It's 2060 AD. A strange telepathy-inducing plant has been discovered in Boney Borough, Virginia. Unfortunately, telepathy causes extreme horniness and insanity. And that's just the beginning of Dash Shaw's new graphic novel BodyWorld. Shaw spoke to io9 about the madness.
Dash Shaw's Eisner-nominated BodyWorld began as a webcomic in 2007 (you can peruse it at his site) and is just now getting a gorgeous hardcover treatment complete with maps and a crazed vertically-opening layout. It tells the story of Paulie Panther, a hedonistic botanist, and his experiments with a curious, telepathic plant. Shaw filled us in on the book's futuristic setting.
First off, BodyWorld is a sprawling book thematically. It addresses a gamut of scifi tropes: telepathy, dystopia, the notion of a human hive mind. What were your inspirations?
BodyWorld is about the nature of telepathy and how this telepathic plant affects the residents of the town of Boney Borough. As far as inspiration goes, I really enjoy Philip José Farmer's work, particularly his Riverworld universe. That's why BodyWorld has the name it does.
As far as other science fiction, I'm inspired by Philip K. Dick and a lot of Japanese cartoons like Akira. But I think the main influence honestly comes from everyday life and how those ideas that were once science fiction are taking over now. As you grow older, the past's science fiction becomes real life.
BodyWorld takes place after a Second American Civil War – the details of the Civil War in the book are kept purposely ambiguous. What was your motivation for keeping the details of the war shrouded in mystery?
It's something that's happened in the characters' world; it's an event that they know happened, but they're not necessarily going to explain to each other. They don't know that they're going to be listened in on by readers. I started writing BodyWorld in 2007 and ended in early 2009 – it definitely felt like there was a political rift that's still happening today. You can feel it in places like Richmond, Virginia, where I was drawing the book. Boney Borough is in Virginia accordingly.
I was curious about one of the protagonists, the drugged-out botanist Paulie Panther. Is Paulie a composite character of historical psychedelic aficionados?
Paulie just comes from my sense of humor. I didn't model him after any one, but his character designs are modeled after Dick Tracy. He doesn't have any of the personality traits of Dick Tracy, but his look came from me liking the grotesque character design.
In Body World, you invent the sport of dieball, which is played with a giant, ten-sided die. What was your inspiration for dieball, and have you ever actually staged real games of it?
I love dieball, but I've never played it. Sadly, I don't have all the equipment [the dieball, the brain-damaging adhesive diegunk, etc.]! As for the inspiration for the sport, it came from being in middle school and playing a lot of Dungeons and Dragons. I wanted to create a sport that featured a very unique ten-sided die that tied back to D&D.
A popular trend among graphic novelists is to infuse coming-of-age stories with loopy scifi trappings. Charles Burns' Black Hole plays with this trope and so does your book. Why do you think scifi and growing up go so hand-in-hand?
Science fiction is about the imagination and possibility. When you're younger, you see the world more from that perspective. When you're growing up, you kind of end up in all these strange, fantastic places. The younger characters in BodyWorld [who grow up in the cloistered community of Boney Borough] contrast with the older characters. You have [clean-cut, possibly brain-damaged dieball player] Billy who can talk to [the drugged-out, erratic] Paulie and they're totally different in how the view relationships.
You're young [Shaw is 27] for the comics industry and you already have a critically acclaimed book – the Harvey Award-nominated Bottomless Belly Button – under your belt. What is it like to be a younger man in the comics game? Any convention groupies?
No, no groupies.
The best thing about being younger in the industry is that you can check out all the material that came before you. I have access to all these resources that creators older than me had no access to – the internet, blogs, reprints, etc. For example, I have access to all these great Japanese comics that weren't as readily available to previous creators.
Did you ever have a creator or idol compliment your work?
Yeah, but I don't really want to say. I don't it want it seem like I'm tooting my own horn.
BodyWorld took you around 2 years; that was a fairly long-term endeavor. What sort of work do we have coming up from you in the near future?
I'm working on a series of animations for the Independent Film Channel. I'm also working on another comic. Working on animation requires you to talk a bunch of people about what you're doing, so I'm trying the comic project to myself for now.
Thanks for talking with us Dash. Also, happy birthday [Dash turned 27 yesterday]!
BodyWorld will be released April 13 on Pantheon Books.