I get to do another multireview post, because Jason Shiga has several completed comics under his belt and available on his site. He has even more that are unfortunately not available online, and I’m not aware of him doing any more art, sadly. What’s there, however, are some of the most interesting stories I’ve read, and stories that I gladly come back to time and again to read. Regardless of the story, the characters feel real, the logic makes sense, and the tension is thick, making reading the next panel a necessity. Fleep and Bus Stop have a lot of monologue in them, but Shiga’s writing is so excellent I wouldn’t dream of calling this too much text.
Bookhunter (completed, violence) (while there’s two formats available, “read book” is probably easier) is a story about a book forgery mystery. But in this world, book theft is of the utmost importance. SWAT teams, federal agents, car chases, action scenes, shoot outs, even librarian ninjas. Seriously, librarian ninjas. It totally works. This is one of the most interesting action comics I’ve ever read. Jason takes this world to the logical extreme-the bookhunters clearly value books over human life, and book thefts are treated with the paranoia and preparation you would expect of a dangerous terrorist.
More than the action, though, the investigation and the mystery itself are extremely well done. The story is set in 1972, so the only equipment available is from that time period. The library records aren’t computerized, and all the equipment feels legitimate (I have no personal experience with library technology in 1972, so I can’t say for sure). Following along as the main characters piece together the mysteries and solving the crimes is a blast, and make me wish for a CSI: Library. Definitely give Bookhunter a look.
Fleep (completed, lots of math) (”read scroll” is probably easier for this one) is the story of a man trapped in a telephone booth, with no memory of how he got where he is, no way to get out, and very little equipment to do much of anything with. This entire story takes place with a single character in a phone booth and yet is one of the most gripping dramas I’ve read. The main character knows a lot of math and physics and uses these abilities to slowly deduce things about his situation. There’s no strange world trick on this one- it’s a person legitimately thinking through the problem presented to him and trying to figure out how to save himself.
Every few years I get the urge to read Fleep again, just because it’s so well done. I like to think of myself as a smart person, but stuck in the same situation as the main character there’s no way I’d think of even a third of what he manages to try. There’s no cheating, either, with calculations behind the scenes and “And then I discovered this”. All the calculations are done completely up front and are logical conclusions. I am amazed every time I read this story how powerful math can be. Give Fleep a read.
Bus Stop (completed) (I prefer “read book” for this one) is a sad story of obsession. The main character believes he can deduce things about the people around him just by watching them at a bus stop. This comic is his journal as he keeps track of these observations and the things he figures out. Partway through some new twists are explained, and the reason why he obsesses about the bus stop is revealed, leading to even more obsession and investigation. I always feel sad reading this strip, because the lost dreams of the main character are so very clear. He has a goal, he understands what he’s losing to pursue this goal, and he has decided it’s worth it. I have to respect that dedication, even if I can’t support his choices.
Bus Stop is at its core a study in what we can learn from people just by surface observation- no interaction, just watching. It’s fascinating the things that can be figured out if you’re dedicated (and creepy) enough to try.
Meanwhile (completed) (violence, gore) is one of very few well done interactive branching comics on the web. Every once in a while a choice must be made, and two branching lines go to the sides of the screen. Clicking on one of these nodes opens up a new page, and a new part of the story to follow. There’s really not much I can say about Meanwhile without spoiling at least parts of it, but there’s a great mystery involved in Meanwhile that the user can solve. Each branch through the story can teach you new tricks and new solutions to apply to the story until the whole world is laid out to view.
Incidentally, I’d suggest the chocolate ice cream. It may not be as satisfying, but it’s more interesting.