“Edge of the Unknown” is on based the true-to-life friendship between Harry Houdini and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Set in the year 1923, we follow these two famous historical figures as they try to solve the murder of a young woman, who was the daughter of Houdini’s friend. However, the story soon takes the reader far beyond what one would expect with such an introduction. Jon Vinson’s story and Marco Roblin’s illustrations work in unison to plunge the reader into a dark and terrible world where nothing is what it seems. A world where even the most famous magician of all time and the creator of “Sherlock Holmes” will need help to make it out alive. I can think of very few graphic novels that I can honestly admit I have been blind-sided by, however, this is definitely one of them. This story combines elements of horror and history to give us a combination that is wonderful. Slowly building from what seems to be an open-and-shut murder mystery, this graphic novel quickly changes pace, presenting the reader with a dark and supernatural side of Hollywood you wouldn’t expect.
Johnny_Trouble:“Jon, let me start off with thank you for being so patient with this interview, I thoroughly enjoyed “Edge of the Unknown”. Let me start off by mentioning that this horror story is a period piece based on the true friendship of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Harry Houdini, which is an interesting topic to pick for a graphic novel. Where did you get the idea to use these two iconic individuals for a horror story?
Jon Vinson:“When I started, I really wanted to do a horror story, something that was as different as possible from my previous comic, The Applicants, which was a funny super-hero book. I’ve always been a huge horror fan, and I wanted to do something in a Clive Barker vein, something visceral. So I had this really basic idea for the story; part of it would take place in the present and part of it would take place in the golden age of Hollywood, the 1920’s. When I was doing research, I came across the fact that Houdini was in Hollywood in the 20’s. I thought, “That’s interesting, what if I put Houdini in the story?” Then, when I was doing the research on Houdini, I found out that he and Arthur Conan Doyle were not only friends, they had this very public feud over Spiritualism and the supernatural.
It just hit me like a lightning bolt that these guys, who everybody still remembers nearly 100 years later (but nobody seemed to remember about their friendship), these guys would be great in a buddy-cop type thriller. Better still, they even had that “skeptic/believer” dynamic already built into their friendship. So I took the basic story elements that would work with these two guys as the stars, jettisoned everything else, including the stuff about “present day”, and that’s when the story really started to take shape.”
Johnny_Trouble:“What sparked your interest in them originally?
Jon Vinson:“I think Houdini is one of the most interesting people who ever lived. The more you learn about the guy, the more amazed you are by his story, and his daring feats. There’s some footage on YouTube showing Houdini perform and it’s crazy dangerous stuff.
Doyle, at least from the start, was only there to support Houdini, because the last thing I wanted to do was write about a boring-ass writer (I know, I am one). But the more I found out about Doyle, the more I saw him as an “adventurer”. He was a solider, a doctor, and even an amateur sleuth. It’s because of him that there’s a Court of Appeals in England (and by extension, America).”
Johnny_Trouble:“You also include a lot of background information in EOTU, for example, the scene where Sir Conan Doyle and Houdini are debating whether or not séances are genuine, which is an aspect of their friendship that ended up creating a rift in their friendship later on in life. You make the effort to show a lot of insight regarding the time period and individuals like Sir Conan Doyle, Houdini, H.P. Lovecraft, and Charles Fort. This being said, what research did you undergo during the process of writing EOTU?
Jon Vinson:“Lots and lots of research. Everything started on the internet with just a general gathering of information. But then I searched out specific books, like Doyle’s own THE EDGE OF THE UNKNOWN, which is about the supernatural and specifically, Houdini. I found an old book about Houdini’s tricks and escapes, which strangely enough, was written by the guy who created The Shadow.
I also read some Sherlock Holmes and a bunch of Lovecraft’s early stories.
I managed to track down two books of Lovecraft’s letters to get his voice right and get some insight into his character.”
Johnny_Trouble:“I know that you visited the Le Brea Tar Pits during the research for EOTU, did you visit anywhere else?
