Hocus & Pocus comics are interactive adventures in which the reader accompanies the main characters on quests and chooses the path to take at each turn. The books were originally released in French and recently translated into English.
Hocus and Pocus are a brother and sister who attend a school where students train to become masters of magical creatures. In each volume, trouble strikes in plots based on fairy tale settings and characters, and it’s up to Hocus, Pocus, and their magical pets to save the day. In The Legend of Grimm’s Woods, a pair of siblings has gone missing in the woods. Readers choose to follow either Hocus or Pocus, select a magical pet, and move through the panels selecting a path to search for the lost siblings. In The Search for the Missing Dwarves, Hocus and Pocus team up along with the reader to search for Snow’s missing dwarves.
Each book features a number of possible paths allowing readers to embark on the journey multiple times. Readers can choose which character to follow, which magical pet to bring along, and which route to take in the situations they face. Other variables are at play, as well. Each magical creature has different powers, but they must be fed frequently and can only assist the reader if awake. Any change in these variables can result in a different course to the story. Tracking sheets are provided at the beginning of each book to help readers make note of these details.
The illustrations have an anime look with the human characters having oversized heads, round cheeks, and large eyes. The animals are also stylized with bulbous bodies. The colors are vibrant with a shiny quality. The reader is directed from panel to panel partly using written instructions, but mainly using numbers within each panel. Panels are numbered and corresponding numbers within the illustrations allow the reader to choose the next destination. Some of the numbers are cleverly disguised within the illustrations rewarding readers who observe closely.
The concept behind the Hocus & Pocus comics is clever and the books were undoubtedly a gargantuan task to organize. However, there is much room for improvement in the execution of the idea. While it is exciting to choose the course of the story and “play along” with the book, those choices happen so frequently that the reader must flip halfway across the book after almost every panel. The reader spends more time searching for the next panel than actually reading. The quest tracker pages are also cumbersome, and the fact that they are consumable makes them impractical for libraries and other settings where the books are shared by more than a couple of people. Most kids probably won’t enjoy flipping back and forth to fill in the tracker page, and the books would be more effective if the elements that are meant to be tracked were simply left out. Finally, while the multiple possible paths in each book make for a new experience each time, those experiences are not necessarily rewarding. In each book, it is possible to get stuck in a loop where the reader is unable to get to the end of the story, or where they keep coming back to the same panel so many times they get frustrated and give up. This type of experience would be appropriate for a video game which these books are meant to simulate (you almost never get to the end in a video game), but readers expect some type of conclusion in a book.
As a fan of the Choose Your Own Adventure books when growing up, I had high hopes for Hocus & Pocus. Unfortunately, the series falls short in some important ways. While some young readers may have the patience to stick with Hocus & Pocus, I found myself growing frustrated and giving up on each of these books. Most middle-grade readers will probably do the same. Still, the concept of a reader-directed comic is intriguing, and I hope more creators will pursue this format. There are definite possibilities here which are rich with opportunity.
Hocus & Pocus: The Comic Book You Can Play
Art by Gorobei Jahng
The Legend of Grimm’s Woods
The Search for the Missing Dwarves
Publisher Age Rating: 8-12