Vaughan & Chiang's "Paper Girls" Builds a Familiar Yet Disconcerting World
I always dig reviewing books from the future, so here’s one that shows up in comic book shoppes tomorrow. Give it a look if you happen across it!
Tom Pinchuk, who wrote Hybrid Bastards! for Archaia, recently sent me a .pdf of his latest offering, an Arcana publication called Unimaginable. It’s $14.95, but you can find it for less on-line, if that’s your bag. Pinchuk writes it, Kurt Belcher draws it, Levi Skeen inks it, and Zack Turner colors it. That’s all I know, I swear!
Unimaginable tells the story of a young woman named Stump (well, that’s what they call her) who wakes up in a strange world and put to work as a “problem solver” on a team with two others, whom she names Chin and Lank (one has a big chin, the other is lanky). She doesn’t know what’s going on and believes she’s dreaming, and one nice thing Pinchuk does is never actually answer that nagging question – she comes to accept that she’s not asleep, but we’re never sure. Stump is put to work solving problems, and her co-workers (not only her two main partners) are impressed by how she thinks outside the box – Pinchuk actually uses that phrase – to get to the heart of things. The problem solvers she meets are obsessed with following the rule book, so when they’re confronted by a particularly unusual problem, they don’t know what to do because, well, it’s not in the rule book. Stump’s ability to think conceptually helps her become a very talented problem solver after only a few days.
The main problem in the book comes when Stump learns of the existence of the “Unimaginable” – she off-handedly mentions at one point that “she can’t imagine” something, which causes the world to briefly go negative and throws everything out of sync. The Unimaginable are the one unsolvable problem in the “prefecture” – where Stump works – because they’re beyond comprehension. Stump gets caught up in word games whenever she and the others speak of the Unimaginable, because they’re so difficult to define. But of course, once we learn of them, it’s fairly obvious that Stump is going to have to confront them. The final third of the book deals with that confrontation.
Unimaginable is a very plot-driven book, so we don’t get much in terms of character development, as Pinchuk skims the surface with regard to Stump and her fellow problem solvers. We learn basic personality traits about them, and we get to know a bit about Stump because she’s the main character, but this is basically a story about how imagination can solve problems, so any characterization is pointed toward that goal. There’s nothing wrong with that; I like plot-driven stuff as much as character-driven stuff, depending on what the plot is, and Pinchuk does a good job getting to the heart of what imagination is and how liberating it can be. Unimaginable isn’t wildly original, but Pinchuk is wise to put it in a strange world where problems are far more concrete than they often are in “our” world, which makes the abstract concepts he’s dealing with a bit more easy and fun to swallow. When Stump, Chin, and Lank enter the domain of the Unimaginable, Pinchuk’s plot becomes a bit more esoteric, but he’s established this bizarre world rather well so the strangeness the characters find don’t throw us off too much. And it makes the solutions the characters come up with more interesting, as Pinchuk is able to show the uses of imagination much better.
As I got this in a .pdf format, I can’t show any of Belcher’s art samples, but it’s not bad. It’s an odd mix of John K. Snyder, Jay Geldhof, and some JM Ringuet – there’s some stilted figure work (which works with Lank but is less successful with Stump), but some wonderful details of this bizarre world, and some inventive camera angles to add to the vertigo Stump is feeling as she moves through this alien place. Belcher makes the prefecture a disturbing steampunkish place, with odd machines sticking out everywhere and dizzyingly high passageways with no guard rails and buildings belching smoke into greenish skies. Part of the effectiveness of the art, obviously, is Turner’s coloring – he uses a lot of primaries to contrast the various scenes in different parts of the city and to offset the Unimaginable, which looks like a negative photograph image. The art is a bit rough, but it’s also effective in taking Pinchuk’s script and giving it an odd, sickly reality – the prefecture might not be rotten within, but it’s become a stultifying bureaucracy, and both Pinchuk’s slightly absurd script and Belcher/Skeen/Turner’s Orwellian art make that vividly clear.
I enjoyed Hybrid Bastards!, the last Pinchuk book I read, but felt it had some problems with its focus. Unimaginable is much more focused, and Pinchuk is able to express his ideas about imagination much better because he’s on point the entire time. There’s a lot to like about Unimaginable, and if you happen to see it on the shelves in your favorite comic book store, give it a look. It’s an interesting comic, dealing with themes people often deal with, and while it might not tell us anything new, the way the creators get us to the point is well done and easy to enjoy. So I’d like to thank Pinchuk for sending it to me – I always like reading comics that are a bit odd!
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