Who is Minky Woodcock?
Technically answered by the subtitle for writer and illustrator, Cynthia Von Buhler’s, new series, ‘The Girl Who Handcuffed Houdini‘ is a starting point to a much more extensive answer.
Part of Titan’s Hard Case Crime imprint, Minky Woodcock isn’t a real person but the evidence Buhler used to install her in Harry Houdini’s life can be found on the series’ web-site. Issue one is dated October 11, 1926. Houdini would die two weeks later, on Halloween. Having an aspiring PI present for Houdini’s final days gives Buhler a chance to dig into the speculation around his death. Set in a kinky world of spiritual mediums Houdini worked to debunk, Minky may not be the most famous name in this series, but she is its uncontested star.
We meet Minky writing a letter to Agatha Christie. Avoiding the crisp, typewriter font that’s manufactured today, letterer Simon Bowland, lets the ink glob on some of the letters. His ‘click’-ing and’swoosh’-ing typewriter sounds play actively in the background but, more impressive still, transition into the sounds of Minky’s heels, ‘click’-ing on the pavement.
At a time when Minky would do well to be inconspicuous, these noises attract unwanted attention and, for Buhler, encourage readers to consider Minky an open book. Drinking from a flask in public (these are the years of prohibition), every heel ‘click’ should sound like a gunshot going off from nerves, yet Minky walks ahead unphased by how she’s seen by others.
Her expressive face is another giveaway, and reminds me of True Blood actress, Deborah Ann Woll’s. Unabashedly without pretense, there’s something both alluring and misleading about her honest brand, where she protests too much that gender is the reason why her dad won’t hire her as a PI. It’s a feasible reason for 1926, so convincing as the truth.
Himself the P.I. Arthur Conan Doyle goes to with a case, we hear a lot about Benedick Woodcock from Minky’s perspective, but never meet the genuine article. Whether he’s actually on vacation like Minky says, or being cut off from prospective clients by his determined daughter, his absence is key to her hold over the story, while his name goes extra lengths in its spelling to associate him with genitalia.
Penny Dreadful would be proud of Minky Woodcock‘s seance scene, which uses gravity and a vase to confuse the orientation of a room. Buhler’s weathered color palette and strong, ink lines can make her drawings feel like woodcuts, while Minky’s white rabbit, Agatha, pre-exists as an element of magic in her life. Moving between panels but not in them, Agatha could honestly pass for being stuffed, and her unsettling eyes don’t help matters.
You may never look at Arthur Conan Doyle the same way again, and you may always wonder whether Agatha Christie wrote Minky back, but Minky Woodcock: The Girl Who Handcuffed Houdini is welcome to throw away the key until this series comes to an end.
Minky Woodcock: The Girl Who Handcuffed Houdini #1 is on sale November 15th, 2017.