Houdini: The Handcuff King

Houdini: The Handcuff King

by Jason Lutes, Nick Bertozzi

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Harry Houdini mesmerized a generation of Americans when he was alive, and continues to do so eighty years after his death. This is a "snapshot" of Houdini's life, centering on one of his most famous jumps. As Houdini prepares for a death-defying leap into the icy Charles River in Boston, biographer Jason Lutes and artist Nick Bertozzi reveal Houdini's life and


Harry Houdini mesmerized a generation of Americans when he was alive, and continues to do so eighty years after his death. This is a "snapshot" of Houdini's life, centering on one of his most famous jumps. As Houdini prepares for a death-defying leap into the icy Charles River in Boston, biographer Jason Lutes and artist Nick Bertozzi reveal Houdini's life and influence: from the anti-Semitism Houdini fought all his life, to the adulation of the American public; from his hounding by the press, to his loving relationship with his wife Bess; from his egoism to his insecurity; from his public persona -- to the secret behind his most amazing trick! And it's all in graphic form, so it's fresh, original, and unlike anything previously published about this most fascinating of American showmen.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
A single stunt from the sprawling career of the "handcuff king," Harry Houdini ("The man for whom the phrase 'kids, don't try this at home' might well have been invented," reads Glen David Gold's introduction), is the lynchpin of this brief, elegant book. But the authors intimate larger, at times darker themes (true love, arrogance, anti-Semitism) lurking around the outer edges. Houdini is an insecure man obsessed with fame, but also a faithful and devoted husband. As the story opens on May 1, 1908, he is preparing for a handcuffed jump from Harvard Bridge, chafing at badgering reporters and a flock of imitators who are stealing his tricks. Illustrations show him preparing to defeat the handcuffs, and wordless panels ultimately allow readers to witness the escape process in its entirety. Houdini himself comes off as a flawed but respectable man, whose principles make him both exceptional at what he does and difficult to be around. Several pages of historical notes fill in the details. Lutes and Bertozzi successfully offer a tiny snapshot as a way into a very large life. Ages 10-up. (Apr.) Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information.
Children's Literature - Rachel Myers
Who was Harry Houdini? How did he preserve the mystery around his persona and his acts throughout his life and even decades after his death? This graphic novel presents a behind the scenes look at the way Houdini might have fooled his audiences into believing that he was the best magician that ever lived. The story begins with an insightful introduction and biographical sketch of Houdini, giving the reader some background to a man that seems surrounded by mystery. The reader is introduced to the important people in Houdini's life, including his wife, Bess, who is revealed to be an integral part in his success. The story leaves you wondering whether this is really the way that Houdini's magic worked or if there was even more to this complex man. The illustrations are well-chosen and easy to follow, with clean, crisp black and white coloring. Historical notes that follow the illustrations provide context to the life and environment of Houdini in early twentieth century America. Additionally, there is a section at the end of the book that gives insight into the cartooning process for those interested in the mechanics of a graphic novel. This title would be a great addition to biography shelves and may encourage students to think about how their own lives would appear in pictures. Reviewer: Rachel Myers
VOYA - Dawn Talbott
In this fascinating graphic novel, Lutes and Bertozzi artistically delve into some of the mystery surrounding the life of Harry Houdini by offering a possible explanation of how he was able to escape from almost anything and by highlighting his influences, including his thirst for fame and the powerful relationship with his wife. The format will instantly draw a lot of attention from readers and then hold on to it. Lutes and Bertozzi use grayscale comic panels to share their story about the life of Harry Houdini in a unique way. Although some readers might prefer full color, the black-and-white art actually fits well with the time frame in which the book is set. Enabled by this great use of format, the reader steps into Houdini's shoes and learns a lot about the character of this intriguing man, who lived long ago but remains famous today. Great starting points for discussion and extension based on select comic panels lend themselves well to further learning about areas related to Houdini and the world in which he lived, providing wonderful features for educators who might choose this novel for the classroom. The facts presented in the story and panel discussions are supported by a bibliography. The book resembles a hybrid between fiction and nonfiction, and the ingenious choice of format will appeal to a broad age range of readers.
School Library Journal

Gr 4-10
An interesting fictional account of Harry Houdini's jump from Harvard Bridge in Cambridge, MA, on May 1, 1908. The action moves a bit slowly, but the story demonstrates one of the possible secrets of Houdini's escapes-many have theorized that his wife slipped him keys or lock picks via a kiss. An introduction and discussions of specific panels at the end give further information about the magician, his knack for promotion, and his hard work figuring out countless ways to escape handcuffs, sealed containers, etc. The black, white, and gray drawings are reasonably good-while at times they are flat, the tight focus on the action keeps the story moving. If you have patrons interested in Houdini, escape artists, or graphic novels about real people, this would be a useful addition.
—Nancy KunzCopyright 2006 Reed Business Information.

Kirkus Reviews
Compelling black-and-white illustrations galvanize a moment in the life of revered magician Harry Houdini. Lutes explores the events up to and around Houdini's infamous 1908 feat: a daring jump from Harvard Bridge in which his hands and feet are bound in handcuffs. Though Lutes offers an examination of Houdini's masterful dedication to his craft, he also gives attention to some of the more serious issues in Houdini's life, including his devotion to his wife Bess, his commitment to science and disproving spiritual fraud and his encounters with anti-Semitism. Bertozzi's illustrations are simply spectacular, with many panels fluidly conveying motion and sound solely through his captivating art. There are many wordless passages that never fail to move the plot along and mesmerize the reader. As Glen David Gold forewarns in the introduction, this book may lend itself to multiple readings; and with helpful "panel notes" and bibliography, young readers are sure to investigate this fascinating life further. A straightforward snapshot in the life of renowned magician Harry Houdini, and a glimpse into a life of determination and perseverance. (Graphic format/biography. 11-15)

Product Details

Publication date:
Edition description:
Product dimensions:
6.75(w) x 10.00(h) x 0.50(d)
Age Range:
10 - 17 Years

Meet the Author

Jason Lutes is a cartoonist living in Seattle. He has been an admirer of Houdini for most of his adult life, and his celebrated graphic novel for adults, Jar of Fools, also pays homage to the Handcuff King. His most recent book is Berlin.

Nick Bertozzi is an award-winning cartoonist based in New York. His upcoming graphic novel entitled The Salon stars Pablo Picasso.

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