Dash Shaw was born in 1983 in Hollywood, California. Dash’s family moved soon after to Richmond, Virginia, where he grew up.
While in Richmond, Dash attended his local high school, Godwin, for half of the day, then would catch a bus or drive downtown to the magnet school The Center for the Arts for the afternoon. Godwin was “a really preppy suburbia-type high school” where Dash didn’t socialize much. “It’s weird because I was only really friends with the kids at the art school. At Godwin I was just waiting to go to the art school.” At The Center for the Arts, “I had a couple friends and we’d talk about Sandman and trade Crimson, you know? It was great,” says Dash.
Dash spent a year abroad in Japan in Tatsumigaoka, “a middle-of-nowhere village south of Nagoya”, says Dash. “It was definitely a learning experience. I got lots of cool books and things, but I was already into manga and anime. I helped teach English at the high school and tried to learn Japanese, an extremely difficult language to learn”.
Central to Dash’s adolescence was his dedication to Scouting, in which he achieved the rank of Eagle Scout. “I just liked camping and being outdoors. I was really into spelunking, or anything involving crawling around in caves. We played a lot of Dungeons and Dragons in tents.”
Dash got to see his work in print regularly while still in high school by creating illustrations for the weekly “In Synch” supplement in the Richmond Times Dispatch newspaper. Although Dash had already been creating his own comics, he was now motivated by this experience to begin self-publishing them. Mini comics led to Dash publishing his Love Eats Brains comics zine. “Looking back, I shouldn’t have printed those. They’re pretty bad and it sucks that they’re still floating around. But you live and learn, I guess. I did those within a few months, very quickly, and got over them quickly but I still have to deal with them,” remembers Dash.
After high school, Dash attended the School of Visual Arts in Manhattan, studying comics and illustration under such notable teachers as Gary Panter, David Mazzucchelli and James McMullan. Here, he met other artists who shared his love of making comics, many of them involved in the early stages of the Meathaus comics anthology. “I was fortunate that some of the guys would hang out with me and talk about comics. I wasn’t there during the golden time of Meathaus at SVA, I missed it, but I heard stories and learned a lot,” says Dash.
Dash’s passion for self-improvement went beyond just his SVA studies. “Sophomore year of college I took Tony Robbin’s Personal Power course and it really affected me. I guess I just like motivation, and I feel like I’m on a quest. I read a lot of time management and those kinds of books. My mom is a psychologist, so some of the higher-end, ‘real’ psychology books were always around, but I ended up getting into the low-brow self-help stuff for some reason”.
Dash began contributing comics to Meathaus as well as producing books including Gardenhead, Goddesshead, and The Mothers Mouth.
After college, Dash relocated back to Virginia where he settled into a lifestyle more conducive to creating his largest work to date, The Bottomless Bellybutton. “Richmond is good if you don’t have any money and want to work on your project. I worked as a figure-drawing model for the local college, VCU, for about 20 hours a week and would have the rest of my time to work on my comic. My rent was 200 dollars a month. Also, sometimes I would be scheduled to model but the teacher wouldn’t need me, so I’d get paid for showing up and I could just go home to work on my comic. It was a great situation. Whenever someone asks me for comic-making advice, I always reccommend moving to a place where you don’t have to worry about money and you have the time to work on your comic. I couldn’t have done Bottomless anywhere else,” notes Dash.
Before Bottomless Bellybutton’s celebrated release from Fantagraphics, Dash was already working on his next comics project, the full color online serial, BodyWorld. Much has been noted in interviews about Dash’s use of maps in creating his comics worlds. “When I’m at the drawing board, I want to be transported to another place.” Through the use of maps, “I can keep track of where all of the characters are,” says Dash.
Dash’s new found comics success has continued with the news that BodyWorld will be published in book form by Pantheon in 2009 or 2010. A collection of his Mome stories and other stories will also be collected into a book from Fantagraphics in late 2009 called The Unclothed Man in the 35th Century A.D. Because of this Dash has steered clear of illustration work. “I’m just not good at illustration. However, I’m working on a short animated series. And possibly some animation hired work in the future. But for now it’s all personal projects.”
As for those upcoming projects, Dash’s slate is full. “I’ve finished BodyWorld, even though it’s still being serialized. So now I’m working on a new project, a murder-mystery comic, called ‘Torture Hospital.’ I did a short story with that name in 2005, but it doesn’t have anything to do with that. I’m just using the title again. This time is the most exciting time for me- starting something. I often have incredibly nerdy dreams of flipping through amazing comics and of course I wake up and they’re gone. How do you get one of these comics into the real world? Ha ha. I keep trying and failing but Hospital might be it. I have to think that, anyway.”
Dash is currently living in Brooklyn.
Dash Shaw online: dashshaw.com
Interview by Chris McD, January 2009.