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Comic Book / Meanwhile

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Meanwhile is a comicbook by Jason Shiga.

One day, Jimmy goes to eat some ice cream. Afterwards, finding himself in desperate need of a bathroom, he runs to the nearest house and asks to use the facilities. Then the owner introduces himself as Professor K, and asks Jimmy if he would like to help test one of his inventions: a machine that can travel back in time ten minutes, a machine that can read memories, or a box that can kill everyone on Earth.

Jimmy says yes, and the results aren't pretty.

Meanwhile is a branching storyline that unfolds differently depending on Jimmy's choices, and the bizarre branching panel layout reflects this. And most of these branches end unpleasantly: death, endless feedback loops, or the discovery of a very dark secret about Jimmy's world. The reader is pretty much required to read every branch in order to get the entire picture—and the one happy ending can only be reached by cheating.


Meanwhile can be read here on Jason Shiga's website. Or bought as a book with full-color art. Or as an iOS app.

Not to be confused with the tropes Meanwhile Scene and "Meanwhile, Back at the…"

This comicbook provides examples of:

  • Adult Fear: If you're a parent, the thought of you and everyone else in the world dying and leaving your child all alone with no one to care for them is one of the most terrifying things you can imagine. It's only somewhat mitigated by Jimmy's father being able to tell his son to use the SQUID to read his memories in order to explain what happened and learn how to survive.
  • The Aloner: Both played straight and averted. After the death of everyone in the world due to the Killotron being activated, Jimmy is the last person left, and explicitly laments that he's all alone. But he then embarks on a quest to repopulate the world by using the Killotron to keep himself young, and going back in time repeatedly to live a different life each time. At one point, he remarks that he's done this over a million times.
  • Advertisement:
  • Big Red Button: The Killotron has one to activate it.
  • Connected All Along: Zig-zagged in one of the possible endings. Jimmy goes back in time and lives as all of the characters in the story: the ice cream man who gave Jimmy ice cream, the scientist, and Jimmy's own father. He raises his child self as his son.
    Jimmy: (as Professor K) I've gone back more than a million times so far: I've lived a million different lives. But in truth, I have only just begun.
  • Depopulation Bomb / Doomsday Device: At face value, the Killotron is a device which inexplicably kills all human life in the universe. However, with the proper preparations, it can be used to prune off alternate quantum possibilities and thus control entropy. The upshot of this is that proper use of the Killotron can apparently result in Utopia.
  • Despair Event Horizon / Driven to Suicide: After Jimmy learns the truth about the world, there's a choice panel where one choice has him succumb to this and kill himself.
  • Easter Egg: Page 41 and page 47. There are links (tabs) that go to these pages, but none of them are reachable from the start.
    • Also the alternate ending, an infinite loop hidden in plain sight on one page spread. In it, Jimmy finds Ultima, a Utopian world free of entropy. On this note, during the argument between Jimmy and his past self, there is one panel that cannot ever be reached normally where one of the two Jimmies says "Ultima" for no apparent reason. This is potentially a clue to the above-mentioned alternate ending for those who know what it's a Shout-Out to (see below).
  • Failsafe Failure: Even when the Killotron had a countdown and an access code that could shut it down before activating, it couldn't be shut down from the outside. This has catastrophic consequences when Baby Jimmy crawls in to the machine and presses the button.
  • Fantastic Time Management: Rather than clean up a teacup he broke, Professor K uses his Time Machine to go back in time and stop himself from dropping the teacup.
  • The Food Poisoning Incident: If Jimmy eats the chocolate ice cream, this kicks off the plot when he needs to use Professor K's bathroom. It's later revealed that the ice cream was bad due to the ice cream man eating out of the vat and using his bare hands to do so.
  • Foreshadowing: Several examples.
    • When introducing the SQUID memory transferral device to Jimmy, Professor K notes that it even works on dead people. This comes into play in several branches of the story, and allows Baby Jimmy to read his dead father's memories after the Killotron is activated and gain the skills he needs to survive.
    • Jimmy asks Professor K why he can't read more than 10 minutes of memories using the SQUID, and is told that you need a special access code for that. The professor also mentions that he used to have the code written down and hidden in the bathroom medicine cabinet, but memorized it five months ago. Once you get the access code for the time machine, you can travel back five months and learn the access code for the SQUID, which you'll need to unlock the ending that reveals the truth about Jimmy's world.
    • When Professor K is describing the Killotron to Jimmy, he tells him that if the red button is pressed, everyone outside the booth will die. Jimmy observes that if the door isn't shut tightly, the person in the booth will die as well. After Jimmy learns the truth about the world, you can choose whether he goes on living or commits suicide. If you choose suicide, Jimmy kills himself by leaving the Killotron door open and pressing the button.
    • Professor K explains that the Killotron allows the user to control entropy, and states that entropy causes people to grow old and die, and prevents the atoms in a book from rearranging themselves into ice cream. Later on, Jimmy learns that the ice cream man has a Killotron that he uses to make his ice cream. After that, he learns that everyone in the world was killed when a past version of Baby Jimmy activated the Killotron, that he went back in time to raise his younger self, and that ever since he's been using the Killotron to keep himself young and then travelling back in time to repopulate the world one person at a time.
  • Gamebooks
  • Mad Scientist
  • Minimalist Cast: For most of the story, the only characters are Jimmy, Professor K, and the ice cream man, with Jimmy's dad making a very brief cameo. Once you find out the truth about the world, you meet a couple more characters, but ultimately this trope is reinforced because all the main characters are revealed to be different versions of Jimmy.
  • Mundane Utility: The Doomsday Machine also makes ice cream.
  • Never the Selves Shall Meet: When Jimmy is about to meet himself from 10 minutes ago, Professor K invokes this trope by saying that Past Jimmy will panic when he sees Current Jimmy, and that Current Jimmy should hide. Ultimately averted since the two Jimmys do meet, and the worst that happens is that Current Jimmy knocks out Past Jimmy, with no lasting consequences.
  • Parental Abandonment: This happens to Baby Jimmy after he inadvertently activates the Killotron: not only do his parents die, but so does every other person in the world. Ultimately averted, though, since once Baby Jimmy grows up he travels back in time to raise his younger self, and ensures that this trope never takes place.
  • Promotion to Parent: An unusual case where Jimmy becomes a father figure to himself, as a baby. See the entry for Parental Abandonment.
  • Rewatch Bonus: After finishing the entire story, you'll have a very different take on it when you read it a second time. Some events that made no sense before, like meeting a man who claims to be Jimmy's dad after you travel 7 years back in time, will make much more sense afterwards.
  • Shout-Out: Ultima (see Easter Egg above) is a reference to the Easter Egg of the same name in the Gamebook Inside UFO 54-40. The Ultimas of both books are utopias that can only be reached one way: cheating.
  • Temporal Paradox: Averted. Jimmy used the time machine to go back in time and raise his younger self as his own son. This is not quite a Stable Time Loop in that he also prevented his younger self from using the SQUID to implant himself with his father's memories, therefore ensuring that he himself never came into existence. Of course, by this point, the universe's failure to implode properly is the least of the world's problems.
  • The End of the World as We Know It: What happens when the Killotron activates, unless it's being used to manage entropy instead of killing everyone.
  • Time Machine
  • Violence Really Is the Answer: During the argument between Jimmy and his past self, there are many opportunities provided to choose Jimmy knocking his past self out cold, due to refusing present Jimmy's orders to get into the time machine and go ten minutes into the past. The book even allows the reader to knock out past Jimmy even when he already decides to enter the time machine.


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