The Magician’s Wife was originally published in 1986 as La Femme du Magicien, and over time its English-language version has developed a cult following due to its scarce availability. This republication brings it back into print for the first time in almost thirty years.
The distinction between what constitutes comic books and graphic novels, usually involving the implied quality of the content, is a subject of great contention and one unlikely to ever be resolved. Bande dessinées (French-language comics from the continent) on the other hand, have a long tradition of perceived literary merit, and for comics that fall into this category The Magician’s Wife is good company.
Its protagonist Rita begins the story as a young girl whose mother marries stage magician Edmund after Rita’s father is killed fighting in the Korean War. As Rita matures and her mother ages, Edmund’s philandering nature turns his attention to the younger woman, seeing her first as a prize to be won then a possession to be hoarded, while Rita searches for freedom somewhere in the blurred realities between illusion and truth.
Each of the book’s four chapters take place against the painted backdrops of cities all over the world, from the swollen candycane spires of Red Square to the mist-shrouded skyscrapers of Manhattan. Each setting feels as distinct and individual as the people who populate them, at once a part of the real world and yet tinted with faint glow of the otherworldly.
Many panels pass with little to no speech, instead following characters as they silently wander across lavish sweeping vistas that give the lyrical artwork something of a cinematic quality, which with its regular wilful surrealism calls to mind the likes of Federico Fellini, Leos Carax or Alejandro Jodorowsky.
The Magician’s Wife is an adult fairytale where the fantastical and the everyday are portrayed side by side. Sometimes it’s bright and colourful, others times it’s dark and foreboding; mostly it’s all these things at once, with the commonplace surrendering to nightmarish unreality in the blink of an eye. Its dreamlike phantasmagoria means you can never be quite sure what is real and what isn’t, and given the principals of stage magic so important to the story, you could argue whether or not such a distinction even matters.
THE MAGICIAN’S WIFE / WRITER: JEROME CHARYN / ARTIST: FRANCOIS BOUCQ / PUBLISHER: DOVER PUBLICATIONS / RELEASE DATE: NOVEMBER 27TH