Sunday, February 26, 2012

Review: Meanwhile

Today, I'm looking at Meanwhile, a graphic novel by Jason Shiga from 2010. I'd read one of Shiga's earlier books - Bookhunter - and it was a lot of fun. I should have trusted him enough to buy Meanwhile the same week it came out, but at least I never forgot the book and I eventually decided to obtain a copy.

Shiga is a mathematician comic book writer/artist; an uncommon combination, so far as I'm aware. Meanwhile is a book simple enough for younger audiences to enjoy, but complicated enough that it took a mathematician to write it. The novel is set up like a Choose Your Own Adventure, following the adventures of Jimmy, whose first great choice is between two flavours of ice cream. Each panel of the book is linked by an arrow to another panel (often a panel on another page) so you follow the paths which interest you.

Consequently, panels don't flow in the same left-right up-down order you expect in a North American book; the arrows can take you left to right, right to left, up to down, down to up. Perhaps the best laugh I had while reading Meanwhile was when I opened up two pages to find they had almost nothing but arrows:

My only quibble with Meanwhile involves the three devices which drive most of Jimmy's adventure; he's given access to either a death machine, a time machine which can travel back in time 10 minutes, or a device which records memories from 10 minutes earlier. The problem is, you eventually get to use each item and essentially retread the same panels over and over (you can create an ouroboros story using this book!). Even though the time machine and memory recording devices have a 10 minute limit, they always take you to the same intersection of "10 minutes ago," even if you took the time to sample the other two devices first. I suppose the book would have had to run about twice the length to fit every permutation of "10 minutes ago!"

I really enjoy how Meanwhile seizes the advantages of comic books being physical items; I know Shiga has a digital version of this book in the pipe and I'm sure it's great fun, but there's a certain amount of fun to be had in following the arrows along the page, especially for tasks like determining which side of a coin has been tossed face up.

Meanwhile is an awful lot of fun; just be careful with those slick plastic pages - they stick together when you first open the book and an over-eager reader might wind up ripping the pages apart.

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