Easy decision: Chocolate or Vanilla?
Medium decision: peek in somebody’s medicine cabinet or not?
Tough decision: play with a time machine, a memory-transference device, or the Killitron 2000?
These are just a few of the choices that Jimmy will face in Meanwhile, a fantastic comic book by Jason Shiga that is unlike any book I’ve ever seen. On one level it is a choose-your-own-adventure book, which is certainly not a new concept, but Shiga’s visual execution of this idea is mind-bendingly incredible. Unlike a regular comic book, you don’t read the panels left to right, top to bottom. Instead, you follow the little pipes around, often off the edge of the page onto a tab, which then redirects you to a new page. Branching paths force you to make a decision (chocolate or vanilla?) before continuing the story.
I first heard of Meanwhile from Scott McCloud’s site back in February and made a mental note to look for it. So when I came across it at Floating World Comics during my recent trip to Portland, I didn’t have to think twice. (Buy Meanwhile? Yes.) The book was originally a hand-printed black-and-white deal, which you can experience in its online form, but the professionally-printed, full-color version is definitely worth the price. Shiga has added more pages and made some changes, and the pages are laminated, which is great because you’ll be following those little lines around with your finger and flipping back and forth with the tabs.
The story itself is captivating, too—little Jimmy meets Professor K and gets to play around with his three inventions. Of course, with an invention like the Killitron 2000, you know things may turn out badly. As Shiga warns in the introduction, most of the paths lead to “DOOM and DISASTER. Only one path will lead you to happiness and success.” (Not counting the one path that leads to a very boring day.) Sure, the sci-fi tropes included are pretty common ideas, but Shiga plays with them well and comes up with some outstanding results. Plus, he respects the pseudo-science behind them: the time machine can only take you back seven years, when the receiving end was put in place; the Killitron 2000 has some very interesting applications having to do with controlling entropy. It’s not hard science fiction, but there’s not as much reliance on hand-waving, either.
I haven’t read any other Shiga books before, but after reading more about Meanwhile (and boggling at the photo accompanying this interview on Laughing Squid), I’m putting him on my list of folks to watch.
Wired: A brilliantly-assembled choose-your-own-adventure comic book; wacky inventions put the fate of the world in your hands! All this for less than twenty bucks? Now that’s an easy decision.
Tired: After you finally reach the happy ending, you’ll wish you had a time machine so you could go back and experience it again for the first time.