Thursday, February 18, 2010

Evolution of the MEANWHILE cover

Original hand-printed version of this "insane choose-your-own-adventure masterpiece"
—Scott McCloud


Chocolate or Vanilla? This simple choice is all it takes to get started with Meanwhile, the wildly inventive creation of comics mastermind Jason Shiga, of whom Scott McCloud said “Crazy + Genius = Shiga.” Jimmy, whose every move is under your control, finds himself in a mad scientist’s lab, where he’s given a choice between three amazing objects: a mind-reading device, a time-travel machine, or the Killitron 3000 (which is as ominous as it sounds). Down each of these paths there are puzzles, mysterious clues, and shocking revelations. It’s up to the reader to lead Jimmy to success or disaster.

is a wholly original story of invention, discovery, and saving the world, told through a system of tabs that take you forward, backward, upside down, and right side up again. Each read creates a new adventure!

I first met Jason Shiga in a large ABRAMS conference room in the summer of 2008. At this point I was familiar with Jason's work on Bookhunter and had just finished his first original hand-copied version of Meanwhile. (pictured above). It was and is unlike any graphic novel I had ever seen. Jason graduated from the University of California at Berkeley with a degree in pure mathematics. "I have a pretty analytical mind, so I think solving a puzzle is about the most exciting thing a reader can experience," he told us. The amount of work and thought that went into this book is staggering. Time online said that Meanwhile is funny, disturbing, thoughtful, deconstructed, and cleverly put together. So I knew that I had a lot to live up to to help make this book look amazing.

Editor Maggie Lehrman made this dummy below in the style of Meanwhile to give to Jason at our meeting.

Meanwhile's cover would be unlike other book designs that I have worked on purely because there wasn't one story to follow and base the cover on. So we needed to come up with an overall theme to represent all 3,856 stories. ( Jason actually counted all of them. May I remind you that he is a math major) Jason's original cover was in black and white and had elements that we liked, but it wasn't quite to the place that we wanted. So . . . first step, Jason took some time and worked up various cover ideas to begin discussion.

Stage 1

There were several things we found very intriguing about these comps but again, none felt right. After talking with ABRAMS ComicArts executive editor Charles Kochman about these comps, he kept coming back to one overall theme of Meanwhile, "search or struggle to find home." Going forward this would become our mantra.

Stage 2

"Search or struggle to find home"

These comps show the response to our mantra as well as a the idea that the title type could be an extension of the interior tubes. In these first couple comps the type begins to take form.

Stage 3

After sitting on the cover for a week to reflect, we began to realize that we needed and iconic image of the main character to introduce him. Of course the word iconic is always in the back of my mind as the end goal for a cover. So we worked up these comps to help further along the idea of finding home as well as integrating the type into the art.

With both of these sketches I tried using the idea of panels and tubes from the interior extending from the Meanwhile type to create a story to show the main character's search for home.

I let the above sketches sit on my bulletin board for a few weeks. I knew that there was an idea there but it wasn't completely realized yet. I knew that I need to tie in the ideas of the interior into the cover. At this point we began to receive in final art for the interior. Jason's art help me become inspired. I poured over all the color layouts and began to cut out certain panels that helped tell our story of a search for home.

Stage 4

Below are Jason's responses to the above comp

Above he is riding a giant squid

I think we are on to something here.

At this point we felt that we were headed in the right direction as far as the idea and composition. A few more elements needed our attention. Color, type and size of the main figure didn't seem right yet.

Stage 5

1st color Shiga version

Stage 6

Final color

Stage 7

Adding a back cover and spine that match the "look and feel" of the front cover as well as the entire world of the book.

Behind Jason Shiga is a layout map of the entire Meanwhile book.

Pick Any Path. 3,856 Story Possibilities.
see larger photo
Authors: By Jason Shiga
Imprint: Amulet Books
ISBN: 0-8109-8423-7
EAN: 9780810984233
Availability: In Stock
Publishing Date: 3/1/2010
Trim Size: 7 1/2 x 9
Page Count: 80
Cover: Hardcover
Illustrations: Tabbed pages; full-color illustrations throughout


dot said...

Oh, man, I can't even imagine trying to put together this book. I'd tried to read through one of the old versions but had to put it aside, and the shiny full-colorness of this version is sooo exciting, but it takes serious cajones to sit down and work it out! I've ventured into the arc and found it to be a delightful presentation of Shiga's material...well done!

Anastasia_Betts said...

Jason, just wanted to let you know that we posted a link to this page on our FB page, "Graphic Novels 101: Using Visual Texts in the 21st Century" -- its a page for teachers who want to use GNs in their classrooms, and for GN enthusiasts! We were so impressed with your book, "Meanwhile" and hope to expose many teachers to it! You can also thank Nancy Frey for sharing your book with us -- we really appreciated the opportunity to learn more about your work!

Anonymous said...


This is a question for the webmaster/admin here at

Can I use part of the information from your blog post right above if I provide a backlink back to your website?


Chad W. Beckerman said...

I don't see why not Mark. Where will you be publishing it?