Is this the Dash Shaw that everybody has been talking about?
I hate to admit it here in mixed company, considering the reputation that I cultivate for this site as someone who loves to try new and different things, but I’ve never read a book by Dash Shaw. I’ve never peered into a Bottomless Belly Button or spent time in BodyWorld. So this new, floppy-sized (and floppy-priced) comic by Shaw was a welcome chance to try out Dash’s work.
Okay, I’ll spoil the ending of this story. I’m now a fan of Dash Shaw’s work.
3 New Stories is a fascinating work, a book knocked me back on my heels with its tremendous inventiveness, playfulness and intriguing approach to the comics page. I’m a sucker for cartoonists who create works that use ideas that I’ve never seen before. I go crazy for comics that do things with the comics page that are utterly unique — while still telling fascinating stories that are compelling, weird and get the reader thinking.
The first story in this book, “Object Lesson,” is nominally about a detective who loses his job in the recession and goes back to school. But under Shaw’s masterful hand, there’s so much implied in the borders and edges of this story that it works on a whole number of different levels. Our lead character is dressed like Sherlock Holmes — you can even see him wearing a deerstalker hat. Is the man being satirized or empathized with? Is his wide tie a commentary on the banality of middle-class fashion and the ugly, old fashioned chair in panel two a symbol of lost opportunity, with the dollars on the wall and side table just out of reach?
What do we make of the State of Liberty prominently displayed in Panel One? Is that a commentary on the man’s immigrant status in the US, or the fact that he feels like an alien in his own country, or is it meant to be an ironic comment about liberty, or does it mean something else? And what are we to make of the gold-colored bricks on the wall in the foreground of the scene? Is our lead walled off from the rest of his life? Is that intended as foreshadowing of future events in his life? Does that represent opportunity lost with his layoff?
This first story is incredibly rich in that level of narrative complexity. It’s a breathtakingly complex combination of elements — some of which work on the head and some on the heart — some of which work subliminally and some work overtly — to create a story in which the gestalt of the piece is far more than the sum of its parts.
I’m going to skip the second story, which felt a bit underwhelming to me, and move to the very odd third story, “Broken Children’s Prison.” This story has a very strange feeling, juxtaposing the story of a prison drama with young adult fiction, creating a truly terrifying tableau of young children living in oppression and fear, trapped in worlds that they had no part in creating and being brutally killed when they try to escape.
This story would be horrifying if it just involved adults, but it adds a separate level of fear to add children to the story. Again, nothing is spelled out for readers. We’re forced to come to our own understanding of what is happening here, forced to struggle with the symbolism and the use of color in this piece that makes this story feel like a piece of kids’ candy at first glance.
This is a short, floppy-sized comic, but it’s incredibly rich in complexity and depth. Shaw delivers an amazing collection of stories here. Looks like I will need to spend some time in the Bottomless Belly Button.
3 New Stories will be in stores May 2013.