Shaw’s also avoided the path that young writers so often follow, for better or for worse: He’s not really writing about himself. His parents are still married, and he seems to have been drawn to the story of a disintegrating family as a genre exercise. “It was interesting to me how there are differences in family relations,” he says, mentioning that his household is known by his friends as a calm one. “When I visit a friend’s family, the levels of emotion are unpleasant. But that’s how they do it. That’s how they know that they still love each other.” Bottomless Belly Button, it seems, was created out of a desire to see what would happen if characters from a traditional family drama—“super-dysfunctional and super-dramatic”—were placed alongside characters from a more reserved family story: a narrative game, rather than a dead-serious uncovering of emotional trauma.
This willingness to write outside his own experience makes Shaw’s comics harder to write about—he doesn’t spend our interview hinting at dark secrets in his past—but much better to read. His current project, a sci-fi-inflected Web comic called BodyWorld, resembles Bottomless Belly Button not at all, and Shaw, unlike some other “alternative cartoonists,” doesn’t feel he needs to separate himself from more-commercial work. “If Marvel called and asked if I wanted to do Ghost Rider,” Shaw says excitedly, “I would be like, ‘Hell, yeah.’ ”