Hou­di­ni: The Hand­cuff King

Jason Lutes; Nick Bertozzi
  • Review
By – December 19, 2011

This is the first book in a pro­posed series of graph­ic-nov­el biogra­phies for young read­ers pub­lished by the Cen­ter for Car­toon Stud­ies in con­junc­tion with Hype­r­i­on Press. It is meant to give just a snap­shot of one moment in the life of Har­ry Hou­di­ni, and it deliv­ers on its promise. By select­ing one spe­cif­ic inci­dent in the life of the famous magician/​showman, the authors give read­ers a tan­ta­liz­ing glimpse of Houdini’s life and accom­plish­ments. In an orig­i­nal graph­ic nov­el style, Hou­di­ni is shown prepar­ing for and then exe­cut­ing one of his most famous stunts, a death-defy­ing jump off of the Har­vard Bridge while hand­cuffed. His wife, Bess, is accu­rate­ly depict­ed as an able accom­plice, and read­ers get a glimpse into the secrets behind Houdini’s suc­cess. Hou­di­ni loved a crowd, and the authors show how he worked his fans into a fren­zy of fear­ful excite­ment. Large pan­els, which some­times cross to the oppo­site page, along with bold illus­tra­tions show­ing close atten­tion to facial expres­sions, add plen­ty of dra­ma to the page. 

Houdini’s Jew­ish iden­ti­ty is men­tioned only briefly when a Boston police­man won­ders aloud if it is true that the show­man has horns. As he is being inspect­ed before the stunt, Hou­di­ni rebukes the police­man by say­ing, mind the horns.” A series of pan­el dis­cus­sions round out the vol­ume, and one of these explains Houdini’s Jew­ish back­ground and the anti-Semi­tism that was preva­lent at the time. 

Fans of the graph­ic nov­el for­mat will delight in this cre­ative and sus­pense­ful book, and since there have been a glut of recent books about Hou­di­ni, for both chil­dren and adults, curi­ous read­ers who want a more in-depth biog­ra­phy will have an ample selec­tion from which to choose. For ages 10 and up. 

Wendy Was­man is the librar­i­an & archivist at the Cleve­land Muse­um of Nat­ur­al His­to­ry in Cleve­land, Ohio.

Discussion Questions