Dash Shaw has been making great comics for as long as I can remember. Recently, he's risen to higher prominence for his wonderful book Bottomless Bellybutton. He's now hard at work on Bodyworld, which one prominent cartoonist recently described to me as "basically, a perfect comic."
Read all about both works here:
Above is a work in progress page by Dash.
1. can you describe your drawing routine---how often you draw, how many hour per day---how you break up the day with drawing?
I draw every day for most of the time, over ten hours. I used to take breaks to smoke cigarettes and that was all I would do. Smoke, draw, smoke, draw. I’ve since quit smoking and now I don’t know what to do. I walk to a place to get a cup of coffee and walk back, but I can’t do that ten times a day. Finding some small activity to replace smoking has been hard. But, of course, I’m happy I quit.
2. how much revision/editing do you do in you work?
Because of the quality of the Bottomless Belly Button drawings, if I had an idea for a scene I could just draw it and then decide later whether or not to put it into the book, or where to put it. The idea for that book was to do a lot of editing. With BodyWorld, my webcomic, I haven’t done any editing. I’m slowly executing something that’s planned before in sketches and notes.
3. talk about your process---do you write a script or make up the drawing as you go?
With BodyWorld I divided the whole story into sections, and then divided those sections further. The outline for it looks sort of like a map or grid. So I know what’s going to change about when, but how I get there is only drawn in sketches right before I draw on the Bristol. It was difficult when I started but now it just writes itself. If you know the characters well enough you can just imagine what they’re doing and it’s easy and super fun.
4. do you compose the page as a whole or do you focus more on individual panel composition?
I used to compose something as a whole book, or whole facing page spreads. Everything had to look the same on a spread. You can tell I was doing that, if you look at The Mother’s Mouth or some of the GoddessHead short stories.
I wanted to just focus on individual panels with BodyWorld. I wanted to not think about a page at all. But I cheat sometimes and I think about the tier or the whole page if it was printed.
5. what tools do you use (please list all)?
For BodyWorld I use black India ink with rapidograph pens and microns and markers and the largest crowquill nib. It’s the 513EF crowquill nib. It’s huge and weird, because the line looks sort of like a cross between a brush and a crowquill, because people usually think of crowquills as smaller and scratchier. It’s more like a fat calligraphy pen. And then I color it using a lot of different things, but I usually go back to gouache paint on acetate sheets or construction paper or color cards with colored pencil and sometimes watercolor. In chapter nine I wanted a part of it to be gold foil, but the scanner didn’t read the foil correctly so I took photos of the foil in the sun and then cut it to be the shape of the smoke (in the comic) and pasted it in. I’m playing around. Recently in my sketchbook I’ve been trying things with combining pencil and ballpoint pen, drawing large, and then reducing it on a photocopier so that they blend together. I’m annoyingly a formalist so I’m always screwing around with different things to see what it looks like.
6. what kind(s) of paper do you use?
BodyWorld is drawn on Bristol paper.
7. do you read a lot of comics? are you someone who reads comics and then gets excited to make more comics---or is your passion for making comics not linked to any particular love for other comics?
When I was in Richmond I lived close to a comic shop, Velocity Comics, and so I would read a lot more comics. I lived a block and a half away from it for 8 months, and there was a great used bookstore that carried a ton of older comics close to me too. But now a comic shop is like an hour away, so I hardly read anything. I’ve always read comics, and I’ve read all kinds of comics, so I have a weird backlog of everything in my mind. I’m trying to flush it out. Sometimes I think everything I draw is just a combination of all of the millions and millions of drawings I’ve seen. For the past year I’ve been trying to move back to some natural reaction. How would I draw something if I didn’t know what a drawing is supposed to look like? How can I try to put my mind in that place? It’s impossible- But I feel like I have to try, at least, as hard as I can. Working in color is helping. It’s hard, too, with comics because comics naturally have an invented/borrowed language- like, I didn’t invent the word balloon, right? I didn’t invent the thought balloon. Is drawing the eyes larger a natural reaction to a face? Uggh. I could ramble about this for pages and pages, so I’ll stop there.
8. do you make comics for a living? if not, how do you support yourself, and how does this relate to your comics making process?
