The Issue: Time To Choose Your Own Adventure Time [Kids’ Comics]
Welcome to The Issue, where we look at some of the strangest, most interesting and most distinctive single issue comic stories ever to grace the medium. You know the ones; silent issues, sideways issues, backwards issues... and issues that let you choose your own gosh darn adventure.
Adventure Time #10, "Choose-Your-Own-Adventure-Time," by Ryan North, Shelli Paroline, and Braden Lamb, puts you in charge of Finn and Jake as they try to overcome a dastardly spell, by picking their actions, from punches to toots.
So, what do you want to hear about first?
Let's get pretentious! Tell me about how this issue plays with the form of sequential art! (Go to SECTION 4)
Start with the story! What is this comic about? (Go to SECTION 1)
Just start at the beginning, and none of that knock-off-Scott-McCloud malarkey! (Go to SECTION 2)
The issue does a smart thing, making a choose-your-own-adventure mechanic the centre of its plot.
As with many Adventure Time stories, it begins with Jake (the Dog) and Finn (the Human) waking up in their treehouse and leaping pretty much straight into battle with their nemesis, the Ice King. Only this time, they discover they're not in control of their own actions. Instead, everything they do is decided by you, the reader. From there, it deals in some pretty heavy stuff for a kids' comic, constantly raising the question of free will, but I guess that is kind of Adventure Time's thing.
Très meta, non?
Mais oui! In fact, I think I could stand to hear a little more about all this formalist business. (Go to SECTION 4)
Nah, just tell me about the jokes. Am I going to laugh? (Go to SECTION 5)
The issue does a way cool thing, making a choose-your-own-adventure mechanic the centre of its plot.
As with many Adventure Time stories, it begins with Jake (the Dog) and Finn (the Human) waking up in their treehouse and leaping pretty much straight into battle with their nemesis, the Ice King. Only this time, they discover they're not in control of their own actions. Instead, everything they do is decided by you, the reader. (It was meant to be Gunter the penguin, but he ran off.)
Pretty awesome, huh?
Absolutely! And what about them pictures? How pretty is this book? (Go to SECTION 6)
Yeah, I guess --- but is it funny? (Go to SECTION 5)
Ryan North is a pretty well-documented fan of the choose-your-own-adventure format. As well as his Shakespearean chooseable-path book/game To Be or Not to Be, and recent follow up Romeo and/or Juliet, North's Unbeatable Squirrel Girl series with Erica Henderson recently did a 'Be The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl' issue, #7, which adapts the same methods used in this issue. If you enjoyed this issue, you'll probably get a kick out of those too, so check them out.
But North isn't the only writer ever to have attempted fusing comics with choose-your-own-adventure books. Back in 2010, Mike Carey and Peter Gross attempted something similar in The Unwritten #17, “The Many Lives of Lizzie Hexam”. Being a Vertigo book, it takes the format into some fairly grim, corners --- contrasting, as that series often does, artefacts of childhood innocence with darker, more adult subject matter.
Oh, cool. Thanks for the recs! I'll go and check them out right away! (Go to SECTION 9)
That sounds great but, back to this comic... Am I going to laugh? (Go to SECTION 5)
The first thing you learn about reading a comic --- Western ones, at least --- is that panels go from left to right, top to bottom. This issue completely disrupts that, leading your eye from panel to panel with arrows that might take you down just one half of the page, or back up to the top, or even in some cases in a potentially infinite loop of panels.
On some spreads, where the story splits into multiple strands, that make for a fairly confusing read --- especially in the digital version, where Guided View is completely out of its depth. The comic tries to make the reading process as easy as possible, with colour-coded arrows, but your eye can still get tempted off its path by the other routes you could have taken.
As I remember them from my childhood, though, that's one of the joys of these books: knowing you could cheat at any time. And naturally, this being a Ryan North comic, that problem gets turned into jokes throughout the issue.
How droll! Tell me, are there any more of these delightful 'choose-your-own-adventure' comics? (Go to SECTION 3)
Yuh-uh... And what about the art? (Go to SECTION 6)
Look, this issue is written by Ryan North, one of the few writers to ever actually make me laugh out loud at jokes in a comic.
