“BodyWorld” by Dash Shaw (Pantheon, 2010)


BodyWorld is a very unusual graphic novel.  As soon as one picks it up one realizes there is something different about it.  A rectangular book in shape, it is to be read not from left to right horizontally, but to be turned ninety degrees and read vertically from top to bottom – like a spiral-bound notepad.  The inside front and back covers feature a fold-out character list to help the reader, as well as a grid-work detailed map of oranges, browns, greens and whites revealing where key locations are as related to in the story.

The year is 2060 and the place is Boney Borough.  Paulie Panther has just arrived in town and he’s a very strange fellow: a writer and botanist who spends his time sampling different plants by smoking them to see what alchemical effects they have on him, and then documenting these effects and reactions for scientific purposes.  And in Boney Borough, near the high school, he has found the strangest and most unique plant ever.  When smoked and ingested with a colleague, one’s thoughts and dreams are exchanged and transferred, as two seem to become one.  Dash Shaw does a wonderful job of using art and color to highlight this, with faces and features intertwining, as the colors mix and swirl, and the crazy ideas perform a strange dance.

Paulie Panther lives in a world where he is pretty much always half-stoned.  In his studies he meets and befriends the teacher Miss Jewel, who he clearly has the hots for.  Then there is Billy Borg and Pearl Peach, high school sweethearts who are having some problems, especially when Paulie Panther gets stuck in the middle of everything and ends up bringing the whole town against him in the form of a mob.

BodyWorld is a special story you won’t read anywhere else.  It’s an important endeavor into thought and consciousness (with the aid of certain flora), with the use of characters and words, and most importantly, heavy colorful artwork.  Shaw’s art style also leaves a lot to the reader’s imagination, for he or she to interpret and imagine what they will, from what they’ve been reading.  The result is a great piece of artwork and story.

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Originally written on May 4 2010 ©Alex C. Telander.

Originally published in the Sacramento Book Review.