Created by the hugely acclaimed "Lucifer" team of Mike Carey and Peter Gross, "The Unwritten" centers around a popular series of books written by Wilson Taylor and featuring a young boy wizard named Tommy Taylor. But Tommy Taylor isn't all fiction. He's actually based on the author's son, Tom - a 30-something Z-list celebrity who makes do living off appearances fees he earns for signing autographs at comics conventions. But now somebody, or more precisely, a cabal of cultish somebodies, are out to get him and it's up to our reluctant hero to find out why.
Teased as a conspiracy thriller not unlike "The Da Vinci Code," Vertigo's "The Unwritten" promises to examine a plot that spans all of literature, from the first clay tablets to the gothic castles where Frankenstein was conceived to the self-adjusting stories of the internet.
In the first part of our in-depth conversation with Carey and Gross, the creators discussed the origins of "The Unwritten" and its focus on the nature of story. In this final installment, Carey and Gross talk to CBR about news media and tabloid journalism essentially stealing story from the world of fiction and re-packaging it for misuse on the internet and the 24-hour news channels.
CBR: For every story about "The Dark Knight" - the film itself -- there were two about Heath Ledger and his dramatic death. And there have been as many stories written about J.K. Rowling as there have been Harry Potter. And let's not do a count of Brad Pitt stories versus "Curious Case of Benjamin Button" reviews. Would you agree our culture are obsessed with celebrity far more than art?
Peter Gross: You're absolutely right.
Mike Carey: During the run-up to the American presidential election, Peter was talking to me about this idea that politicians have a narrative. You buy into a politician's story. One of the reasons that people voted for Obama was because his story was striking and interesting and imaginatively engaging.
PG: And I think that's why they voted for Bush the second time. He was just a better story than Kerry was. And I was really worried when Sarah Palin came on board. That story can't be beat [laughs], the idea of her in the White House. It's like a train wreck, everyone knew it, but you can see people voting for it just because they've confused fiction and reality. It's like we want a soap opera in the White House because the soap operas on TV aren't good enough anymore.
What's does releasing a book through Vertigo mean for a project?
MC: Certainly, they're open to very grown-up storytelling. You can take the gloves off to a large extent when you're writing for Vertigo. I think we both have a lot of history with the Vertigo editors, so for us it's a proven way of working. It's a very comfortable and productive relationship. We're both very happy within that setup.
PG: They're highly trained on how to work with us now [laughs]. If we were trying to work the same way we're working on this book with someone else, they'd be freaking out, probably because we're constantly channeling new sources of information. We have something nailed down and totally ready to go and then we'll get an idea and it doesn't fundamentally change where we're going, but it changes what we're working on right in front of our faces to accommodate it. And Pornsak, the editor, has been great at adapting to that and fostering it, I think.
MC: I have to agree.
PG: This has been a really unusual way of working because I am so involved in the conceptual end of it with Mike. It's far more unusual than other people I've worked with.
MC: It's not something I'd be able to do with every artist I've worked with by any means. It works with Peter because A) we are very much on the same wavelength but also B) because we just know each other really well and we fit together very well as a team and something really cool happens when we're rolling ideas out backwards and forwards between us.
PG: There's a point where I get something from Mike and if it were a regular writer that would be it and it would be great. But when we throw it back and forth four more times, I think it gets four times better. I think this can't get any better and then Mike will come up with an idea, and I'll be like, "Oh my God, that's twice as good as what we were doing." It's really thrilling. It's really exciting working on the book. I think we really have a tiger by the tail with this thing.
MC: Do you want to mention the bathtub emails?
PG: [laughs] What happens is we'll talk about an idea, and I just kind of gestate with it. I tend to take long baths and that's where no one is bugging me and I think about it and I'll get these great ideas just based off of something Mike suggested. And then I'll write back, "I just had another bath epiphany."
Mike actually wrote back once, "I think I'm going to stop taking showers and start taking baths." [laughs] Every couple of months, I'll have a bath epiphany.
What does letterer Todd Klein bring to a project?
PG: He's great. I've wanted to work on a book with him for a long time because I just love his approach. And it was funny because I've actually known him for a while and I hadn't worked with him. And when we first came on board we asked him for a few crazy things and he was a little concerned. He was like, "I don't like doing that sort of thing." He kind of scared me. But then we explained it and he got it and he came back with something twice as good as what we asked him about doing. So it's just been great.
