Fantastic Fest Review: My Entire High School Sinking Into the Sea

Remarkable animated adventure from graphic novelist Dash Shaw

Do you miss MTV's Liquid Television? Are you still scarred from high school? Or do you just think James Cameron’s Titanic could’ve used more sharks? Then Fantastic Fest has good news: Comic book artist/writer turned writer/director, Dash Shaw, brought his debut feature, My Entire High School Sinking Into the Sea, to Austin.

In the animated film, two best friends Dash (Jason Schwartzman) and Assaf (Reggie Watts) have to save each other and their classmates from a watery grave after a minor earthquake sends their woefully out-of-code high school off a cliff and out to sea. As they struggle to get out of the bowels of the school and up to the roof for rescue, they have to work out their issues – they’ve been suffering creative differences as co-authors of the school paper – and learn what it means to be a friend. During the Q&A following Friday’s screening, Shaw (New School) discussed his inspiration. “When I was a teenager in the Nineties, the main two schools of comics were alternative comics that were mostly auto-bio comics coming out of [Robert] Crumb and the school going forward from him, and then mainstream, commercial boy’s adventure comics, like the Marvel or DC comics,” said Shaw. “And I liked both of them.” The film started out as a nine-page comic short story that “merged those two schools.” As it developed from print to cinema, Shaw kept the comic’s indie spirit alive in the animation. It’s drawn by hand and colored in an abstract way with “Mark Rothko color forms under the line art,” he said. The adventure-comic aspects live on in the plot progression and in the special effects animation, which he described as “giant Hollywood movie explosions.” The effect? A super-fun, bananas-weird tale of thrilling heroics and life-defining friendships animated with collage, line art, paint, Sixties liquid-light effects, and realistic botanical and animal sketches. Every few seconds the film produces a new visually stunning scene laden with background jokes. (Think Bob’s Burgers’ signage puns or BoJack Horseman’s animal jokes.) With so much happening visually, it would be easy to lose the narrative dialogue, but Shaw keeps it center-stage, even letting it get a bit meta. (The main characters edit their own story as the events unfold.) Of course, it also helps that the film boasts several of nerdom’s super-crushes as voice talent: Schwartzman and Watts are joined by Maya Rudolph, Lena Dunham, John Cameron Mitchell, and Susan Sarandon (as the ass-kicking Lunch Lady Lorraine.)

Unfortunately, it doesn’t sound like we’ll see more of Dash (the fictional one) in cinema after this. Shaw responded to the question of a sequel with a hard “No.” But he did say we can look for some of his artwork in John Cameron Mitchell’s upcoming film based on Neil Gaiman’s short story How to Talk to Girls at Parties. “The characters in it make zines,” said Shaw. “So I made all the zine artwork for it.”


My Entire High School Sinking Into the Sea screens again Wednesday, Sept. 28, 8:45pm.

Fantastic Fest 2016 runs Sept. 22-29 at the Alamo South Lamar. Tickets and info at www.fantasticfest.com, and follow our ongoing coverage at austinchronicle.com/fantastic-fest.

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Fantastic Fest 2016, Fantastic Fest, My Entire High School Sinking Into the Sea

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