Vaughan & Chiang's "Paper Girls" Builds a Familiar Yet Disconcerting World
Every day this month I’ll be reviewing a different independent comic book, based on submissions from the creators of the comic books themselves.
The month continues with Jon Vinson and Marco Roblin’s Edge of the Unknown, a piece of historical fiction starring Harry Houdini, Arthur Conan Doyle and H.P. Lovecraft. Just that info alone should make you interested in the comic, right?
Imagine if H.P. Lovecraft was not making up all of his stories…imagine if there WERE terrible creatures like Cthulu out there? That possibility is at the heart of Edge of the Unknown, collecting Jon Vinson and Marco Roblin’s mini-series of the same name (I reviewed the first two issues here a couple of years ago), where we see what happens when it turns out that Lovecraft’s creation, the demon Nyarlathotep, actually exists.
What’s interesting to note is that Lovecraft later recalled that the idea behind Nyarlathotep came to him in a nightmare. That piece of actual fact that acts as a sort of support for the fanciful aspects of Edge of the Unknown is par for the course for Jon Vinson, who uses actual historical facts to lend believability to his story. To wit, Houdini and Doyle actually WERE friends with each other, and Lovecraft actually ghost-wrote a story purported to be a “real-life” account by Houdini. So history gave Vinson quite a bit of a head start to work with for this tale.
Here are some sample pages from Roblin (sans words)…
Impressively evocative work, particularly useful for a comic that deals with so many dark themes.
While the fact that the comic involves a bunch of famous historical figures working together to fight an amazing enemy, the parts of the story that impressed me the most were not the “high concept” parts of the tale, but the smaller pieces of strong character work that Vinson sprinkled into the work.
For instance, the plot of the book gets going when an old vaudeville friend of Houdini’s asks Houdini (who is in Hollywood trying to get his film company going – an ultimately fruitless endeavor) to find out what happened to his daughter, who had moved to Los Angeles awhile back and now turned up dead. He tells Houdini that he told his daughter to look him up when she got to L.A. Houdini tells him that she never did, and he wished she had, as perhaps he could have helped her avoid her fate. Well, later on, after Houdini vows to find her killer, Houdini enlists his friend Arthur Conan Doyle. When Doyle meets up with Houdini to discuss the case, Doyle quickly ascertains that Houdini DID meet the girl, and actually had an affair with her when she first came to town. The affair had long ago ended and did not factor into her death at all, but including it added quite a bit to the depth of the story – it establishes Doyle’s deductive skills while also shows a little bit of Houdini’s character – even as he vows to help his friend, he doesn’t tell him the full story when it paints Houdini in a bad light (which is even more evident later when Houdini finds out some messed up stuff about the daughter and while he tries to hide that, too, he ends up sharing the info with the father). It is strong character work like that that makes this comic notable in the fact that it would have worked well if it starred original characters.
As the pair discovers a plot that seems connected to the work of Lovecraft, they bring him into the mix, and boy does Vinson do a strong job handling the oddity that is H.P. Lovecraft (Roblin does some of his best character work with Lovecraft, showing how his reactions barely change no matter the circumstance – just a constant sense of uneasiness, whether it is talking to other people or dealing with monsters).
Finally, it is worth noting that Doyle believed in spiritualism, which makes his inclusion in the story even more perfect.
This is a very well-written and well-designed comic book. Recommended.
Check out the web page for the comic here to see where to buy a copy!
Comics Should Be Good accepts review copies. Anything sent to us will (for better or for worse) end up reviewed on the blog. See where to send the review copies.