Chocolate or Vanilla? This one mundane choice is what launches you into a world of time travel, mind reading and mad science in Jason Shiga’s book Meanwhile. Shiga, the winner of the 2003 Eisner “Talent Deserving of Wider Recognition” award, lives up to his reputation as one of the most innovative storytellers working today.
Meanwhile is deceptively simple. The story is told in clean, spare panels strung together in a Choose-Your-Own-Adventure format. With thick, glossy pages the book looks almost like a children’s book. Each time you make a choice the panels diverge and you must follow a twisty line to the next episode of the story. The lines double and re-double, forcing you to trace them across the page with your finger before following them to a new page. This format creates a book that is not just read, it is played. The reader is an active participant in the telling of the story. At some points the act of going back to the last break in the string and choosing a new path can be a bit tedious, but the results are rewarding. There are 3,856 story possibilities in this 80 page book. If you stop at 5 or even 10 story possibilities you will end up missing much of what this book has to offer.
In creating a Choose-Your-Own-Adventure style book Shiga could have given his readers a galaxy of choices. After all, Choose-Your-Own-Adventure books were great for the fantasy and science fiction genres, allowing readers to hop through vast and strange new worlds. In Meanwhile Shiga does the opposite, leading his reader to three key choices in the form of machines to use: time machine, kill-box or mind-reading device. By setting these limitations Shiga creates a closed loop of a world that is anything but boring. The story, like the lines between panels, starts to double and re-double, creating a sense of déjà vu. Keep going. It only gets stranger.
Ultimately, Meanwhile isn’t just about showy page layout or leading readers through a trippy adventure. It’s an open invitation to the many-worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics (No joke!) and an exploration of the power behind the tiny decisions we make every day. It’s a special book and well worth the read.