Life in the 35th century doesn’t have to be dystopic. Well, then again, perhaps some amount of dystopia is inevitable. The Unclothed Man in the 35th Century A.D., a new IFC animated web series from Dash Shaw (no relation and based on his upcoming graphic novel) comes with its share of alienation and androids. Yet our view into Shaw’s future world is pleasantly intimate, and even subject to hints of romance.
The artful animation is the key. Mixing hand-painted cells with occasional light touches of CG, Unclothed Man conjures and then assimilates references ranging from Charles Burns’ comics, to Bill Plympton’s hand-drawn animation, to the painterly aesthetic of the late video artist Jeremy Blake.
On the story side, our protagonist Rebel X-6 is part of an anti-android organization that goes undercover to inhabit roles typically given to droids. His assignment, of all things, is to be a drawing class model. People still draw in the 35th century? Well, yes and no. The students/drawers use devices that give them the ability to draw with their eyes. The lines are produced by paths the eyes take through the scope of an appropriately futuristic drafting tool (which all is sort of similar to a device we currently have in the 21st century). Rebel X-6 fools the art teacher, who assumes he’s a model droid when he’s in fact a human subterfuge.
Presuming all the crazy, technological advancements that have transpired from 2009 to the time of the Unclothed Man, it’s wild to see the art of drawing practiced so boldly and unapologetically. It’s a whimsical, if delusional conceit.
One of the most memorable moments of the four-episode series features a dream/fantasy sequence in which RX-6 visits the home of a stork-like young woman of a drawing student. “I collect old things,” she says, as the camera pans the room from left to right to reveal a quaint barrage that includes a metal fan, a sofa, a flat-screen monitor, and a large painting of a face, among many others works of art. (After viewing the publicity video, one suspects this scene was created by Shaw’s co-animator, Jane Samborski, who describes herself as introspective). Shaw seems content to take on a animating the future without sacrificing his love of the art form. Thee self-referentiality of the drawing-within-a-drawing feels almost like a coup.
Scored beautifully by James Lucido, Unclothed Man delivers just the right amounts of story, whimsy, art, and heft for four two-minute entries. It offers actual nutritive cultural substance, as opposed to so much web filler one often gets. And you’ll want to go back and watch them a few more times. There’s a lot of variety behind the series’ simple elegance.