With previews in all of their books, a $1.00 cover price, 40 pages of story, and high-end glossy paper, Vertigo is doing everything in its power to get readers to give “The Unwritten” #1 a look. Their efforts are definitely worth it. “The Unwritten” #1 is an incredibly strong first issue that introduces a lot of ideas and characters with the utmost of skill.
The basic concept is that Tom Taylor’s father, Wilson wrote a series of books starring a boy magician patterned after his son both in character and name. Now, years after his father disappeared, Tom continues to live off of the fans of the book, doing the convention circuit and book signing tours. During a Q&A, the question of his true identity is raised, which spirals into a mixture of reality and fiction, forcing Tom to confront the idea that not only may he be someone other than ‘Tom Taylor,’ he may actually be the fictional Tommy Taylor in the real world.
Mike Carey makes this high concept work by focusing on Tom and showing us his pathetic life living off his father’s books. He’s tried his hand at various careers, including auditioning for the role of Tommy Taylor in the film adaptations, but nothing has ever worked out. He’s a likable guy, which helps to inspire sympathy as he struggles to be something more than the inspiration of a book character.
Beyond that, Carey hints at the thin line between reality and fiction in one scene where Tom and his agent walk through London and Tom points out various buildings that inspired fictional locations, like George Orwell using the Senate House Library as his Ministry of Truth in “Nineteen Eighty-Four.” That Tom’s father quizzed his son on this knowledge is an obvious clue.
Peter Gross uses a very simple, clear style here that’s both cartoonish and realistic, almost a mixture of ‘fact’ and ‘fiction’ that mirrors the plot. His layouts are also very strong, not afraid to have pages with six or more panels, as well as uniform layouts for pages showing media coverage of the Tom Taylor identity story. He repeats layouts for pages depicting the same events, which adds a level of compare/contrast to character reactions that wouldn’t otherwise exist. He also shifts between the real world and the fictional world of Tommy Taylor with ease.
It’s often frustrating when a company spends so much money and effort into promoting a substandard book, so it’s refreshing that “The Unwritten” is a fantastic read. At only one dollar, there’s no excuse not to give it a look — except facing the burden of another book on your pull list.