BY LACEY N. DUNHAM
Remember the “Choose Your Own Adventure” stories from when you were a kid? You read a page or two and then the narrative stopped so you could decide where you wanted to go next:
If you decide to follow the dark hallway in the haunted house, go to page 14.
No way! If you decide to leave through the back door and into the overgrown yard, go to page 18.
Inevitably, I always ended up either a coward or dead and yet I continued to hunt out the latest adventure from the library.
Cognito Comics and Tall Chair Inc. have introduced a sleeker, multimedia driven (not to mention more adult) concept that drove the books I loved as child. Calling it “a new immersive graphic entertainment experience,” the companies have teamed up to create Operation Ajax, a narrative non-fiction telling of the 1953 CIA backed coup to overthrow Iran’s prime minister, Mohammed Mossadegh, an event that shaped present political conflicts in the Middle East.
More than a graphic novel, Operation Ajax comes with an iPad app that will allow the reader to open up a world of additional information, from historical photos to original documents, without leaving the narrative. Several publishers, including Penguin, Simon & Schuster, and Hachette, have piloted similar “enhanced texts” for both novels and non-fiction books, The New York Times reported, but Operation Ajax, alongside the Tall Chair Active Reader app, is the first such for graphic novels.
In addition to historical documents and footnotes, Operation Ajax is an animated narrative. In an advanced reader’s copy mock-up on flash, I read part of Operation Ajax as Cognito Comics’ Executive Producer Daniel Burwen guided me through the text. The animation is fortunately sparse, a decision that differentiates the animated graphics in Operation Ajax, an enhanced graphic novel, from the animated graphics of something like Persepolis, the film. It’s a fine line to walk, and Burwen acknowledged as much during our conversation. Originally packed full of animated panels, the Cognito Comics team realized “less is more,” Burwen said. “We wanted something more elegant.”
Elegant also applies to the hidden passageways that take the reader beyond the narrative to embedded historical documents. Burwen emphasized that the Tall Chair Active Reader provides a reading experience different from clicking on links in a web browser and then making your way back to the story. The goal is stay within the pages of the book by having all the factual information and research that inspired the novel effortlessly available.
Burwen, whose professional background is in games, said he was looking to do something “with more of a social impact.” Although a fictional character created from an amalgamation of government agents is the conduit for telling the story in Operation Ajax, the narrative non-fiction follows historical events.
Investigative journalist Stephen Kinzer, author of All the Shah’s Men, the best-selling book about the CIA-backed Iranian coup, is working closely with the Cognito team to check historical accuracy on the illustrated spin of real events. Kinzer is also writing introductions to each chapter.
Operation Ajax will be available online this fall.