Jon Vinson:“The tar pits are amazing. I’ve lived in L.A. for 15 years and never visited them until I was writing this book. I’m glad I finally went. I mean, c’mon, giant dinosaur skeletons!
The back-lot of Universal Studios also is featured in the book. Been there many, many times.”
Johnny_Trouble:“Why did you choose to include the debate between Houdini and Sir Conan Doyle regarding the séances?
Jon Vinson:“I think that debate about Spiritualism really defined their relationship in their later years. I didn’t want the story to not reference it, as I thought it’s something people would want to know if they’re reading the book. Especially the bit about Doyle’s wife “channeling” Houdini’s dead mother, that’s just such an amazing story.”
Johnny_Trouble:“I must admit that until the end of the first chapter, I expected a simple murder mystery with this story, that is, until Hannah gets eaten. That was a “Holy sh*t!” moment for me, and for that I thank you. However, I must ask, at what point and why did you decide to take the story in the direction you did? (Not that I am complaining.)
Jon Vinson:“Glad you enjoyed that. I was hoping it would be a good “Holy Shit” moment. I wanted to write a horror story from the beginning. When I figured out that the story would be about Doyle and Houdini, I looked at it as a way to blend genre. I wanted to write a buddy-cop/murder mystery/horror story that delivered on all those levels.
Now I know Houdini and Doyle aren’t cops, but that genre of film is something I really love. Specifically, anything Shane Black has written. He did the first LETHAL WEAPON, but he also did KISS KISS BANG BANG and THE LAST BOYSCOUT. He’s the master of “Bro-mance” movies.”
Johnny_Trouble:“What specifically was the most difficult part of writing EOTU?
Jon Vinson:“Lovecraft’s voice. He tends to be really verbose and I’m just the opposite. Writing his captions was usually the last thing I did every issue. His use of language, too, is a little intimidating.”
Johnny_Trouble:“How did you team up with Marco Roblin?
Jon Vinson:“I met Marco online. I placed an ad that I was looking for an artist and described the setting and tone of the book. Several artists responded, but Marco was head and shoulders above the rest. I’m so glad he did the art on the book. He really knocked it out of the park, as far as I’m concerned. I’m sure any day now a major publisher is going to pick him up and put him to work.”
Johnny_Trouble:“I found it interesting that when H. P. Lovecraft is narrating the ending, you have him compare and contrast himself with Houdini. In a way he acknowledges the fact that Houdini is this great, fearless showman; while Lovecraft also acknowledges that he willing to do what it takes, when necessary, but he is more content living in the shadows. Which one would you identify with more personally and why?
Jon Vinson:“I’m way more Lovecraft than Houdini. It’s funny, when I was writing the ending I felt like a lot of people couldn’t relate to Houdini’s tremendous courage at the end, that it was just too unbelievable. Lovecraft’s narration addresses Houdini’s courage in a way that I felt was honest and a little self-deprecating.”
Johnny_Trouble:“What other work can we expect to see from you in the future?
Jon Vinson:“I’m working on something called BORDERLANDS with Marco, which is a sci-fi/war story that takes place in the near future. Marco’s art is just insane on this. I’ve seen the first 10 pages and they’re some of the best work he’s ever done.
We’re also working on EDGE OF THE UNKNOWN 2, but that’s probably a little ways off.”
The graphic novel is published by DUB Comics and is available for $18.00. I believe it to be a unique story in a relatively overcrowded genre. If you love period pieces, mysteries, the occult, H.P. Lovecraft, I advise you to go pick it up. F*ck, even if you only love eating pudding, I am still telling you to go pick it up. It’s like a roller-coaster that will take you to the top of the first hill, and when you are expecting to drop, it jumps to another track instead. However, at the end of the ride, you feel more satisfied that you didn’t get what you expected, rather than being able to smugly say to yourself “I called it.”