Adventures in Duck-Rabbitry: Multistable Elements of Graphic Narrative
Abstract

ABSTRACT:

Multistability refers to those moments in a narrative when readers are made aware of two mutually exclusive possibilities, conceived as an analogy to the visual illusion of the duck-rabbit, which can be seen either as a duck or as a rabbit, but not as both at the same time. Such mutually exclusive possibilities can arise from image elements that have different functions in different panels, words that refer to different things in the dialogue and the panel images, narration that can be read as either extra-or intradiegetic, or, indeed, moments of hesitation whether a metalepsis (a transgression of narrative boundaries) has taken place or not. Duck-rabbitry, that is, the tendency to create multistable moments (or instances that mimick the "tilt" between one percept and another), is a narrative effect in its own right and therefore needs to be distinguished from multiperspective, polyphonic narration, and allegory (because, in these cases, the two possibilities are not mutually exclusive), as well as from irony (because, in this case, one possibility is considered superior to the other). It extends across the narrative space of the fictional world, the narrative time of the plot construction, and the experience of the reader, leading to particular effects of fluency and rupture. While this article foregrounds comics as a medium that is particularly prone to duck-rabbitry, the conclusion also draws attention to its occurrence in other media and its importance for the project of transmedial narratology.