4.01.2010

Graphic Novel Of The Month

Meanwhile: Pick Any Path: 3,856 Story Possibilities (Amulet Books): It took a couple of advanced algorithms and an SGI supercomputer to track the story permutations and configure the physical layout of this ambitious book. While it will be instantly reminiscent of the old Choose Your Own Adventure books for anyone in their 30’s, the result is a totally unique vision from a humble mathematical genius. Like the proverbial butterfly-flapping-its-wings chaos theory, your fate in this book hinges on small innocuous decisions like whether or not to look in someone’s medicine cabinet on a seemingly casual trip to the bathroom. You’re presented with continual choices that lead you skipping around the book following small visual pathways onto the tabs of other pages. It’s the small moments that drastically alter the outcome, sometimes leading to traps like arguing with a version of yourself 10 minutes from the future. Writer/artist Jason Shiga touches on many of the paradoxes found in theoretical quantum physics, and exhibits theories of time travel that would make Warren Ellis proud. At times, there is such a parity of thought that it feels like Ellis consulted with Shiga on that last issue of Planetary in order to figure out how to save Ambrose Chase. Most of the adventures I experienced ended in disaster, a few were concerned with immortality in a multiversal setting, and a couple of pages repeated themselves (such as the coin flip sequence). Some of the book contained two sets of identical pages and I couldn’t figure out the storytelling reason as to why this was. I suspect it was just a pragmatic decision to make the various paths in the book work. As an aside, I think it’s impossible to get to the “squid page” (which is almost certainly a nod to the book “Inside UFO 54-40,” in which reaching paradise wasn’t obtainable via any natural path in the book, but required ignoring the “rules,” deviating from the choices presented, and just flipping to that elusive page), but I’m certainly not mathematically inclined enough to figure it out for certain. Shiga is a Bay Area comics scene staple, always at APE, educated at UC Berkeley, and known for the intricate construction of his books. Meanwhile makes a nice addition to the expanding Shiga library, with Fleep and Bookhunter being my personal favorites (both from Sparkplug Comics and both nominated for Eisners in 2004 and 2007 respectively). It’s inventive, fun, brilliant, and I can continue to hurl a bunch of adjectives at this book when what I’m really trying to say is twofold. One, it saddens me to think that because this wasn’t published by a “comic book company,” that many people probably won’t see it. Two, I don’t think that’ll stop it, and I’ll be very surprised if this doesn’t receive at least a nomination for an Eisner Award. Grade A.

4 Comments:

At 7:38 AM, Blogger Ryan Claytor said...

While I did enjoy my romp through Meanwhile, I must admit some level of exhaustion. I read through this book for about an hour straight and still never found my way to a rewarding ending.

After a several reads/attempts, my naughty side got the better of me and I started reading backwards in an attempt to figure out if there was a way to reverse-read through the story that had a more fulfilling ending. I never figured out whether or not this was possible, due to the sheer number of alternate choices and my Mtv-generation attention span.

For anyone interested in this book, go in knowing that it takes monk-like patience to truly appreciate this very ambitious project. Do not pick this up if you're expecting a trip down memory lane to your old choose-your-own-adventure story. Meanwhile requires a far greater level of sophistication and endurance.

Ryan Claytor
Elephant Eater Comics
www.ElephantEater.com

 
At 9:25 AM, Blogger Justin said...

Some good points, Ryan. I admit some frustration at not being able to reach a "happy ending" in most of my adventures. After a few tries, I actually just read it straight through from beginning to end to try and capture it all.

I think I was more impressed with the craft on display than a satisfactory story thread. Ideally, I think the book would be more appealing with both though.

 
At 1:17 PM, Blogger Ryan Claytor said...

Wow. I'm so hopelessly linear that I never even considered reading straight through (completely out of order). Ha-ha! I kept following different narrative threads backward and forward. It was enjoyable, but a lot of work. Kinda made me feel like I was trying to solve a logic puzzle, but wasn't smart enough to arrive at the answer. <:) I'll have to make another pass through the whole thing.

 
At 2:20 PM, Blogger Justin said...

Yeah, it was actually kinda' cool plowing straight through and seeing the pages you would have otherwise missed. That's how I caught the "squid page," which I swear, unless I'm totally oblivious, is impossible to get through by normal means playing by the rules.

 

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