Novel Idea: I tell you why I like Bodyworld (It’s a novel, so start with the prelude, and don’t ignore the maps.)

What is Bodyworld? Probably my favourite webcomic at the moment. So far it’s a comic about the intersection of botany and psychedelic drug use, I suppose. But the author calls it “a romance about bodymind telepathy.”

Need a more surface-level analysis? It’s a color webcomic by Dash Shaw, slated to be 12 chapters long (chapter one just ended today), with new pages posted every Tuesday, done in a 12 panel grid.

But what happens within the comic’s borderless panels? As of today’s update, a druggie professor named Paul Panther goes to a town named Boney Borough to investigate (and smoke) a new plant discovered on the school grounds. Hypothetically, if you had the luck to be my child, you probably would not tug at my platinum threaded shirt-sleeves asking, “But Father of all Dads, what happens next?!” But the plot is not the point.

Presentation is, my imaginary illegitimate child. If you’ve spied on me in the wee hours of anytime during the day, you would know I’m a closet formalism freak. Nothing ignites my amorous engine like someone distending the walls of what is possible in an art form.

Bodyworld is swollen and throbbing with little tricks rarely seen in most comics. For example, Shaw has created a grid map of Boney Borough; when a scene changes, Shaw puts the coordinates of the new scene map as the first panel. When Prof. Panther makes a call to a friend, the scenes with his friend are drawn in only blue and grey to play up the physical distance.

Shaw also likes to play around with text written over the drawings. There are onomatopoeia sound effects like many comics (though he finds ways to experiment with these as well, mostly through placement). The genius arrives, however, in a panel where Prof. Panther sticks his foot into a bathtub and Shaw just writes “cold” over the water. Which, I think, is more effective than having someone exclaim “By the rapacious radishes of Rangoon, that’s some cold water!” as Stan Lee would have done.

As befits a comic about psychedelic drugs, the atmosphere of the comic is subtly surreal. There are smudges on the walls of Prof. Panther’s motel room that move around from panel to panel, and no one makes a comment about them. The backgrounds change their level of detail and color depending on a character’s mood. Plus there is a weird bald guy with stitches in his head, and Prof. Panther walks around blood soaked with shards of glass sticking from his forehead for the first few pages due to a suicide attempt. Honest, family friendly comics just like Unca Walt used to have other people make for him to put his name over.

I’m sure even the people mildly interested in reading this have now gone off to read the tales of Underwearman and his Absent Bulge or whatever the ‘hot’ comic of the moment is. But, I had to try.


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