When I first read Jason Shiga’s Meanwhile, I thought it was a clever idea. Though I thought the form would have been easier to follow on a computer screen, I recognized that much of the charm came from the fact that it wasn’t. Still, when I found out that Andrew Plotkin was working on an iOS implementation, I was excited to see how the adaptation compared to the codex version.
Interacting with the narrative on the iPad feels very natural. All of the story’s panels are contained in a single sprawling map. The current panel illuminates while the rest of the map darkens around it. Tapping on the panel moves you to the next panel or decision. At any time, the reader can select to browse the entire map, and can select any panel to begin the story from there.
The background doesn’t darken very much, so distraction and temptation from other panels is constant. At first I took objection. Surely, the digital platform allowed the author to force the reader to follow the panels as they were intended. But the distraction of possibilities of alternate pages and panels is also present in the original; at any time, a reader can flip to a new page and start the story from there. In that respect, the fact that the reader is free to explore the entire map is a deliberate release of control that could have been more rigidly enforced by the author or implementor—a good decision in keeping with the spirit of the original codex. Where the book controled how visible the consequences of choices were by hiding them on another page, the iPad interface analogously hides consequences with zooming when necessary. My only complaint is that I think the legibility might benefit from the map being more closely-zoomed by default. This problem is easily fixed with pinch zoom, but moving to the next panel automatically resumes the default zoom level.
Zooming issues aside, Meanwhile uses Scott McCloud’s idea of the infinite canvas to good effect. McCloud points out that the space-as-time metaphor can be better used digital comics because authors can make temporally distant events also physically distant without the fear of wasting paper. The narrative of alternate timelines benefits from the events being laid out on the same screen to give the whole work a feel of simultaneity.