases, some of the most exciting things happening in the world of sequential art are being created by artists who are largely unfamiliar with the form.
It’s fitting, then, that Shaw himself has tried his hand at a number of other artistic mediums, which have, in turn, influenced his comics. In this third and final part of out interview conducted at the Small Press Expo in Bethesda, Maryland, we discuss Shaw foray animation, the influence of outsider artists, and why his music career—or lack thereof—never really took off.
Well that something I tried with my friend. That was just something I tried—I was trying to do some kind of a social activity, but I gave up.
So you didn’t have a similarly positive response to your music?
That was just a fun project thing that we tried. I’ve tried a lot of different kinds of collaborations, but they always—they don’t work. That was for The Mother’s Mouth, and the Spanish edition of Mother’s Mouth, I took out like 20 pages of the book and redrew a lot of things, so the Spanish edition is a lot better [laughs]. And it’s also a smaller format. It made all of the drawings look better, at six-inches. The Spanish edition is good. The English edition, I don’t know, that book doesn’t look go to me, especially after the Spanish edition.
In terms of things like size and pacing, do you take into account where the work is going to end up, in terms of print versus online?
Yeah, because I think about the form. The Webcomic is long. I think if you look at Bottomless, it’s really obvious that I’m thinking about spreads, and then if you look at the things in Goddess Head, I wouldn’t change the drawing inside of a single page. The spreads in Bottomless, it’s really clear—I’d never have the largest panel on the right side of the spread—it’s always on the left. It’s annoyingly formal. Some people are like that. I tried to turn myself into one of those people who are just thinking about the little boxes, with Body World. I decided I was just going to do all of the little 12-panel grids, just telling the story in the box, the little TV screen, moving down like a lot of other cartoonists, but even now, when it’s published from Pantheon, you’ll see that I still didn’t change things. I still can’t get myself to totally get rid of the page in my mind.
It seems to be tough for people to make that transition, from print to the Web. For us, there were computers around, when we were growing up. Did you start doing Webcomics fairly early on in your comics career?
I always kind of had a Website, but I didn’t have a computer for a long time. As soon as I got a computer, a started doing a Webcomic.
For a lot of people who’ve been doing print comics their whole life, it’s pretty hard to wrap their minds around this new format.
Right. I’ve been preaching the Web to all of my cartoonists friends. I’ve got Frank on the subway going, “yeah, I can do a Webcomic!” I think Webcomics are really exciting. It feels like the dawn of the newspaper comics, because there’s all of these comics people out there who don’t even read comics, who are doing comics, so they’re coming up with all of these weird ways to combine words and pictures. You click on it, and it’s kind of like an animation.
There are things coming out where it’s like, “is this even a comic?” You take away the page and you take away the things, it’s not really comic—it has a relationship to comics, but it’s a new thing. I think, instead of thinking, ‘that’s not a comic, that sucks,’ it should be like, ‘that’s not a comic, it could be some new thing that’s really exciting.’ A lot of the comics I like, I’m not even sure if they’re comics. When I was at Duke University with Gary Panter, he was talking about Jimbo in Pergatory. He said, “this is being sold as a graphic novel, but it’s about 40 pages of 11 x 17, and each page has a background that goes across it. Is this even a comic? I don’t know.” It’s some kind of a different thing that’s exciting, and Webcomics are like that. Maybe it’s starting to be like really slow flipbook animation.
For lack of a better term, it’s a bit like the “outsider art” phenomenon.
Yeah, it has some outsider art in it, but the format is creating some different things that are new.
You went to SVA.
Was it difficult to cast this stuff aside, having coming from relatively formal training, rather than the outside.
All the teachers I had, no one was really trying to force me to do anything. They were really encouraging of what I was doing. They offered comics and were really interested in helping me. No one was telling me that I had to do something a certain way.
Having studied what was out there, was there any point in which you felt inhibited by the confines of a traditional strip? You said that part of you wanted to do the standard 12 panels on a page.
But that was just for me. I felt like I was being too formal. That was a personal thing. It wasn’t for an audience. I don’t want to be the formalist guy, and I don’t collect comics that are like that. It’s just that, at that point in my life, my brain had just kind of started to turn into that. And now I feel like I’m kind of stuck in the grid. And now I feel like I have to get out of the grid, because it’s kind of crappy that every single page, I just roll out the panels. I need to blow that up. It’s just a never-ending little journey of doing different thigns and thinking that I need to change directions. I know that Bottomless is definitely the thing that most people have seen, but I’ve been doing comics for a long time. I did them in middle school, high school, college, and only now are they starting to get published. With Mome, now when I have a story, it actually gets published. For the longest time, I had a story and no one would read it. It would just sit there. People are seeing my work now, but in my mind, it’s kind of this larger exploration.
Is that earlier work something you’d be interested in anthologizing?
Probably not. They’re bad. I’m not saying they’re good. They’re shitty. But I did illustration for a long time, and I wanted to be a brush guy, for a long time. Some people who no me know these different phases and interests that I have.
Do you see this exploration taking you outside of comics, in the near future? If so, in what sort of mediums? You mentioned that some of these comics are a bit like slowed down animations.
I was saying that those different Webcomics are like that. I love animation. I’d love to do more of it. The problem is that I need money to do it, and with comics, if someone doesn’t give me the money, I just do it, anyway. With animation, if someone doesn’t give me the money, I just don’t do it, because the way I animated is drawing every frame, so I need to pay someone to put it together.
That trailer that you did for Bottomless Belly Button you drew the whole thing?
It was 720 computer sheets—8.5 x 11 computer paper.
Are there any other mediums you’d like to experiment with?
I do paintings on acetate sheets. That kind of came out of the color experiments I would do. So it’s kind of comics, animation, and acetate paintings. They all feel like they’re related. I think animation has a relationship to comics. I’m surprised that more people in comics don’t do animation, with Windsor McKay and the history involved. Part of doing that trailer was that I was surprised that no one had done that before.