PREVIEW: Dash Shaw On 'The Unclothed Man In the 35th Century'

Dash ShawAcclaimed writer/artist Dash Shaw received quite a bit of attention when his 2008 graphic novel "Bottomless Belly Button" was heralded as one of the bets projects of the year by various print and online media, and only solidified his place among the upper echelon of indie creators with his "BodyWorld" webcomic (soon to be collected in print by Pantheon Books).

His latest project, "The Unclothed Man in the 35th Century," debuted this month as both a series of animated shorts on IFC.com and a new book published by Fantagaphics. "The Unclothed Man" is set in a futuristic world where robots have replaced humans in nearly all facets of daily life, and chronicles the adventures of a man named Rebel X-6 who poses as a robot model for figure-drawing classes at an art school.

With the animated series already available on IFC.com and the "Unclothed Man" book hitting comic shops today (it arrives in bookstores January 6), I spoke to Shaw about the origins of the project and the appeal of working in both still comic format and animation, and received a sneak peek inside "The Unclothed Man In The 35th Century" courtesy of Fantagraphics.

Click on the image below for a preview of "The Unclothed Man in the 35th Century" by Dash Shaw.

Dash Shaw


MTV: Let's start right at the beginning, since this is such a unique story idea. Where did "Unclothed Man" originate?

DASH SHAW: Yeah, it seems like a weird thing, but it actually happened very fluidly. After I graduated, I moved down to Richmond, Virginia, and worked as a figure drawing model, because I really loved figure drawing in college. I wanted to stay in that figure-drawing environment.

That was a weird, paranoid experience. Posing for someone for long hours, your brain takes odd journeys and you become incredibly self-conscious.

MTV: It was definitely interesting to see the story told from the point of view of the subject, not the artist...

SHAW: I still draw people, and I know what it's like to be on the other side of the fence. I know what it's like drawing people and being annoyed about one model or another, and I would talk about the models while I was drawing — so I knew that would happen, but I didn't expect it to drive me crazy. There are all these things with figure drawing that I'm interested in...

Across art schools everywhere, there are all of these cults of drawing philosophies, and they're sort of at war with each other. The teacher I spent most of my time working for in Richmond was a very different kind of drawing teacher who was all about plotting points and working on one pose for months and months and months. So I'd be sitting in the same way for six hours, three times a week, for months and months.

It was this kind of paranoia, coupled with really obvious sexual undertones to figure drawing — if you pick up old drawing books, they're filled with women in all of these pin-up style reclining poses. So, that's there, and it's never talked about in the classroom. I wanted to do something directly about that, because it connects to art school and figure drawing history.

MTV: There's also a very science-fiction spin on the story...

SHAW: On top of all that I already mentioned, [when I was in Richmond] was when people started bringing Wacom tablets into classrooms. That didn't exist before, so there's this new technology introduced to the experience. People look at you behind a computer and turn these mechanical little non-pens and add flourishes on their digital screens.

MTV: So how did the IFC series come about?

SHAW: I did a comic about ["The Unclothed Man"], and after "Bottomless Belly Button" came out, I was talking to the people at IFC. I showed them the animation I did for "Bottomless," and said I 'd like to do this comic as a cartoon.

MTV: I know you did a short bit of animation for "Bottomless Belly Button," but this seems like a big step into a full series. What was the appeal?

SHAW: A lot of my comics have animation elements using acetate and the way things are laid out. I grew up when there was a lot of great animation coming out. There was the anime boom in the United States, and then all of the great '90s cartoons like "Batman: The Animated Series" and "Aeon Flux." So it's a narrative collage of all these things.

MTV: What did you take away from the experience?

SHAW: I felt like I learned so much by drawing every day. If you want to get better at drawing the human figure, doing an animated series will definitely do that for you.

Also, it's an emotionally moving process to figure out how someone would move, moment by moment.

MTV: You're normally a solo creator, but a project of this magnitude prompted some collaboration. You mention fellow artist/animator Jane Samborski in the front of the book, so what was her role?

SHAW: Jane Samborski was trained as an animator and she has a completely different way of working than me. I can sit down and draw 10 shots that are all really short, but she likes to take one thing and really devote herself to one sequence. She's much more detail-oriented.

MTV: Is there a particular scene that sticks out as an example?

SHAW: Yeah, there's an opening where I wrote "satellite rotates as character sucks it up," and I thought that would be a still drawing of a satellite rotating. ... But Jane really made it rotate three-dimensionally in space. She figured out how to draw this weird object moving — and it was so crazy to me that it became the opening pages of the book.

She drew a map of what the sphere looked like if it was flat, and then wrapped it around a gridded sphere and then turned the sphere and drew it. It almost looks like it was drawn by a computer, but Jane did it. (You can see the story board for this scene in our "Unclothed Man" preview.)

Check out a preview of "The Unclothed Man In The 35th Century" here on Splash Page, and be sure to check out the animated series on IFC.com. "The Unclothed Man" is currently available at comic shops, and will be available in bookstores January , 2010.