Ever since its publication in 1986, it has developed a cult following. It’s been out-of-print in English for 30 years. And THE MAGICIAN’S WIFE has not lost any of its magic. This is a prime example of what is possible in comics in the graphic novel format. Thanks to Drew Ford and Dover Publications, it is back! As your guide through comics, I strongly recommend that you put aside everything, your morning coffee, your late-night rendezvous, whatever, and seek this book out. It will change your life.
All these French masters who took an American art form, the comic strip, and transformed it into the graphic novel: Bilal, Boucq, Blutch, Tardi, Masse, Liberatore, and Loustal. I was in Paris in that heady time, circa 1988, and I most vividly recall as a very young aspiring cartoonist and writer that something very different and exciting was happening. In that same year, Drew Ford, as a youth, would stumble upon a copy of “The Magician’s Wife” in a secondhand shop in upstate New York. Drew Ford would go on to see that book get a proper reprint at Dover Publications after being out-of-print in English for oh too long. So, what is so exciting, and magical, about this particular comic? Well, it speaks to that desire for a truly ideal and satisfying entertainment. It manages to actually realize that dream of a comic that is perfect down to each and every panel. A fantastical story that strikes you with its poetry and poignancy. And there’s supernatural things going on to boot. Rita, the magician’s wife, could quite possibly be a werewolf.
Much in the irreverent and artistic French spirit, this is a story that simply is. In some sense, is it both a complex and straightforward visual treat. It is also a splendid work of surreal, absurd, whimsy. And, in the end, it is a very well-structured, undeniably tightly-knit story. It feels like a dream that goes on forever and yet you sense that it is also quite a lean and determined piece. Silly, fun, but also deadly serious. Full of symbolic impact. With a squarely-in-the-eyes shot to the deepest recesses of your mind. Graphic novels come from the city and this is very much an urban story full of gritty elements. Yes, this definitely has mature content. But, like in the best work of this kind, there is a certain level of restraint that makes this suitable for young teens and up.
Edmund, the magician in this story, is a cross between an amazing wizard and a cowardly ne’er-do-well. It is a struggle that will consume him and those that come into his orbit. Things move at a relatively steady clip in a work of comics. However, there a number of reasons to slow down the pacing: to convey a mood, to reinforce an idea, to thoroughly establish a setting. This comic manages to keep things moving while seeming to have all day to do it and all in a tidy 82 pages. I maintain that a comic need not run longer than 80 or 100 pages. You find your sweet spot and you don’t need to pad things up.
Consider the above page. Not too much obvious movement but you can quickly sense a rapid energy at work as well. This is a pivotal moment for Edmund: he is momentarily in full control and in the process of consolidating his position, and then he must confront a huge setback and a taste of what’s to come. We first find him emerging from a restful pose; then a full-figure attentive pose; followed by arm raised in confrontation; right in the center, an indignant look; his former lover defies him; he escalates the situation; finally, his new lover puts him in his place.
Edmund. Rita, Detective Verbone. Ah, all the misbegotten jockeys from Saratoga Springs. The gals at the diner. The regular group of cops too concerned with hamburgers. And the hoodlums from the Lower Eastside led by the monstrous Ross. And, for an added literary touch, Dolores, a name that keeps floating in and out of the narrative. At varying times, it belongs to someone’s sweetheart, an animal, and a maid. If only Dolores could be pinned down for just a moment, she might have something quite insightful to reveal. But, not to worry, perhaps the jockeys will carve up another horse. And everything rendered in this glorious semi-realistic style that floats along perfectly with great distinction–and such vivid color. Yes, this is it. This is the graphic novel you’ve been waiting for all your life. Get it at our friends at Dover Publications right here.