Monday, June 14, 2010

Meanwhile, by Jason Shiga: a fascinating comic book like no other I've seen (ages 10 and up)

Funny books can come in all shapes and sizes, to fit all types of humor. A comic book that is like no other I've seen is Meanwhile, by Oakland cartoonist Jason Shiga. If you like puzzles, choose-your-own adventures, and linear thinking that twists and turns in different directions, this is a book you'll love looking at over and over again. It is certainly funny, in its own way - a bit dark, a bit twisted, but one that many kids and adults find fascinating.
Meanwhile: Pick Any Path
3,856 Story Possibilities

by Jason Shiga
NY: Amulet Books, 2010
ages 10 and up
available on Amazon or at your local library
You walk into an ice cream store, and what do you have to do? Make a choice. What flavor will it be today? We all have to make hundreds of choices every day. Jason Shiga wonders how we can explore those choices in the comics we read. He's fascinated by interactive comics, where the choices you make change the course of the story.

So Jimmy walks into an ice cream store, and you the reader have to decide: will it be chocolate or vanilla? The choice you make will affect the course of the story. Choose vanilla, and Jimmy has a quiet day, going home. But choose chocolate and it's a whole different story. Each time you, the reader, makes a choice, you follow tubes between the panels in the story. These tubes will lead you to the edge of the page, to tabs on different pages. Turn to that page and follow the tubes to follow Jimmy's story.

Jimmy past an industrial plant along his way home, and he walks into use the bathroom. He meets an inventor (friendly or mad scientist?) who has developed three objects: a time machine, the SQUID which transfers memories, and the Killitron that can either kill everyone in the world not inside of it or make delicious ice cream. And yes, Jimmy gets to choose which machine to play with. Each choice takes him along different paths, often looping back, covering the same ground again.

At a recent book talk at the wonderful independent bookstore A Great Good Place for Books in Oakland, CA, Shiga talked about the paths in the book resembling garden paths. Instead of thinking of the choices like a decision tree, he envisions the choices as wandering around an intricate garden path. Sometimes you'll find yourself in the same part of the garden, on a slightly different path. Sometimes you'll even be on the same section of garden path again. It's a fascinating vision. One that allows him to structure an intricate system of choices, a bit like a maze or labyrinth but with many distinct stories instead of one defined solution.

Now, I have to be utterly honest. I have only read a small fraction of this book - there are over 3,000 different stories! But every time I show this story to kids who love comics, love twisting logic, they disappear with the book for days. As one kid said, "This book really makes you think." I think it's fascinating the way that Shiga thinks about how choices affect our lives. Small choices lead to all sorts of twists and turns, just the way that our everyday choices lead to consequences we can't predict or necessarily understand.

To get a glimpse of the book, head over to Amulet's website to look at some sample pages. Or watch the video below with an interview of Shiga at the Alternative Press Expo. There are excellent reviews of Meanwhile at 100 Scope Notes, Fuse #8, and Comic Book Resources.

Jason Shiga @ APE 2009 from Doctor Popular on Vimeo.

The review copy was kindly sent by the publisher, Abrams Books. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links, a small portion will go to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for posting some kids' reactions to this book. I bought this book for my son for his birthday based on reviews by adults but I have yet to see a review from a child's (or parent's) perspective. I think my son is a little under the recommended age (he will be 7) but he enjoys mazes and books with graphic novel elements. I think this will be fun to read together at first.