WHEN HE WAS 23, cartoonist Dash Shaw wrote a massive, black-and-white graphic novel called Bottomless Belly Button that read like an autobiography (it isn't) and garnered the young creator wide recognition as a comics genius-to-be (he probably is).
Shaw's newest book, BodyWorld, just arrived from the design-conscious publishers at Pantheon, though Shaw's been serializing it since 2007 on his website (dashshaw.com, where you can read the whole thing).
BodyWorld is a book of uncompromising, surpassing, mind-melting weirdness, from its high-concept design to a premise that sounds like it was conceived by a sci-fi-reading, airplane-glue-sniffing high schooler circa 1963. It's set in the future—but its action takes place in a small planned community called Boney Borough, in most regards a perfect throwback to 1960s suburban America. It's about drugs, love, and telepathy; it maintains only a cursory visual consistency; it's meant to be read from top to bottom, as it would have scrolled down a computer screen in its original format. It is completely unhinged, and just about brilliant.
A shambolic drug researcher named "Professor" Paulie Panther takes up residence in Boney Borough to investigate a newly discovered drug ("investigate" in this context means "ingest large quantities of, and take notes on what happens"). It emerges that the drug causes the user to have telepathic experiences—and Shaw uses the full potential of his medium to banish the old conception of "mind reading" in favor of a visceral, visual overlay of information from one brain to another. Thoughts aren't merely implanted in other people's heads—feelings, emotions, and images get through too, all in a crowded, confusing, and sometimes terrifying jumble.
"If your mind is receiving information from the other person's mind, then your hand would receive information from the other person's hand. It's more of a full-body experience than a secret whisper," Shaw explained in a phone interview. "It's what I think telepathy would be like." As Paulie has perspective-bending trips on his newly discovered drug, hooks up with high school girls, and uncovers a vast mind-control conspiracy, BodyWorld scintillates with jittery paranoia and dark, hilarity. Don't miss it.
Click here for a complete transcript of the Mercury's interview with Dash Shaw