Harry Houdini was more than just a magician – he was a secret agent, leading a secret government group using real magic.
Wait… was he?
In truth he may not have been, but in comics fiction he is in the upcoming graphic novel After Houdini from writer Jeremy Holt along with artists John Lucas and Adrian Crossa. Set to debut later this week from Insight Comics, After Houdini images a second, secret life for the Houdini magician that includes a son that must save his famous father when he is kidnapped by the Russians during World War 1.
Holt will be launching the book this Thursday with a special event at New York City’s Houdini Museum during New York Comic Con weekend. Ahead of that, Holt spoke with Newsarama about this new series – which has already been greenlit for a sequel.
Newsarama: Jeremy, what brought you the idea of doing a story about Harry Houdini?
Jeremy Holt: The idea actually came about from a collaboration with artist Kevin Zeigler, who was the original artist on the project. We had batted ideas back and forth for a while, and a story about Harry was the one that we couldn’t stop thinking about.
Nrama: After Houdini isn't about Harry as much as it is about his son, Josef. Where does the real-life history end and the fiction you created begin?
Holt: That’s right. I decided to shift focus onto Harry’s son, who I thought would be a much more accessible character for readers to follow. The real life history ends at the very beginning of this story. Harry and Bess never produced any offspring, and there is no concrete evidence that Harry served as a covert operative for American Intelligence during World War 1. As fantastic an idea as this would be considering the famed magician/illusionist/escape artist led a life that reads right out of an Ian Fleming novel, I took this myth and stretched it into the realm of the supernatural. The greatest compliment I’ve received about this book is when a reader once said to me, “I had no idea Houdini had a son.”
Nrama: As you said, in After Houdini Harry is revealed to be a WW1 operative for the United States. What kinds of things does he do for the American government?
Holt: Not to give too much away here, but Harry is a founding member of the Society of American Magicians (S.A.M.), which is in fact a real organization that he was once President of, but in this story S.A.M. is merely a front for a government-backed magical defense network. That’s right, real magic! Their mission is to protect themselves as well as their allies abroad from a threat emanating from Russia. The magic in this story consists of a positive and negative force, so you can easily guess who’s on which side.
Nrama: And just who has kidnapped him?
Holt: Well, Harry goes on a reconnaissance mission in Moscow and doesn’t return. This isn’t much of a spoiler to admit, but he’s captured by the Russians.
Nrama: Why is Josef, his son, the person to save Harry?
Holt: Well, unbeknownst to Josef, he is linked to his estranged father by a magical force. It’s a powerful energy that enables a magician to expand upon his given skill set and do truly incredible feats that defy reality. Josef is the only one that possesses this preternatural gift that mirrors his father’s unique abilities. Think of it as a signature of sorts, one that gets passed down through a magician’s lineage.
Nrama: Which came first, the story or the partnership with Insight Comics?
Holt: The story came first, over five years before Insight Comics saw enough potential in it to publish it. It’s a bit of a tale to explain the genesis of After Houdini. Suffice it to say, I was asked by the publisher to explain all of this in an afterword for the book. I recommend that people buy a copy if they want to know how it all transpired. What I will say here is that it took years of perseverance to see this project to completion, and it was worth it.
Nrama: Big picture, what are your goals with this graphic novel?
Holt: Honestly? My only goal was to see this story get published. From hatching the original concept back in 2011 to right now, there were several false starts that had me convinced that this book was never going to see the light of day. Beyond that, I hope that this will appeal to magic and Houdini fans, as well as anyone else who is a fan of historical-fiction, action-adventures, and a splash of espionage.
And if readers enjoy After Houdini, they can look forward to its follow up entitled Before Houdini, which is in the same vein as the first, but shifts focus on a fictionalized account of Ehrich Weiss’ youth, before he would become the famous Harry Houdini. It’s a story of a team of gifted youngsters that are tasked with tracking down very real and dangerous monsters that lurk the streets of 19th Century London.