Jason Lutes - Jar of Fools (4 stars)

Jason Ringenberg

(Faber)

TRAGEDY/NOIR

First serialised in Seattle’s alternative newspaper The Stranger back in 1993, and anthologised in the US in 2003, Lutes’ remarkable graphic novel is long overdue a decent European release. Jar of Fools tells the story of tormented magician Ernie Weiss, his estranged girlfriend Esther and Weiss’ dementia-plagued mentor Al Flosso. When con man Nathan Lender and his young daughter enter their already fractured lives a series of events are put in place from which there can be no return.

Lutes’ bag is historical fiction, the characters here are amalgams of the long dead, most notably escapologist Harry Houdini (real name Ehrich Weiss), Brooklyn magician Al Flosso and famous American confidence man Joseph ‘Yellow Kid’ Weil. To these iconic ‘prompts’ Lutes attaches the kind of slow and aching meditation of loss, grief, magic and memory that would not be out of place in the novels of Faulkner, Hemingway or Joe David Brown. Beautifully and sparsely drawn, Jar of Fools is an all too rare work of hypothetical and transcendent emotion.

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