Early in Discipline, Charles, the young Quaker at the center of the book, writes, “Reduce thy life to the greatest simplicity. Cast away all show and live in plainness.” This is spiritual advice which Dash Shaw, who was raised Quaker, has taken to heart.
His previous works like Bottomless Belly Button and BodyWorld read like he had something to prove. In short, they were very much the work of a young cartoonist, and though this is hardly a simple book, there is a sense he’s stripped away that need to impress. His style remains the same, simple and unfussy, but he’s ditched the formal constraints of page layout for a swirling, almost liquid flow to the story. There are layers of drawings on top of one another, and much of the book – about a young Quaker who struggles with his faith and his desire to join the Union side of the American Civil War – is silent. What text there is derives mostly from real letters Shaw found during research for the book. The silent pages between these letters is like the fleeting images of memory, a reminder that this was a time when communication was slow, and even photographs were a luxury. The discipline of the title refers to the Quakers’ stance against all war and violence, but you can feel it in the five years of work Shaw took crafting this work. This is a truly incredible book.
This review also appears in the February issue of Panel Discussion, a monthly zine supplement to the Panel Discussion book club. You can pick up a copy at the Main Library or select local stores. If you'd like a copy sent to your branch, or if you'd like to join the virtual discussion, email firstname.lastname@example.org.