Summary: Chocolate or Vanilla? This simple choice is all it takes to get started with Meanwhile, the wildly inventive creation of comics mastermind Jason Shiga, of whom Scott McCloud said “Crazy + Genius = Shiga.” Jimmy, whose every move is under your control, finds himself in a mad scientist’s lab, where he’s given a choice between three amazing objects: a mind-reading device, a time-travel machine, or the Killitron 3000 (which is as ominous as it sounds). Down each of these paths there are puzzles, mysterious clues, and shocking revelations. It’s up to the reader to lead Jimmy to success or disaster.
Meanwhile is a wholly original story of invention, discovery, and saving the world, told through a system of tabs that take you forward, backward, upside down, and right side up again. Each read creates a new adventure!
Meanwhile by Jason Shiga 8.0
Do you remember the ‘Choose Your Own Adventure’ series of books? If you don’t, these were adventure books that offered teen readers multiple paths, allowing them to make decisions for their protagonists and, in effect, influence the course of the stories. When my friends and I discovered them, we went gaga over them: we really loved the interactivity of it – it made reading more fun.
Jason Shiga’s ‘Meanwhile’ borrows the same basic principle, but does it in the context of a quirky graphic novel. Instead of listing the readers’ choices via text and then having them go to the corresponding page to continue the story, however, he uses loopy coloured lines to guide them through to adjoining tabs on either side of the book, effectively forcing them to turn the page as indicated.
It’s an excellent concept and the book boasts well over 3800 story permutations!!!
With so many options available to you, you’d think that there would be hours of enjoyment in this book. Sadly, this is not so: after just a few attempts, I found myself going over the same story elements, and even found myself in a loop at one point. At first, I got frustrated with the limitations but I eventually got bored of going through the same plot points no matter what I picked.
It’s starts off in a really amusing fashion, though: at the start, our main character is asked to pick between chocolate or vanilla ice cream by a vendor – one side effectively ends the story and the other takes him to the lab of a mad scientist, who will present him with a few of his greatest accomplishments and allow him to try them out. Obviously, things go in all sorts of strange directions.
I found the art quite pleasing and loved the humour that’s inherent to the piece. You can tell that Shiga had a blast putting this together and the youthful energy injected on each page is particularly infectious. I found myself chuckling along and eagerly flipping the pages, then following all the criss-crossing threads to find out what would come next. And when my story ended, I would immediately start over again.
Alas, it only had limited appeal. When things bogged down, I started to find it tedious and quickly moved on to other things. I gave it another go many days later, and found myself stuck re-reading large parts that I had already explored, finding some bits slightly disjointed. No matter what I did, I ended up at the same places, with limited changes along the way. I got bored again.
I suspect that ‘Meanwhile’ is a book best read once in a while, perhaps with many weeks -or even months- between reads, so that one can forget the last adventure, thus giving it more longevity. If read frequently, in close succession, the flaws come to light and really mar the experience. Still, if read once or twice, it’s an amusing little book, vibrant in colour and quite cool-looking.
Bottom line, I have to give it a super high rating for the concept alone, even if it doesn’t succeed entirely in achieving its aims – or claims. Given the enormity of the endeavour and how ambitious it was, I feel that a few flaws can easily be ignored. After all, it works a lot of the time, and when it does, it’s a load of fun to be had. I would easily recommend ‘Meanwhile’ to young teens and kids at heart.