Melding hypercomics and gaming, Daniel Merlin Goodbrey’s “A Duck has an Adventure” mischievously plays with digital space, non-linear comics, and interactivity. The unnamed duck confronts the consequences of serious life choices such as getting an education, having adventures, or staying in the pond. Swimming through sixteen possible endings, the duck can also gain twelve achievements and develop his wardrobe through gathering seven unique hats.
The work focuses on fixed comic panels with no added sound or motion. The duck is rendered in dark colors as a silhouette, without direct narration telling the story, though text appears in many of the comic panels. It therefore foregrounds the visuality and narrative sequencing of more traditional comics.
Yet the work also attends to issues of how digital platforms can engage with comic storytelling. On his website, Goodbrey defines hypercomic as a “webcomic with a multi-cursal narrative structure”. “A Duck has an Adventure” has multiple, branching storylines while also incorporating gaming components such as the ability to gain achievements and collect hats. The interactivity is limited to clicking comic panels to choose possible routes, but it introduces the element of choice. The story route the reader chooses sprawls in various directions, so that the story expands through the screen while leaving a distinct spatial track so that the reader can loop back to previous points of the story. Though comics have always demanded certain visual literacy skills, the hypercomic also necessitates digital literacy in the form of knowledge of games and the basic function of interactivity.
Perhaps it is this low-stakes environment of the humorous and the interactive hypercomic that leads Leonardo Flores to categorize “A Duck has an Adventure” as children’s e-lit. While not necessarily billed as a hypercomic for children or young adults (and while broaching serious issues such as alcoholism, writers’ block, and intimate relationships somewhat tongue-in-cheek), this playful work initiates questions about the comics genre, audience, and the possibilities of e-lit and hypercomics for children and younger readers. The simple gaming components offer a strategy for engaging younger audiences, as do the character of the duck and themes of adventure and education. But the work is also more than a simple kids’ flip book migrated into digital media: the “multi-cursal narrative structure” precludes any attempt to linearly flip through pages, as does the meandering spatial tracking of whatever story line the reader chooses. Regardless of the work’s classification, Goodbrey has continued to experiment with the idea of the digital page and the possibilities of the hypercomic in both his own theoretical thinking and other hypercomic projects, available on his website www.e-merl.com.