Before Houdini (2019) by Jeremy Holt, John Lucas, and Adi Crossa. Insight Comics.
I had the pleasure of reading a preview of the graphic novel Before Houdini after reading, and loving, its predecessor After Houdini (2018.) To catch you up, After Houdini centers on Josef, a young escape artist who is the son of Harry Houdini (unbeknownst to Josef, however.) In that chapter, Harry is kidnapped, and Josef is enlisted by a magical society (funded by the U.S. government for whom Harry has been working) to save him. It's a fun-filled ride, with engrossing art that moves at such a fast pace, it's over before it began.
Before Houdini, a prequel of sorts, is just as imaginative and fun. Focused on Ehrich Weiss, a young man who grows fond of magic and eventually becomes an escape artist himself, Before Houdini is another tale of escape, magic, and secret government agencies. Ehrich, so good at his art, is enlisted in the British counterpart to the U.S. magic agency, and tasked, with other young magicians, to stop a serial killer, the likes of which has never been seen.
The story, as mentioned, involves escape art, illusion, and real magic. Imagining Harry Houdini and those like him involved in secret governmental affairs and true magic is a revelation in plot. The narrative flows so well that the reader will easily breeze through the book's 49 pages. From New York City to England, characters ranging from children of immigrants, to sorcerers supreme, I was enraptured in my reading. Holt does an excellent job introducing characters quickly and building up their narrative before introducing us to the next character. The reader has a stake in each character, and that's very rare to find.
I'm a huge fan of John Lucas and Adi Crossa's work on After Houdini and remain so in this chapter. Lucas lays out vibrant scenes and characters with a mix of Robert Crumb and Frank Miller. Seems an odd pairing but when looking at his style, it makes sense (to me at least.) That is to say, he's darn good! Adi Cossa's colors are never too vibrant, but match the scenes perfectly. The two artists complement one another as you can see in the above page spread. The hues, the lights and shadow, the colors and lack thereof, all blend perfectly throughout this books length.
I highly suggest reading Before Houdini if you want an imaginative, engrossing story with top-tier art. While you're at it, pick up After Houdini, too!
Here's a short blurb on artist John Lucas, written by the man himself:
"John Lucas is made entirely of popcorn and Karo syrup. It defies biology and common sense and has baffled the great minds of our times. Sadly, the judgments of such big-brained muckity-mucks come at no small cost. So, John must toil away for the few odd coins a cartoonist's life will afford, that he may remain free of the chains of the debtors prison. John's work has appeared in funny books published by DC, Marvel, Dark Horse, AdHouse, Image, Top Cow, Insight, and BOOM!. If you don't believe it, look it up."