Jason Shiga


I commented on the absence of minorities in GET LAMP, but forgot the brief interview with the one person I actually recognized: Asian-American cartoonist Jason Shiga.

Jason talked about children enjoying CYOA books because they don't get many choices in real life, and there's definitely a child-like exploration and fantasy to many of his works — as well as a vindictive and violent hand of Fate. Also, Jason has a mathematics degree from UC Berkeley, and his mathemagical brain clearly informs the different formats of his interactive comics.

I consider Meanwhile his magnum opus so far. You can read a black-and-white online version of it at his site. I bought the original xeroxed and hand-cut version, but you can apparently only get the commercial full-color print version from Amazon.com now, which I haven't seen. He also created a giant poster of it.

Meanwhile is a brilliant interactive use of the spatial medium of comics — instead of necessarily reading left-right, top-bottom, you follow tubes between panels, which sometimes branch at choices, and often lead off the page on to a tab which you must flip to. The first choice is between vanilla or chocolate ice cream, but you quickly realize that Shiga is able to transcend the CYOA medium with ironically mirrored events, unsettling discoveries, and a story that explains quantum physics even as the tube structure mimics the concepts presented. Here's Jason with a brief explanation of his book:

Check out Jason's site, shigabooks.com, to see online versions of some of his comics. I recommend his interactive The Last Supper, The Bum's Rush, and April Fooled, and his more traditional Bookhunter and Fleep. Unfortunately, another of his full-length interactive works, Knock, Knock, isn't even mentioned (apparently out of print). It's incredibly ambitious: the main character is trapped by a killer in a room full of objects to be interacted with in any order, and all the possible three-choice sequences are drawn out — but only one leads him outside to safety and the shocking reveal.

Here's a video review if you want to see more of Meanwhile. And a 2004 video interview that shows more of his work. If all this makes you want to make your own interactive comic, Jason explains how to fold a short branching booklet (and demonstrates a few of his comics):
And for those who dislike CYOA books because they don't track variables, Jason has Hello, World, a "programmable" comic that tracks inventory choices in a split layer of the book:



I just finished Jason Scott's IF documentary GET LAMP.
  • After the intro, I thought, "Wow, an old computer turning on, then a bunch of old guys talking about caves. That'll keep 'em on the edge of their seats!" I suppose this isn't meant to be marketing or evangelism, but it still could have opened with a hook.
  • IF people are very articulate (and the interviews were well edited). Often these documentaries include a lot of gushing and undirected verbiage, but not with this crowd. As Brian Moriarty said of early IF, it had a "friendly, smart-people feel about it."
  • Were blind players the only minority in the documentary? Not a criticism, just interesting that it falls out that way.
  • GET LAMP made the point that early IF provided an immersive experience under tight technological constraints. In fact, that is part of why it was financially successful and even drove computer sales: interactive text was much deeper than the simple games and graphics of the times. And as Richard Bartle argued, text coupled to our imaginations will always be superior to any hardware. Early IF authors innovated around their constraints to accomplish as much as possible. Some of it worked, some didn't, but they kept trying. It's been said that necessity is the mother of invention, and that constraints can fuel creativity. I sort of feel that since hardware limitations have been removed, IF has been content to stagnate, ignoring the restrictions of market forces, reader demographics, streamlined interfaces, etc.
  • The interviewees seemed pretty convinced that puzzle is the enemy of story, at least for modern readers. On the other hand, solving good puzzles in IF is an experience unparalleled in almost any other medium, and IF junkies will keep chasing that 'aha!' high. But it seems new players need a gateway drug.
GET LAMP was very well done, and I enjoyed it, even the reminiscing about about early computers (I goofed around on my folks' TRS-80 when I was seven). I had hoped it would be a catchy introduction to the medium, but liked it for what it was, and it should hold up well for future audiences.