Meanwhile is a very interesting graphic novel by Jason Shiga. I highly recommend that anyone interested in graphic novels read it, or at least experience the free interactive online version.

The cheap and easy way to describe Meanwhile is to compare it to the Choose Your Own Adventure books our generation enjoyed as kids.  This comparison is unfair to Meanwhile. Athough the mechanism involved is similar, the results are very different.

Instead of reading panels left to right, top to bottom (or right to left if you prefer Manga), the panels in Meanwhile are connected by directional pipes leading to the next panel in sequence.  Often, these pipes lead you to a choice, and the path you choose changes the part of the story you experience.  Sometimes when you’re tasked with entering a pass code, it starts to feel a lot more like a game than a story.

After experiencing a few of the many paths through the book, it starts to require a concerted effort to find your way onto the remaining pages, or onto paths you’ve seen in passing during other parts of the story.  Some parts of the book are pure Easter Eggs that can’t be reached without “cheating” and flipping through page-by-page, and others are available only by making poor or random choices at key decision points.  Just as in real life, some of the most interesting endings are available only through serendipity.

While Choose Your Own Adventure books tell a different story depending on the choices you make, Meanwhile is a single, coherent story; you just experience it from a different perspective based on your decisions.  I’m sorry I can’t tell you more without giving too much away.  You’ll have to go experience it for yourself!

Completing the story provided about the same length of entertainment as a “normal” graphic novel of a comparable length, but it was satisfying in a very different way.  I wonder how it was created, and if another story could be created that would work as well as this one does.

The physical book is printed in full color, in a hardback binding that protects the thick, glossy paper tabs at the edge of the book.  It is a very pretty object, and it’s designed very well.  It was well worth the purchase price, and I’m glad I have it to share with others.