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Image from Amazon for review purposes only.)
I got 3 webcomics-related books for Christmas this year. First up, Ryan North’s 2016 Romeo and/or Juliet
choose-your-own adventure classic. Ryan is the creator of Dinosaur Comics
on the GoComics site, and writer for The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl
comic (I talked about one volume of SG
last year). Romeo and/or Juliet
is a follow-up to the 2013 To Be or Not To Be: That is the Adventure
(the result of a kickstarter project that raised $20,000).
At its essence, Romeo/Juliet is a 475-entry text adventure, where you choose to start out as either Romeo or Juliet, and periodically you get the option to switch back and forth again. Along the way, you can also choose to enter 3 more books-within-a-book (based on Macbeth, Midsummer Night’s Dream, and the “Pyramus and Thisbe” mini-play from Midsummer Night’s Dream), as well as enter a parody of a computer text adventure game (Nurse Quest), where you play Juliet’s nurse when she’s supposed to deliver a message to Romeo. There’s even a secret, unlockable character (but, as you’re playing the book, it’s pretty easy to discover it by accident, so it’s not all that secret).
The writing is typical of Ryan’s Dinosaur Comics, meaning it’s silly and fake serious by turns, and very tongue-in-cheek. There are a LOT of endings, which go off in all kinds of directions, from “Romeo and Juliet both die,” to “EVERYONE dies,” to “everyone lives happily ever after in giant robot suits.” Which one is the real ending? It’s up to you to choose. In Nurse Quest, there’s also a Caesar-shift cipher message you need to crack, but that’s doable within the game, and you don’t need to puzzle out the plaintext yourself if you don’t want to. I just like ciphers.
Ok, so why mention a text adventure book here? Because somewhere around 60 artists contributed to the cover, the Shakespeare hearts (which show the path William chose when he stole from this book to write his play), and all the many ending illustrations. These guys include Nicholas Gurewitch (PBF), Christopher Hastings (Dr. McNinja), Jeph Jacques (Questionable Content), Dave Kellett (Sheldon, Drive), Karl Kerschel (The Abominable Charles Christopher), Gisele Legace (Menage a 3) and Sam Logan (Sam and Fuzzy), among others. A lot of the artwork is silly, but some of it is absolutely awesome. It’s all good.
After starting the book, I eventually began mapping out all the choices, because I wanted to make sure I didn’t miss one. In the end, I’d hit every paragraph except 2 (which were added intentionally to foil readers that didn’t want to go through in a nonlinear fashion. Then I picked the path that took me to the unlockable character ending, and most of the subquests, and played again all the way through from start to end. And, I do have to say, the second read-through is the more enjoyable one.
Overall, Romeo and/or Juliet is a huge book, and a fun read, if you like Ryan’s writing style. I do.