Ernie Weiss is a down-and-out magician with a booze problem, reeling from the failure of a disastrous romance and the shadow of his brother’s mysterious death. Weiss is fast approaching the end of his tether. So his reunion with his increasingly senile mentor (who has escaped from his care home) seems like a perfectly natural turn of events: they are two outcasts from a society that has left the magic of the past behind for the grim realities of the day-to-day.
Almost inevitably, they encounter fellow dreamers – Nathan and Claire Lender, an anachronistic pair of travelling con artists who seem to have walked straight out of Peter Bogdanovich’s Paper Moon. What follows is a tender, believable journey along the path towards acceptance, set in a world where tricks and lies are the only currency for survival.
Jason Lutes’s mid-1990s classic has grown in reputation since its first publication, and it’s easy to see why. The European-style drawings recall Hergé, and the oddball romanticism of the various plot strands is handled with taste and conviction. Nothing is mawkish or twee, which is no mean feat in a story about magic and fatherhood. Where many of his Stateside contemporaries saturate their outsider narratives with bitterness or self-obsession, Lutes offers something more thoughtful.