The Beyond Review

By | Wednesday, August 23, 2023 Leave a Comment
Last year, Amulet Books released Jason Shiga's Leviathan as the first in a line of "adventure game comics." It's kind of a Choose-Your-Own-Adventure style book, using storytelling techniques that Shiga first highlighted in Meanwhile... but it feels a little closer to those point-and-click computer games from the '80s and '90s. I reviewed the book back here. The second book in the series, The Beyond, came out this week.

The first thing to mention is that, despite being part of the same series, The Beyond is very much NOT a sequel. It's got a very different story, different characters, and even the storytelling structure is different here. So you can read this completely irrespective of any of your familiarity with Shiga's other work. The first page has a quick set of instructions, and then the reader is off to follow/direct the story of Mario Rivera.

The basic techniques of guiding a reader from one scene to the next will be familiar to those who've read Leviathan. The technical mechanics of The Beyond are the same, but interestingly, the book has a very different feel to it in terms of its structure. Whereas Leviathan felt like a game, The Beyond was very much more a story. There were some puzzle aspects to it but, while at least one "puzzle" was integral to finishing that particular storyline, it felt less like a puzzle and more just like a clever storytelling trick. Albeit one that did feel to me like it was more challenging to sort out than any of the actual puzzles from Leviathan. I suppose you might say the newer book had fewer actual puzzles, but more complicated ones? There are more endings here, so I suspect that lends itself to being further away from the game aspect of the first book -- the reader doesn't feel as directed as to what they're trying to achieve here compared to before.

What I find interesting with Shiga's work is that it honestly doesn't strike me as especially commercially viable, but rather that he's experimenting with the form of comics and the different types of stories he can tell using this Choose-Your-Own-Adventure technique he's developed. It's not just, "here's a story with a bunch of different endings" but "hey, everybody, you can use this technique to tell a story this way, or that way, or..." As I think on it, it's almost as if the books are directed more to comic professionals to give them ideas on how they can present their own stories, and it's just wrapped up in a package that is being sold to kids. (Amulet Books is broadly directed towards "young adults and middle-grade readers" by their own admission.)

I'm sure the stated audience here would enjoy The Beyond well enough and it's certainly more re-readable than Leviathan, but I think creators will get more out of reading both of these books and thinking about what Shiga is doing. Using them as examples of what you can do with comics that 99% of the creators out there aren't doing.

Oh, also, there are pirates in this book -- you can't go wrong with pirates!
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