MC: We were going to have a trademark sign (â„¢) every time the Tommy Taylor name is mentioned. It was going to be followed by a (â„¢) and Todd said that's actually going to make people stumble. It's going to clutter up the lettering. It's going to make people hiccup every time they see it. And he came up with a very elegant solution.
PG: And he came up with the one page where they are showing the move clip. He ballooned it with those little radio-style balloons. And that wasn't our idea. And that was brilliant because when you read, all of sudden, it's like your reading it through a speaker. And it really differentiates it from the book. Because I was worried about how we are going to make it separate from the book scene at the beginning. And he did a great job.
And what about Chris Chuckry on colors?
PG: We're just getting the first issue colors in now. But they look great. We're going to get the rest in tomorrow but they look great. I'm really excited to have him. I think he's a great colorist.
Maybe we should have asked you about this first, but tell us about the title, "The Unwritten."
MC: [Laughs] Oh, man. My experience at Vertigo is you either get the title right at the outset, it's the first thing you come up with, or you agonize for months and it makes your life miserable. We had a working title and then at a certain point, people started saying, "It's not that good." It's descriptive but it's not sexy.
Can you share what that was?
MC: Yeah, we were going to call it "The Faction." Because it's a word that means like a "cabal," a group with a secret agenda, or at least a group that breaks away from another group. But also, it's a fusion of fact and fiction. It's like "mockumentary" or whatever. It was touching on some of the central themes of the book, but it wasn't a word that anybody would have strong associations to. So we started brainstorming other ideas. We must have gone through two or three hundred.
PG: It was awful. At this point, people in marketing at DC were really getting interested in the book, because they really liked the concept. So we started getting a lot of opinions coming in about the title. It was a mess. It took a long time. But we're really happy with "The Unwritten." One of the things we wanted, "The Faction" did well because it hit a lot of the beats with what the book was about, even though you had to figure it out. But "The Unwritten" hits a lot of the beats too. And it hits some more, some emotional beats too. I like the tone it brings to the relationship between Tom and his dad. There are so many unsaid things in life. So that aspect is really nice. And the secrets behind stories. The things that aren't said about what stories are about.
The Tommy books become a major franchise in the story of "The Unwritten" - movies, conventions, toys, everything. Do you think about those types of possible avenues when launching your own projects?
MC: It never crosses my mind, I have to admit. Even movie versions of things you've done, you have to have a totally Zen mentality. You have to assume it's never going to happen. If it does happen, it's great. But you'd be insane to plan for it.
PG: And I have worked on some things where you do try to work like that. And you can't help but think about it a little bit. But on this, totally not. We have on occasion sent emails like, "Wouldn't this actor be great as this character?" But it's more of a similarity in character. But the way we are structuring the story, I'm sure someone could do something with it but it is way more than a movie. You look at people's reaction to "Watchmen" and you realize, in some ways you can do so much more in a comic than you can in a book or a movie. So we're trying to do a lot more.
MC: It's a unique medium in that respect, isn't it? Because it brings together words and images that's very different than TV and movies.
And what about the tradepaperback market? Are you writing for that audience? "Y: The Last Man," "Fables," these books we've talked about do very well in that market. Are there are arcs within your story?
PG: Vertigo definitely looks at modeling it for the trade. That's one concession that, over the years, we have made because so much of it is trade sales. So we definitely structure the arc with that in mind.
MC: With that said, and we're using a model that we became very comfortable with when we were doing "Lucifer," which is to have longer arcs punctuated and interspersed with little one-off stories. And the one-off stories, for the most part, while they can be read free-standing, actually illuminate the central story from different angles. That's a really nice way of playing with the sequential structure and making it work for you.
PG: And the first one-off we're doing in "The Unwritten" is #5. We can say, it's about Kipling, right?
PG: But when I read Mike's script... well, I think it's the best script I've ever read by a comic writer. It's just a fantastic story. We were talking about having someone else draw it but I said, "I'm going to miss out on the Eisner for this one." It's such a great script so Mike added a little sequence at the end that flashed into the mina story so I get to draw a page, just in case [laughs].
"The Unwritten" #1 - 40 pages for $1.00 -- goes on sale May 13 from Vertigo.