Title: Jar of Fools
Writer and Artist: Jason Lutes
Jason Lutes, writer and artist for the Berlin series, initially serialized Jar of Fools as a comic strip for The Standard, a Seattle weekly newspaper for which he also served as art director. The collection was first published in 1994 in two parts by Black Eye Productions. Drawn & Quarterly published the single-volume edition in 2003.
Jar of Fools is certainly not a happy story. The protagonist is Ernie, a washed-up magician. Through the course of events, he finds himself living under a highway overpass with his mentor, his ex-girlfriend, a con-man and the con-man's young daughter. Having hit rock-bottom, the gang works desperately to find a path back to meaningful lives.
I think Lutes's greatest gift is character development. In both Berlin and this story, my feeling of investment in his characters' well-being is very strong. Faces, hair, clothing and posture are all clear projections of personality and emotion.
Magic is a big theme in Lutes's work. He has also published a biography of Harry Houdini in graphic novel form: Houdini: The Handcuff King. I'll have to keep an eye out for that one.