Tonight at 6 p.m., cartoonist Jason Shiga will be signing his latest book, Meanwhile, at GR2. Written as a “choose your own adventure” story, there are 3,856 different routes within the graphic novel. Check out this matrix Shiga built for the story.
An award winning cartoonist, Shiga studied mathematics at UC Berkeley. His work often incorporates his interest in numbers and logic (“Fleep” is a must-read) as well as interactive elements. We're curious about a 1999 mini-comic called The Date that apparently reads like a palindrome.
We asked Shiga a few questions about his work.
Your use of mathematics and logic within the your work is really intriguing. What inspired you to combine math and comics?
Comics is an interesting medium in that it combines many different mediums and disciplines. The most obvious in the genealogical chart would be the apparently disparate mediums of illustration and literature. But if you think about it, pretty much everything from acting to architecture can be incorporated into the medium. My own field of study in school was math so it was only natural that I combine math and comics. Sometimes people ask me what they need to study to learn how to make comics and my answer is always to learn everything you can about everything. Learn about history and language and painting and science and economics and sociology. Everything helps you to be a better cartoonist.
What was your process for creating an algorithm to work with Meanwhile?
The book seems pretty complex but fundamentally it's pretty simple. Everything boils down to just branches and nodes. It's really just a matter of coming up with proper notation and drawing up flow charts. Once the whole story was charted getting it to fit into book form was probably the trickiest part. But one of the life savers for me during that stage was that I could always just tack on an extra tab if I ever painted myself into a corner. All that said, it took me over half a year of planning before I drew my first panel.
Did you read many choose your own adventure stories as a child? What was your favorite?
I started with the classic Choose Your Own Adventure stories by Edward Packard. My favorite was Sugarcane Island. But when I got to my teens I graduated to the Fighting Fantasy gamebooks which were branchier than the CYOA books but at the same time more restrictive in what you could do or where you could go. Most of the Fighting Fantasy books travel along one path with little detours here and there. With Meanwhile I wanted to create something that both had tons of choices at every turn but also didn't lead you “on rails” towards a certain ending.
You've done quite a bit of work for Nickelodeon Magazine. When you're writing for a young audience, is your goal more to educate or to entertain?
That is a false dichotomy! But I suppose if I had to choose one I'd say to entertain. People really only learn something if they have initial interest to begin with. Also it's not the Wall Street Journal. It's Nickelodeon Magazine! I did a strip where the Fairly Odd Parents get trampled on by a stampede of reindeer.
What's your favorite palindrome?
I like the classics: “A man, a plan, a canal: Panama.”
Of your interactive projects, which one was the most challenging for you and why?
I created a paper “computer” once complete with a memory bank in which the reader could basically write a three line stack program. But I disguised it as a comic. The reader could put three “items” into their kids lunch box then the kid would leave for school and run the program by “pulling out the items” in reverse order.
Scenes from Meanwhile
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