The Magician’s Wife


By Jerome Charyn & François Boucq, with Foreword by Drew Ford (Dover Comics & Graphic Novels)
ISBN: 978-0-486-80049-3

Although all comics evolved from products designed to appeal to a broad variety of age ranges, we have finally reached a stage in our culture where individual stories and collaborations always intended by their creators to appeal to older or intellectually select audiences are now commonplace and acceptable.

What that means in simple terms is that complex, controversial and challenging graphic narratives which have come and largely gone unheralded now have an ideal opportunity to reach the mass audiences they were intended for and who deserve them…

A sublime case-in-point is this astounding, groundbreaking and compellingly wonderful transatlantic collaboration originally released in 1986, and which shone brightly but briefly; winning immense critical acclaim and glittering prizes from the comics cognoscenti yet barely troubling the mass public consciousness within or outside our particular art form’s bubble. Now after nearly thirty years in fabled obscurity it gets another chance to become the universally lauded masterpiece it deserves to be…

La Femme du magicien by American crime author and graphic novelist Jerome Charyn (Johnny One-Eye, I Am Abraham, Citizen Sidel series, Bitter Bronx: Thirteen Stories) and French illustrator François Boucq (Bouncer, Sente, Bouche de diable, Billy Budd, KGB) won numerous awards at the Angoulême International Comics Festival and elsewhere and even enjoyed a rare English Language translation in 1988 before dropping out of comics consciousness. Now their breakthrough masterpiece is back, visually remastered and re-translated by Charyn himself.

Following a piquant personal reminiscence in the Foreword by Dover Editor Drew Ford and intimate insights from the author in ‘A Note to the American Reader’ the twice-told tale begins, draped in dangerous and disturbing overtones of magic realism and tracing a chillingly unique co-dependent relationship between a servant’s daughter and a mercurial, mother-oppressed young man who always wanted to make magic …

Events begin to unfold in Saratoga Springs in 1956 as a weary jockey stumbles into an eerie old house and befriends precocious little Rita, daughter of the cook/housekeeper. The florabundant old pile is redolent of suppressed hostility and perilously-pent tensions, with a macabre old harpy ruling the roost but also teems with strange sights and obscure illusions thanks to the creepy son of the house’s owner.

Edmund is a scary and charming teenager who knows lots of legerdemain and many tricks of the prestidigitator’s art…

Little Rita daily lives with a host of animals (real or imagined?) but is only truly disturbed by Edmund’s outrageous attentions. He says it’s the proper way for a magician to court his future bride…

Feeling distressingly like observers of grooming-in-action, we see the child is fascinated by his hot-and-cold attentions, making her shocking discovery of Edmund’s callous sexual dalliances with her blowsy, lumpen mother all the more hurtful…

Four years later they are in Moscow, having escaped the crushing atmosphere of the old house and the forbidding matriarch. Rita’s mum is Edmund’s Famulus Mrs Wednesday, a living prop and stage assistant enduring a barrage of humiliating transformations and subtly guided and controlled by Edmund’s harsh declarations of love as Rita wonderingly watches from the wings, gradually maturing into a beautiful young toy.

By 1962 she is the centre of attention in theatres all around the world and Edmund’s intentions have become blatant. The grand gesture comes in Paris where in an act of extraordinarily callous cruelty he demotes faithful, doting Mrs Wednesday to the role of Rita’s Dresser and makes the teenaged daughter his co-star and assistant – to the lustful appreciation of the huge theatre audiences who seem captivated by his remarkably imaginative but savagely mortifying conjuring act…

Edmund has been personally educating Rita for years, but something strange happens on stage in London in 1963 when his precious “Miss Wednesday”, in the middle of his signature shameful hypnosis game, suddenly transforms into a monstrous beast apparently beyond the magician’s control…

They married in Munich in 1967 but the wedding night was marred by Rita’s memories of what her husband used to so blatantly do with her mother. Moreover, the axis of power seems to have shifted and Rita is increasingly the one calling the shots…

The crisis comes later when Rita’s mother is found mysteriously dead and the daughter’s long-suppressed passions explode…

Some time afterward, Rita is a waitress in a New York City Diner just trying to forget. Sadly her looks make her a target for both scuzzy lowlifes and simple-minded, paternalistic protectors and only the fact that cops frequent the eatery keep her even marginally safe. Haunted by ghosts and memories, she pushes her luck one night crossing through a park and is attacked by her most persistent admirers. It’s only after she viciously fights them off that a disturbing apparition manifests…

She feels pursued from all sides – by her attackers keen on silencing her, a kindly war veteran who wants to keep her safe and a persistent if painfully familiar vision – and Rita’s life spirals out of control. When Edmund seemingly shows up, a savage monster starts slaughtering visitors to the park and peculiar French detective Inspector Verbone takes an interest in her, apparently possessing impossible secrets and arcane insights when he arrives at her ratty apartment.

When events spiral to a bloody and so very unjust conclusion, Rita flees, taking a bus to Saratoga where she finds some very familiar folk and a cataclysmic, elemental and hallucinatory climax waiting for her…

Bizarre, baroque, phantasmagorical and wickedly playful, this is a story that can’t really be deconstructed, only ridden like a maddened, stampeding horse and then pondered at leisure while your bruises heal. If you like your mysteries complex and inexplicable and your love stories dauntingly bleak and black, you really should make the acquaintance of The Magician’s Wife
© 1987 Jerome Charyn and François Boucq. Introduction © 2015 Jerome Charyn. Foreword © 2015 Drew Ford. All rights reserved.

The Magician’s Wife will be released November 27th 2015 and is available for pre-order now. Check out www.doverpublications.com, your internet retailer or local comics-store or bookshop.