Dash Shaw’s Symbolia

Dash Shaw has a great comics up at his site called “Cartooning Symbolia.” Borrowing from Mort Walker’s The Lexicon of Comicana and then adding to the cartooning symbols and their neologistic names, Shaw weaves a story based around iconographic cartooning symbols. It’s a masterful piece of work that cleverly mixes a story of an artist, his failed relationship, and the blooming of a new relationship with the symbols.

He starts off using the “invisidites” (dotted lines used to indicate invisibility or absence) to show the girlfriend’s absence. The story moves through “waftaroms” (wavy smell lines) to chart nonlinearly some of the elements of the relationship to “solrads” coming out of a sun, a scene that the artist puts into a work, which then causes the girlfriend’s anger. We see all sorts of “plewds” (drops of liquid emanating from something: sweat, tears, dew) and “briffits” (smoke-like puffs) and other symbols as he shows the events that lead to and follow from the break-up of the relationship. In the end the artist finds a new partner, hoping they speak with a new language, and metaphorically Shaw creates new symbols in an 18 panel sequence of the couple facing each other, having various new symbols emerge from themselves.

The whole story works really well on two levels. One as a basic story, albeit not the most novel of stories. The second as a dictionary and exploration of traditional cartooning symbols with an example of the way new symbols could be created along similar lines.

Shaw is a very interesting comics artist. I don’t always “get” his comics, but the way he puts together stories and images is very different than anything else I’ve seen. Almost nouveau roman-esque in it’s abstraction and non-linearity.