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Holiday Gift Guide: Ryan North’s ‘To Be Or Not To Be’

To Be Or Not To Be

When it comes to the holiday gift-giving season, comic book readers are notoriously difficult to shop for. I mean, most of us are down at the shop buying our favorite stuff every single week, so when the time comes for people who like us to get us something we want, well, a lot of times we already have it. That’s why we’re stepping in with a public service, bringing you comics-related items sure to make the season brighter, whether you’re browsing for a gift or just looking for something to drop hints about so that you don’t get stuck with a random assortment of back issues again.

Today, we’re starting off with my #1 pick for the entire gift-giving season, Ryan North‘s To Be Or Not To Be!

ITEM: To Be Or Not To Be: A Choosable Path Adventure by Ryan North, William Shakespeare and YOU!

CLASSIFICATION: Book.

AVAILABILITY: $22.44 at Amazon.com

The great thing about To Be Or Not To Be is that it makes such a great gift for so many people. Well, that’s not actually true — the great thing about TBONTB is that it’s wonderfully written, beautifully illustrated, brilliantly constructed and just generally one of the most fun books I’ve read in the past few years. But yeah, that first thing stands.

On the off chance that you’re not familiar with it, or haven’t figured it out from the title, TBONTB is a Choose-Your-Own-Adventure style rewriting of Hamlet, written by Dinosaur Comics creator Ryan North and illustrated by an incredible roster of webcomic artists that include CA favorites like Kate Beaton, Christopher Hastings, Anthony Clark and Andrew Hussie. That gives it a huge cross-section of people who could be interested in it: Webcomics fans, English Lit majors, actors, teachers, people who like the Adventure Time comics, or really, anyone who ever had to read Shakespeare in school and wondered why Hamlet didn’t just kill his friggin’ uncle already. You could buy a whole stack of these things and just pass ‘em out to friends and family, and assuming they didn’t hold it against you that you were giving them all the same thing, you’d probably be doing pretty okay this holiday season. It’s as clever a concept as you could ask for.

The thing is, it actually lives up to that concept in a way that’s even better than I was expecting — and I say that as someone who’s been a fan of North’s comics for years. It’s bigger and bolder than any other choosable-path book I’ve ever seen, allowing you to not only choose between multiple characters at the start — introspective Hamlet, science-minded Ophelia or vengeful ghost King Hamlet — but then gives you the opportunity to switch between characters at points in the story, and even switch into new characters as the story goes on. You can read it a dozen times and find new threads that overlap in unexpected ways — I don’t want to spoil too much, but there’s a part where you get to quantum leap into a parallel timeline, and if that wasn’t mind-blowing, pulling off a chess game against Gertrude where you have to pick your moves in print is pretty staggering too.

Plus, you can actually follow choices marked with skulls to get Hamlet as it was originally written, complete with North’s increasingly frustrated commentary about Hamlet’s tragic paralysis of will, and also that awesome pirate battle scene that Shakespeare left out of the original. It’s seriously one of my favorite things in the entire world of comics this year, and if you’re a bookish type who hasn’t read it (or you know someone who hasn’t), I can almost guarantee good times.

WORTH NOTING: The print version is a beautiful, heavy chunk of book that makes a satisfyingly weighty present, but the Kindle version (best for iPads or Kindle Fires that take advantage of the illustrations) includes links in the text to make the choices easier to follow. Make like Juliet and pick your poison.

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