Carey and Willingham Explore "The Unwritten Fables"

After visiting not one but two versions of Hell, Tom Taylor, star of Mike Carey and Peter Gross' "The Unwritten," has decided enough is enough and concocts a plan to get to the heart of his story, which he suspects can only be found at the heart of all stories.

But when the boy wizard made a leap of faith into yet another fictional world in hopes of finding his answers in the final page of "The Unwritten" #49, he found himself face to face with the witches of Fabletown, home of the characters from the multiple Eisner Award-winning series "Fables" by Bill Willingham and Mark Buckingham.

CBR News spoke with both writers about the highly anticipated, yet completely unexpected, crossover between Vertigo's two critically acclaimed series, and both shared their admittedly guarded thoughts on what's to come for Tom, Bigby Wolf and the rest of the cast of "Fables" in the next five issues of "The Unwritten" in the hauntingly titled story, "The Unwritten Fables."

In addition to revisiting his reasons for deciding against having Superman appear in his and Gross' series -- with Willingham explaining why he feels Batman would be a perfect fit in the pages of "Fables" -- Carey discussed the lengthy list of "Fables" characters that he would like to see intersect with "The Unwritten" and how visiting Fabletown was a natural progression for Tom. Meanwhile, Willingham explains that although the crossover is only happening in the pages of "The Unwritten," the events that take place are "possibly" and even "likely" going to have ripples effects in "Fables."

CBR News: Mike, we spoke in the past about how at one one point you wanted to use Superman in "The Unwritten," but ultimately you created your own superhero, The Tinker. Why the decision now to inject the characters from "Fables" into your creator-owned series?

Mike Carey: Why? Well, I think was not unlike a snowball rolling down a hill. It started with a conversation between Bill and Peter [Gross] at an American convention and there was a parallel conversation between me and Bucky [Mark Buckingham] here at Bristol. The clincher was Shelly [Bond] taking over as editor for "The Unwritten," which suddenly opened a direct channel between the two books.

Bill Willingham: I think it was clever design on Shelly's part to do half of the work [Laughs] by bringing the two books together.

Bill, "Fables" has evolved into a pretty sizable franchise for you, Bucky and Vertigo. You've done a crossover with your own spinoff, "Jack of Fables," but never with another series. Why is "The Unwritten" the right fit?

Willingham: Anyone who has read "The Unwritten" would see that it is just perfect for a crossover with "Fables." The entire idea behind the series is that these characters can show up anywhere within the context of any stories. And since "Fables" is a book that is very story aware -- meaning that we are real people having real adventures but we are also aware of inspiring stories. Not that it could be the same book, but you know the Venn diagrams where there is the overlapping circles -- there is definitely overlapping areas between "Fables" and "The Unwritten." In my mind, the overlapping bits cried out for some kind of exploration.

Have the two of you discussed where these two series or universes intersect? Are they two sides of the same coin, or is that too simple an explanation?

Carey: The only way to answer that fully would be to give a huge spoiler because there is an open question as to how these two story universes can meet up. I think particularly at one point in "Fables" continuity that meeting is possible.

For Tom, it's a natural progression. He's been into story realms; he's been into the world of specific fiction. The characters that he is meeting now are, in a sense, are not just storybook characters but the archetypes from which many, many storybook characters are derived. Now, he's taking one further step in his terms of his story exploration of the link between story and reality.

While this is being hyped as a "Fables"/"The Unwritten" crossover, the story is taking place only in the pages of "The Unwritten" --

Willingham: That's correct in the sense that it's not happening in the pages of "Fables," but the story that is being done in "The Unwritten" is possibly, and even likely, to have ripples within the "Fables" storyline.

On the final page of "The Unwritten" #49, Tom is welcomed -- and I use that term lightly -- by some of "Fables" most unlikely ambassadors: Mrs. Green, Mr. Grandours, Maddy, Ozma, Frau Totenkinder, Stinky and Gepetto. Well, I guess Stinky is pretty friendly. Obviously, nothing is done in "Fables" or "The Unwritten" 'just because,' so will the witches of the 13th Floor be playing a major role in the crossover?

Carey: If you subtract Stinky, like you said, yes, all of the other characters are from the 13th Floor. In that sense, they are certainly not a welcoming committee, but they are there for a purpose.

On the cover for "The Unwritten" #50, it appears Bigby Wolf is also playing a role, but isn't he still frozen in glass -- and somewhat unavailable -- thanks to Prince Brandish?

Willingham: In "Fables," yes, he's frozen in glass. I don't know how else to address that question without giving away too much story in "The Unwritten." Mike, do you have a way of addressing that question without giving anything away whatsoever?

Carey: [Laughs] Let's just say that my wish list of "Fables" characters that I was really, really desperate to write was very large, and thanks to Bill's generosity, I was able to write all or most of them. The characters that have been hinted at are only a small cross-section of who appears in the story.

Was there anything or any characters off-limits?

Willingham: I don't think so, and if there was anything that was out of bounds or off-limits, we would have addressed it right away before the serious talks about what the actual story would be started.

Mike and Bucky cooked this up in one of their diabolical over-there sessions, but when they came to us with the actual story, it was structured in such a way that no character was out of bounds or off-limits.

Carey: Yes -- everyone was available. There were some continuity issues that came up, but Bucky has been operating as continuity cop.

Willingham: Why do this at all, if it is any way restricted? The fun of these things is the la-la land.

Again, I know you don't want to give too much away, but how does the story open? What is Tom's entry point to the "Fables" universe once Frau Totenkinder and Gepetto have 'welcomed' him?

Carey: Tom has now been to Hell -- twice -- in "The Unwritten." He's been to the Greek underworld and he's been to the Judaic-Christian Hell, so at the end of "The Unwritten" #49, he makes the decision to, as he puts it, go deeper into the heart of things and try to figure out exactly what the source of his power is, what his true nature and, if possible, what his role is meant to be.

As a result of that decision, the first place he finds himself is the Deep Dark Woods surrounded by the 13th Floor Fables, and there are, right away, interlocking agendas and wheels within wheels. There is a huge amount at stake both for Tom and our world and the "Fables" characters.

I touched on this off the top when I mentioned Mike's initial inclination to include Superman in "The Unwritten," but at any point in the crossover, are the characters from either series explored as comic book characters within this story?

Carey: Do you mean are we doing a meta-meta-fiction? No, we're playing this absolutely fair. These are the characters that you already know and love, meeting in an unusual place and time. That's all I am going to say.

Willingham: It's interesting that Mike and Peter wanted to use Superman in "The Unwritten," because I think that's very much the kind of book in which you could potentially use Superman. I wanted to do a crossover between Batman and "Fables," because I think Batman is the one DC character that would be appropriate, at least in my mind, to fit into the "Fables" universe. Superman and Batman don't really belong in the same world together, except somehow it works in the DCU.

"The Unwritten" #50, the extra-sized landmark issue by Mike Carey and Peter Gross, lands in stores on June 26.

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