Houdini: The Handcuff King

Created by: Jason Lutes

ISBN: 0786839023 (Amazon)

Pages: 96

Houdini: The Handcuff King

On a recent busride down to San Diego to view the Dead Sea Scrolls exhibit at the natural history museum, I figured it’d be good to bring some reading material. From my to-read pile I pulled the recently purchased Houdini: The Handcuff King. I was excited because I love Jason Lutes’ work (as previously seen in Jar of Fools and Berlin). And really, this book did not disappoint. There were, however, two surprises for me.

Houdini the Handcuff King by Jason Lutes and Nick Bertozzi

Surprise #1: While Jason Lutes penned the story that comprises the book’s narrative, he did not contribute to its art. Really this should not have been a surprise as the cover plainly says Nick Bertozzi immediately beneath Lutes’ own name and the art on the cover is plainly not the work of Lutes’ established style. At first, this surprise was a disappointment to me—like when you think your glass has Pepsi in it but your first sip reveals apple juice instead. But after my initial shock, I came to appreciate Bertozzi’s line and recognized that he really was a good choice for the book.

Bertozzi does do some fantastic work in the book, managing crowd scene after crowd scene with enough visual grace that the reader never suspects just how terribly dull it must have been to compose these pages. And even in the midst of these ink-saturated pages, it is never difficult to see where the action is. Bertozzi does a stand-up job of directing the reader’s eye and conveying the tension of the moments—moments that could easily have been lost had the artist been too detailed or too simplistic in his execution.

Houdini the Handcuff King by Jason Lutes and Nick Bertozzi

Surprise #2: I had brought a book to busy me during the ninety-minute drive, but finished it within forty-five minutes. Houdini is not a long book. There is plenty to look at but little text per page, which makes it a fairly quick read. Wholly apart from disappointing, the brisk pace of the story was refreshing. I closed the back cover satisfied with a mid-morning snack of graphic reading.

When initially approaching the book, I did not know what to expect. With the blue note set by Lutes’ prior works, I thought this might be an exploration of Houdini’s last days and unforeseen death. Instead the narrative picks up on a morning nearly a full decade before his mortality asserted itself and climaxes later that same day, presenting a slice of Houdini’s life, a splash of what made him great. And a snapshot of the people Houdini relied upon to feed that greatness.

Houdini the Handcuff King by Jason Lutes and Nick Bertozzi

Houdini: The Handcuff King is really a charming little story and I would pleasantly recommend it to anyone with an hour to kill.


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I am Seth T. Hahne and these are my reviews.

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