by Jason Shiga
Chocolate or Vanilla?
That’s the simple question that starts Meanwhile, Jason Shiga’s wonderfully original take on the “choose your own adventure” idea presented in an ingenious structure full of choices and bizarre scenarios.
When Jimmy takes the chocolate option he stumbles upon the lab of a mad scientist Professor K where he’s given a choice between three incredible objects: a time-travel machine (which can only go back 10 minutes), a mind-reading helmet, or the Killitron 3000 (yes, it is as bad as it sounds – giving Jimmy the option to eradicate all human life except for his own – and an awful lot of the possible endings in Meanwhile are really not nice!).
Which invention you and Jimmy choose sends you spiralling off into another set of choices and has you careering around the book’s 80 pages. There are also a host of secret panels and pages, accessible by entering the correct codes discovered as you venture through the book. However, getting all of the codes isn’t something that you’ll be able to do on the first read. Or the second. Or the tenth. Or the ……… you get the idea. But remember – don’t cheat, because that means you miss out on the incredible adventures to be had as you find yourself coming back, time and time again to this great book.
(Tabs, tubes, secret codes, panels going who knows where – is it any wonder it took days before 10 year old Molly let Meanwhile out of her sight? Jason Shiga’s Meanwhile, published by Abrams.)
Meanwhile is presented in an innovative, yet immediately accessible format; each panel connected to the next via a tube, which might split and give you a choice or might even lead off the page and onto a tab to a completely different page. All you have to do to explore Shiga’s Meanwhile is keep following these tabs, incredibly simple to do, amazingly complex to create and incredibly engrossing once you get started.
This is experimental comics formulism presented as an entertaining, funny and out and out different book, for children and for adults. The fact it’s taken me weeks before I could extract it from the hands of ten year old Molly long enough to read it and get an idea of it myself should give you a good idea of just how much fun it is. Here’s what Molly (aged 10) had to say about it:
Meanwhile is fab, really funny and very cool, with lots of wild inventions and a bit of violence (but I liked that!). It’s more than a book, it’s a really fun game that’s different every time, it’s loads of fun to be able to choose what you get to do and I loved the mazes of lines, the secret codes and the time travel.
(A page from Meanwhile, each panel linked to the next by tubes, with choices all the way through, and even onto a tab leading who knows where! From Meanwhile by Jason Shiga, published by Abrams.)
But although Meanwhile makes a fantastic children’s book, it’s equally intriguing to adults, with an awful lot of science and maths within the multi-layered branching story and this quote from the excellent CBR interview with Shiga should give you an idea of the complexity of his thinking:
“Once the reader is familiar with how choices in the book are made, I try and graduate to weirder choices like whether to kill every human on the planet or to travel back in time and punch yourself in the face…… For example: what happens if you put on the hat but you decide to transfer all the memories from yourself to yourself? The experience of you watching your memories becomes a memory itself. So would those be transferred too?”
“If you took the time machine to the past, there would be two of you in the past. How would you correct this problem? Going to the near future wouldn’t fix things, because your double would be there too. Your double would be in the near past too. One idea is that your double can travel to the past, where he branches off into a parallel timeline. But then there would be two of him in that past. But then all he has to do is ask his double to travel to the past on to infinity. It is a reworking of Hilbert’s Grand Hotel.”
So, far, far more complicated than a simple choose your own adventure game then. And a closer look at the double page spread above allows you to see how Shiga enjoys adding very complicated ideas into Meanwhile:
(Multiple world theories on the flip of a coin, just a little of the mindbending ideas Shiga presents along the way. Learning and fun in Meanwhile, by Jason Shiga, published by Abrams.)
Jason Shiga’s been making experimental comics for a long time, and a version of Meanwhile has already appeared in a very limited print copy and as an interactive on Shiga’s website. But this new version is the first “proper” printing, in full colour and with 8 extra pages, containing, as Shiga says: “some very sadistic changes … one friend told me it took him two years to finish the book. And even then it was only because he cheated by peeking at a page where the code was given. So in the new version, I’ve included several pages of duplicate panels with false codes to try and thwart those cheaters.”
(Jason Shiga in front of the exploded view of his original b&w version of Meanwhile. It may look confusing and complicated laid out like that, but trust me, once you open the pages of this book you’ll find it simplicity itself to enjoy. Putting it down becomes the really hard part.)
There’s much more to see and do at Jason Shiga’s website, including a chance to explore many of his complex branching interactives. But while you explore those keep in mind that Shiga describes Meanwhile as his “branchiest and most complex interactive comic to date“. So have a play online, but then get a copy of Meanwhile for yourself and for your children – it’s almost guaranteed to engross and entertain anyone who picks it up. But be warned, the first time you find yourself answering that simple question “Vanilla or Chocolate?” you’re well on the way to hours, days, even weeks of reading and exploring this fascinating book.