There's all kinds of humour present, too. It's got that weird way of playing with language that Adventure Time does, mashing up familiar phrases into something pleasingly alien. It's got metatextual jokes and fart jokes and, depending on how you read the issue, metatextual fart jokes. Some of the paths go on brilliant tangents, the comics equivalent of those Family Guy cutaway gags.
The issue even mines its own choose-your-own-adventure-ness for humour. Like the footnotes on every page of Unbeatable Squirrel Girl, North uses the arrows as a delivery mechanism for even more jokes. They can be funny on their own, or because they repeat or contradict the main panels, or because they're making fun of your lack of genuine choice.
I'd love to give an example, but in my experience, relaying a story's joke to someone in advance only ever spoils it for them. Maybe I'm just bad at jokes.
Oh, quick question: have you read this comic already?
No, I'm here for the recommendation! (Go to SECTION 7)
Yeah, totally, I just like reading about stuff I've already enjoyed! (Go to SECTION 8)
The thing that jumps out about Shelli Paroline and Braden Lamb's art is how loyal it is to the look of the TV series, but it's also worth marvelling at how seamless the collaboration between the two feels. They're jointly credited as "art and letters," and it's easy to see why. There's an arrow and caption for every choice the reader makes, and they're completely inseparable from the rest of the art.
The beauty of this comic is best appreciated at a distance --- holding the book or tablet away from your face and looking at the overall chaotic composition of each page, the paths not taken, the colourful arrows wriggling from panel to panel.
Are you sold yet?
Not quite. I enjoy Adventure Time for the jokes. Are there any of those? (Go to SECTION 5)
Pretty much. Take it on home! (Go to SECTION 7)
Making something choose-your-own-adventure in a visual medium isn't easy. I've cheated in this review, because frankly it's easier to direct someone between chunks of text, but the added spatial considerations of a comic complicate things considerably.
Adventure Time #10 makes it work, thanks to Paroline and Lamb's messy-but-still-somehow-crystal-clear layouts. And when it doesn't work, North makes sure the comic is still charming, poking fun at its own failings and just squeezing in jokes everywhere they can fit.
In case you've somehow missed the oh-so-subtle message of this column (maybe you found the super secret choice that let you skip ahead to this paragraph), I wholeheartedly recommend checking out this comic, even if you're not normally an Adventure Time fan. It's doing some brain-meltingly complex stuff with the comics form, but somehow comes off light and breezy and kid-friendly. Something I have entirely failed to do.
THE EN... Oh, quickly, before we finish. Are you happy with how it all went, and the choices you made?
Definitely! I am master of my own destiny, and great at picking multiple-choice options. (Go to SECTION 10)
Honestly, I kind of wish I'd done things differently. (Go to SECTION 11)
Great. Then you won't mind me spoiling a bit of the comic.
One of the solutions to Jake and Finn's problem --- which, quick refresher, is that you have literally taken control of their actions, robbing them of their free will --- involves taking on the reader directly. Their plan is to overwhelm you by offering too many meaningless choices.
The result is an explosion of arrows, tangled in a way that makes them almost impossible to read. Which, given you've almost certainly cheated or gotten lost or let your eye wander by this point in the comic, is a perfect joke about the limitations of the format. And a chance to just ram more one-line jokes in.
Right, ready to move on?
Yup, totally! (Go to SECTION 7)
You wander into a comic store, or go onto Amazon or whatever, and lift these other stories from the (possibly virtual) shelf. Entranced by the choices before you, you soon find yourself lost in the myriad branches of these stories, and don't notice as it gets dark outside --- or the shadow creeping up behind you.
Then, a monster eats you.
You sit back in your chair, and look at the computer screen/mobile phone/tablet/long ream of paper you printed off the internet for some reason, and dwell on the adventure you've just had. What a great time that was! You consider leaving a nice comment below to say what a lovely experience you've had, or tweeting to tell all your friends, but then you spot another adventure, off in the distance. Onward!
Free will is a tricky thing. That's something you consider as you...
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