Jason Shiga’s ambitious “comics” bend the page and the mind

Laura Hudson, for Boing Boing:

The first time [Jason] Shiga blew my mind was with an interactive graphic novel called Hello World. The story is simple enough: You’re a little boy sent to the store by his mother with a grocery list of items and a suitcase to carry them home. But the moment you open the cover, it’s obvious this is unlike any comic you’ve ever seen before.

Every page is sliced in half, separating the comic into two parts. The top half is where the story unfolds, while the bottom half displays the contents of your suitcase. The two sides are connected by an intricate system of page-turning: When you see a number inside a square, you flip to a page in the top half of the comic, advancing the story; when you see a number inside a circle, you flip to a page on the bottom, adding and removing items from your suitcase.

I love this, at least in concept — I’d be far too conscious of the creative process to lose myself in the piece. It strikes me that his process is more like that of a puzzle-maker (or even sculptor) than a comic artist. The result is a branching narrative that really bends the mind if you think about it too hard.

As a kid, I attempted to write an adventure game with a simple inventory system. I quickly realized how difficult it was, given that you not only have to account for a long string of items, but how each one individually (or in combination!) changes the available variables in each node. Working in a static medium, Shiga has to “hardwire” much of this, but his solution is pretty ingenious:

Rather than just starting over from scratch each time the story ends, Shiga also wanted the reader to be able to build on their experiences in Meanwhile—to do new things with the knowledge and experience they acquire.”It’s really difficult to have save states in a book, whereas in a computer game you can have a character pick up objects or have inventory or change something about the environment,” says Shiga.

So he added a twist: secret codes. For example, in order to travel back in time further than seven minutes, you need to learn the correct series of shapes that will unlock the time machine. Once you find the path that teaches you the code, you have to remember it; that’s the key that opens up not just the time machine but far more exciting adventures that lead both forwards and backwards in time.

In all, a great in-depth writeup here. Definitely worth reading even if you’re not into gaming.