Mike Carey and Peter Gross’ Vertigo series, The Unwritten, has swooped up numerous award nominations and has found itself on the New York Times Best Sellers list twice already. It is a tale of intrigue, fantasy, father-son relationships, and finding your purpose in life. Tom Taylor has been on quite an adventure in the past year and a half and with the revelations of issue #16, it’s really only begun. Blog@ spoke to the author of the series, acclaimed writer Mike Carey about the ambitious undertaking he took with the most recent issue and what’s in store for Tom, Savoy and Lizzie. Caution, there are spoilers for those of you not caught up.
Blog@: So Mike, would you mind catching up on what is going on in the world of The Unwritten?
Mike Carey: Well, we’ve just come out of an arc that brought all our core cast together in London. Tom had come there, with Lizzie and Savoy, in the hope of meeting up with his father, Wilson, who was rumoured to be showing up for the launch of the fourteenth and final Tommy Taylor novel. But the novel was a forgery, designed to flush Wilson out of hiding, and so the cabal were there too, in force, to catch him and dispose of him if he did show. And just to make things even more complicated, Tom’s fictional nemesis, Count Abrosio, was also waiting in the wings, having apparently possessed the French prison governor, Chadron, after the death of his children at Donostia.
Havoc of various kinds was duly wreaked, and when the dust settled, Wilson was dead – but not before he was able to meet Tom one last time and give him some hints as to his true intentions. The fourteenth book was published as planned, but it wasn’t the cabal’s fake fourteenth book – it was a book written by Wilson and substituted for the cabal’s text by a very complex sleight-of-hand.
This month’s issue, #17, has Tom and his little posse dealing with the fall-out from these events – and particularly with Lizzie’s trauma. Lizzie had tried to get back to what she thought was her home, in the Dickens novel OUR MUTUAL FRIEND, only to find that there was already a Lizzie Hexam in residence. Now she’s apparently in a coma, her mind having shut down from shock.
Blog@: The Unwritten #17 has an unusual format, something you don’t really see in comics. Can you tell us about this?
Carey: The format is Choose Your Own Adventure. We decided that since Lizzie’s back story actually isn’t just one story but several mutually contradictory stories that actually would be very cool to tell all the different versions of her past. The one that she actually believes is her past, the other possibilities that were raised in the course of the series and to allow the reader to experience all of them and to then reach their own conclusion on who or what Lizzie really is.
Blog@: What made you want to do an issue in this style?
Carey: It was because of Lizzie’s back story, or origin if you like, is confused and very unclear. What we wanted to do is tell her story without flattening the probability weight. Without letting the cat out of the box, so that the other Lizzies are still possible.
Blog@: This feat must have taken some considerable time to do. In comparison to a regular issue, how long did this take to write and plan out what you wanted to do?
Carey: It took, I would say, about three times as long as a regular issue [laughs]. It was fiendishly complicated. I wrote out all of the narrative strands out, sequinstially, and then we went through an edited draft of that. I submittted it to my editor, we talked it through, I revised that, and then we started to work on restructing it so that the narrative strands were woven. We put the choices in and tried to make the stories play off each other in interesting ways so that the various narratives are actually visually presented to you. So as you are reading one strand, you’re glimpsing bits of the others, seeing other possibilites. That was what took ages.
There is a photograph online on the Vertigo blog of Pornsak [Pichetshote], our editor, with all of the pages spread out across the floor of his apartment. I was doing something here and Peter [Gross] was doing something similar in Minnesota. We were talking on the phone and we were haggling on what would work, and I think what we came up with works really well.
Blog@: So it’s safe to assume you’re not planning anything similar with Tommy or Savoy?
Carey: No, we’re going to have to raise the stakes next time [laughs].
Blog@: How many more issues are left in this particular arc?
Carey: Well the Choose Your Own Adventure was a [one-shot], issue #18 will also be a [one-shot] about Pullman and the cabal and then we have a new arc starting with issue #19 which will be a five-parter. That’s called “Leviathan”.
Blog@: You’ve compared this story to, not so much the mystical backdrop of Harry Potter, but A. A. Milne’s son, Christopher Robin Milnes who was not happy with his father using his name. Even with Wilson gone, will the two still have a connection as the series progresses?
Carey: Certainly we have some major revelations coming up about Tom and his relationship with Wilson, about what Wilson’s done to him, about what’s at stake, and his struggle with the cabal. In “Leviathan”, Tom is following a clue that Wilson left for him which promises to take him “the source”. The source of what, it’s not quite clear. It’s something essential to Wilson’s plan and Tommy’s identity.