Doctors After Death, Doctors After Life
Dash Shaw's newest graphic novel walks darkly toward the light
By Wayne Alan Brenner,
6:35PM, Tue. Oct. 14, 2014
People die, right? That's a given.
But let's say that, right before people die, their consciousness creates a sort of wish-fulfillment afterlife that they'll exist in for a while – until finally fading into oblivion. Let's also say that someone's invented a device that allows others to access that brief afterlife and, therein, coax the dead one back to life – for who knows how long.
Actually, we don't need to say that: Comics artist Dash Shaw has already said it and based his newest graphic novel on just those ideas.
Shaw's tale of Doctors isn't the sort of big-picture techno-thriller that you might expect from such a concept if you're used to a steady stream of Hollywood blockbusters. But it is precisely the sort of story you'd expect if you're familiar with the artist's previous works: Bottomless Belly Button, BodyWorld, New School, and so on. Which is to say: It's concerned with consequences that the clandestine technology visits upon the lives of a few intimately revealed people. Which is to say: It's deeply shaded with longing and regret and pathos, redolent of the things we do for love, alive with the very human attempts to find meaning within a web of relationships and self-actualization.
Not just this time, but – as always with Shaw – it's personal.
(Note: We've tried to make a case, at least a loose case, that Dash Shaw is sequential art's David Lynch. Given that, we'd insist that Doctors is his The Straight Story: A narrative that, as if to spite its wild premise, is told more plainly – though no less effectively – and with fewer enigmatic gambits of style than earlier stories.)
Also, this new book from Fantagraphics is shorter, more of a novella or novelette, say, than a thick beast of a work like BodyWorld. All of which means that Doctors is not as challenging as what's come before in the man's oeuvre. But it's no less satisfying.
Our recommendation is that, beyond its inherent worthiness for longtime Dash Shaw fans and anyone interested in 1) comics and 2) the human condition, this is a perfect starter work for introducing someone to all that the man's created. Because it's much more likely to impress them without necessarily twisting their mind into some alien pretzel shape for a few days.
So maybe buy it now, while it's still early, for gifting a good friend when the year-end holidays roll around? Like – Christmas, or whatever?
Yeah, that'll do just fine.