In Dash Shaw’s mini-comic NEW JOBS, a feeling of anxiety permeates every page. The short comic tells the story of Derrick and Ariel who both struggle to find work and escape their Bed-Stuy apartment after learning that Ariel is pregnant. The title is both a reference to the fact that Derrick and Ariel are trying to find new jobs, sure. But the baby on the cover makes me think that title also refers to their impeding new job of being parents. And the baby on the cover (which is Derrick and Ariel’s unnamed baby) wears a Guy Fawkes mask, the symbol of hacktivist group Anonymous. This implies that it doesn’t matter who the child is, what its name is, what it looks like. The fact that they will have to care for a child, any child is anxiety inducing (or maybe the fact that you don’t know what the child will look like or be like creates the anxiety?). This anxiety, this stress finds its way into every facet of the story.
There’s a built in component of anxiety and stress, most obviously the stress of impending parenthood. This is apparent from the first page when, in expositional voice-over, Ariel asks what her and Derrick’s child would look like, which parts of her would exist within the child. And then there is the added stress of not being able to pay the bills, needing to get jobs, go back to school, move out of the city.
The anxiety of the characters is expressed by Shaw’s loose, expressionistic inks. His figurework has never been the most conventional, but here it’s a lot looser and free-flowing than normal. His characters aren’t concrete people; they’re ideas, representations of fears that are always in the corner of your eye. The artist never tries to tell you what an object or a person looks like; he’s telling you what a representation of a thing looks like. And Shaw’s pages are cacophonous, and loud—always humming with a piercing white noise. He completely disregards conventional page design, and doesn’t impose any panel borders. The individual images are expressive, and even border on the impressionistic. But the gestalt of the pages is this wave-like, sweeping thing with a playful, tense weight to it.
Lineweight is something every image has, but most artists don’t consciously think about how the lineweight can affect an image on an emotional, as well as visceral, level. But Shaw does (or he’s accidentally this good), and the images and figures roll into each other. It’s difficult to tell if this is intentional, but it creates a very anxious page. The figures clash and collide into one another, pushing forward, trying to force an exit; it’s an almost semiotic agoraphobia, if that makes any sense. The art becomes a layer of subtext with which Shaw is able to express the emotions of these late-twentysomethings. Like most people their age, they’re god awful at expressing themselves to each other. Sure, their state is obvious, how could it not be? But they themselves can only come so close to actually verbalizing it.
And then there’s the object: the book—the actual physical object—is constructed using several different colors of paper stock, and the corners of the pages don’t line up. Each page is slightly askew from each other. This creates an immediately apparent visual dissonance from page to page. It’s subliminally discomforting, almost in an attempt to force in the reader a hint of the anxiety that its characters are experiencing.
The story itself is a little thin. There’s an emotional density, but not a lot actually happens (though, it’s not as if this is a lengthy comic). In prose, NEW JOBS wouldn’t stand out from the pack. It’s one of those “literary” fiction stories where the characters don’t change their state, they merely realize their state. But Shaw’s art adds a layer to the story that simply isn’t achievable in any other medium.
A veteran of comics retailing, Shea Hennum is a Texas-based writer whose criticism has appeared at Bleeding Cool, Comical Musings, and The Comics Alternative. His fiction has appeared in places like Loser City, The Fringe Magazine, and Schlock, and his writing about comics will be featured in upcoming issues of Keatinge & Del Duca's Shutter from Image Comics.
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