Yes. I used to work as a figure drawing model for Virginia Commonwealth University, but now I just do comics and comic-related things.
9. do other artforms often seem more attractive to you?
I like to do animations and will be doing that more next year.
10. what artwork (or artists) do you feel kinship with?
I feel a kinship with Oyvind Fahlstrom. He did a lot of different things, wrote, made board games, etc. I’ve been reading his writing about art/life lately and I’m responding to it. Also I’ve committed the social faux pas of ripping off of my friends Tom Herpich and, more recently, Frank Santoro, who I both feel a kinship with. Those are both probably one-sided (“unrequited”?) kinships. But I’ve been influenced by a lot of people who I don’t necessarily feel so close to. The backgrounds for BodyWorld come from animation (“Yogi Bear”) style backgrounds, but I don’t feel a deep kinship with Yogi Bear background artists. “Bottomless” is a family fiction story, but I’ve never felt a kinship with any other family fiction storyteller. What I’m saying is that I define “kinship” as kind of a felt, deeper sensibility about everything, rather than just someone/something I like.
11. is a community of artists important or not important to you?
I would like a community that actually felt like an artists’ commune, where everyone lives in the same farm house and sleeps together. What happened to that? I don’t want to talk about nibs over the phone. I’m born in the wrong time maybe. I think about this a lot and it’s really frustrating. This is another answer where I could ramble on and on.
12. what is your parents/family's reaction to your work?
There was a time when they didn’t like it, but they are enjoying it nowadays. I think that BodyWorld and Bottomless having more of a sense of humor is important. My sense of humor is very personal/unique to me, and since they know me they can see how the comic comes from me, more than other (less humorous) comics.
13, what is more important to you---style or idea?
When something’s good they’re inseparable.
14. is drawing a pleasure to you or a pain?
It’s extremely pleasurable. Over the years I’ve tried to weed out all of the painful parts. “Why am I drawing this annoying fucking thing? Wait… I don’t have to! I’m in control!” Really, I don’t have to draw anything I don’t want to. Nobody’s paying me enough. The only painful parts left are scanning and computer work (piecing together pages, layers, etc.) but even that can be enjoyable if you get a new CD and listen to it, zone out, by the computer. If it was painful I’d be a lot less prolific and more tortured. All of the pain is when I’m not drawing, in society! Ha! I’m half-joking I guess.
15. when you meet someone new, do you talk about being an artist right away? do you identify yourself as an artist or something else?
I identify myself as a cartoonist or artist. The other day I was at a party and someone asked me what I do and I said I do a webcomic and my girlfriend overheard that and got really mad at me. She said I was misrepresenting myself and we talked about it later. Personally, if someone told me they did a webcomic I would be intrigued. But, of course, I like webcomics.
16. do you feel at all connected to older comic artists like steve ditko or jack kirby---or does this seem like a foreign world to you?
I got into Jack Kirby early because I was into the Batman animated series and Bruce Timm would talk about Kirby. So I looked up Kirby and started reading him. Also my Dad is in his sixties now, so he’s the age where he read all that and then the underground comics. He still had a lot of those comics in storage or around the house. I saw Ditko too but I didn’t get it. I only got into him in college. Then, for a while, I liked Ditko more than Kirby and would tell people that. Now I’m swinging back and Kirby’s my man. But I do like the recent Ditko comics. Not the essays, which I just skim through. I read “The Fountainhead,” just because of Ditko. Maybe I’m crazy, but I think that the lineage of Kirby and Ditko is being carried through both in some of the contemporary “alternative” cartoonists and some of the current Marvel/DC artists, without favoring either camp especially. It’s really a sensibility of an individual artist, rather than a tie to a particular genre. Kirby and Ditko worked in a million different genres anyway.
17. do you ever feel the impulse to not draw comics?
I’ve tried to quit a few times before. That was years ago. Now I’m in it pretty hard-core so I don’t think I’m going to quit anytime soon.
18. do you draw from life?
I do figure drawing and observational drawing, but my comics aren’t drawn from life.
19. do you pencil out comics and then ink? or do you sometimes not pencil?
Currently, I’m penciling and inking.
20. what does your drawing space look like?