Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Levitation: Physics and Psychology in the Service of Deception

Prolific science graphic novel writer Jim Ottaviani continues his science of the unscientific series with this look into the history of stage levitation. The book follows this sensational trick from its origins in the work of John Neville Maskelyne ("The Levi") who entranced turn of the (20th) century British audiences with his stage play The Entranced Fakir. His act was stolen and brought to the United States by Harry Kellar (who had tried to buy the act from Maskelyne to no avail) with fantastic success. The act was improved upon by engineer Guy Jarrett who wrote a much-used guide to magic and who also narrates the story. When Kellar tired of touring, he sold his act to Howard Thurston, a charismatic showman with a penchant for card tricks. Thurston went on to being one of the biggest acts of the 20th century.

In this book, Ottaviani focuses not only on how levitation tricks are done but also on the personalities of all the magicians who used them. As with his other works, this book is thoroughly researched and is chock full of information. The art was provided by Janine Johnston, a freelance artist with many credits, including Star Wars and Poison Elves comic books. Her gray-scaled art looks almost water-colored and provides a great atmosphere for the narrative. These two interviews shed more light on the two creators' work on this volume.

Reviews of the book have been largely positive. Johanna Draper Carlson recommended the book, commenting on Johnston's art and the great number of magical mysteries revealed within these pages. Chris Mautner offered that the story was full of slightly awkward exposition but was ultimately winning because of its "educational glimpses into areas of history that have mostly been ignored by the general public."

An excerpt is available here from publisher GT Labs. A study guide and review links can be found here.

For teachers interested in teaching this book, there are a host of materials here from the Get Graphic website.

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