Saturday, October 10, 2015

Labyrinth: A Journal of Close-Up Magic

Magic magazines are often started by the young. Amateur magicians sharing their enthusiasm and that of their friends for the craft. They gather the material from their contemporaries. Stacked one upon the other magazines form the strata of the history of magic as a hobby and a profession. While the latest issue of any magazine has much to offer the contents can mature over the years.  Much later you read the material in a different context. Forgotten ideas sparkle like gems. At least that’s the hope I have when flipping through old journals.

Stephen Hobbs began Labyrinth in 1994 while living in New York. In the preface to this volume he describes it as ‘an incredibly inspiring and creative period of my life. I was meeting magicians on a weekly, often daily, basis. Everyone was coming up with new ideas and techniques, constantly trying to better himself or herself and improve the art.’

Those magicians included Jack Carpenter, Steve Mayhew, Ernest Earick, Jamy Ian Swiss, John Lovick, Bill Goodwin, Bob Farmer and many others who are well-known names today. All contributed to Labyrinth.

Thirteen issues were printed over a period of several years. They’ve been reprinted here in one volume as a facsimile of the original magazine. I think that’s a good decision. The layout is clear and simple. The illustrations by Kelly Lyles are excellent. It gives you a much better flavour of the era. It also makes for a substantial book of 448 pages.

One of the benefits of having a slow publication schedule is that Stephen Hobbs was able to curate some excellent magic. Half of the issues were devoted to a single contributor. Alain Nu, Aaron Fisher, Erick Dockery and Gregory Wilson each have entire issues devoted to their magic. Steve Mayhew has two issues!

Most of the contributions are card magic and some have found their way into other publications and DVDs over the years. The majority, however, will probably be new to you not least because, aimed mainly at friends, only 100 copies of each issue of Labyrinth were published. Which is why issues and the occasional volume turn up on auction sites at high prices. But it is not rarity that gives Labyrinth its value. It’s the magic. You can flip to almost any page and find something of interest and a glance at the very first issue sets the standard for what follows.

The first trick in issue one of Labyrinth is The Close-Up Billusion. It’s a three-card monte style effect the result of a brainstorming between Stephen and friends. A dollar bill visibly jumps from the middle of a two-card sandwich to the bottom and back again. It uses the topological method pioneered by Tom Sellers and J. C. Whyley and is very effective.

Jack Carpenter contributes Fate or Free Will? This is an almost self-working effect in which a spectator locates three cards that matches your prediction. I like the speed at which this happens. It’s very quick and surprising.

The Big Fat Hairy Con is Steve Mayhew’s ‘magician fooler.’ It’s another quick trick and takes advantage of your fellow magician’s lack of interest in selecting a card. By the time he discovers his card reversed in the deck he will have no idea how you did it. Very good thinking and I like the idea in the notes about how to turn the trick into the location of three-of-a-kind.

The old ‘I have as many cards as you’ trick gets a makeover from Jack Carpenter in A Quickie Revisited. I’ve always been intrigued by this effect and I really like Jack Carpenter’s handling and the addition of a kicker prediction. Carpenter contributes another routine in Carpenter’s Cannibals. Four Kings devour two spot cards before turning into four Eights for the ‘Ate and ate’ finale. It’s a simple set up and efficient handling.

The final trick in the first issue is The Grippo Transpo. Steve Ehlers and Jack Carpenter had seen Jimmy Grippo perform in Las Vegas and been amazed by a trick in which a card held by a spectator changed into their signed selection. Discussing the effect with Steve Mayhew they came up with the solution published here. It requires a double-face card but the handling is simple and the effect is straightforward and very visual.

The hallmark of all the magic in Labyrinth is practicality. There are tricks you can use right away. Ideas you’ll be able to twist to your own requirements. And inspiration for future routines. With so many good routines and notable contributors, Labyrinth is not just another volume to add to the shelves but one you’ll spend a lot of time actually reading.

Labyrinth: A Journal of Close-Up Magic  - Stephen Hobbs – 6.25” x 9.25” – Hardback – illustrated - 448 pages - $60. Published by Kaufman and Company. Available from Kaufman and Company.