Sunday, 30 December 2012


Meanwhile’s opening panels seem fairly underwhelming when you first read them. They show a young boy, Jimmy, buying some ice cream. As beginnings go it’s fair to say this is not particularly dynamic. Things get interesting when you arrive at the fourth panel or, to put it more accurately, when you choose which fourth panel you want to go with.

Meanwhile features branched storylines in the fine tradition of choose-your-own-adventure stories. Panels are linked by lines that send you careening around pages of the book, occasionally deciding which branch of the narrative you wish to pursue next. The first choice you’re given is which flavour ice cream you want. Will you take chocolate or vanilla? As you continue your choices become progressively more intricate with more elaborate ramifications than what Jimmy’s taste buds experience.  

The book’s plot is not something that can be experienced in one reading. Or two. Nor a dozen. Each time you read Meanwhile you will make another discovery about the book’s world. Well, you will if you play along and make different choices. Repetition is a necessary evil that you’ll need to come to terms with early on if you wish to get the most out of the title. If you can manage that you’ll have an entertaining and playful book on your hands.

On the majority of your read-throughs you’ll find Jimmy at the factory of an inventor (who has over 150 patents to his name!) being introduced to three of his inventions. The bulk of the tale will hinge on which item you decide to examine: the Killitron 2000 (which kills every human on the planet with the exception of anyone sealed inside the Killitron), the SQUID (a mind-reading device), and a time travel machine (which… um… travels in time).

As your readings mount up you’ll realise that there’s an intricate tale to be found that requires you to tinker with each available trinket. You’ll discover activation codes for extra settings on the machines, allowing you to open up extra paths of the comic. If that sounds complicated or dull well… it’s not. It makes far more sense once you’ve dabbled in Meanwhile’s brilliant simplicity.

Jason Shiga, the author and artist, has released various iterations of his creation. There’s a free online version available at his website (see this link for that), an iOS app, and a print edition. Shiga has added colour, alternate endings and different codes with each edition released. The physical copy has, we are told, 3,586 possible routes from the start to the finish. That’s an impressive number of options on offer.

Meanwhile’s artwork is not the best. Nor is its writing. To raise either issue as a genuine complaint misses the point of the book entirely. The art and writing suit the style well and are charming in their own way but the joy of the title lies in its ingenuity and the unique way it reveals its plot and history.

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