14th March 2010
The Unwritten: Tommy Taylor and the Bogus Identity
by Mike Carey and Peter Gross
Vertigo Comics, release date 26/03/10
Review by Gavin O'Reilly
Having finally given in to some pressure, I have recently been playing catch-up on the phenomena that is “Harry Potter”. It seemed sensible for an aspiring writer to see what exactly it is about that series that has made everyone tick quite so loudly. I am about to begin book five, arguably in the middle of the saga. So when I heard about “The Unwritten” being a tale of a Harry Potter-esque character called Tommy Taylor, who within this comic is the star of his own series of books, but is also in the real life of this world, a twenty something living off the fame his father created for him by basing the character on him, it piqued my interest, and seemed to be an interesting prospect by way of diversion. It is however, as many critics have now pointed out, much more than that.
We see the now grown up Tom (as opposed to his Tommy kid self character in the books which has made him so wildly world famous) making his way by via signings at Tommy Taylor conventions, his patient and well informed agent in tow.
In fact, the real joy of reading this series is seeing how Carey is connecting literary works of the past, in a similar vein to that of the Fables series, or Alan Moore’s League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, and this comes off as clever but never contrived. Seeing how this may connect to our Tom gives the sense of a big and exciting idea behind this series. The first part of this collection is made up of the initial 4 issue story arc, followed up nicely by issue 5, which expands on the literary puzzle and serves to contextualize the story just read, while providing depth and volume to the framework laid out in the four preceding issues, this little tale stands tall on its own as a story.
Throughout the tone and voice is not too light hearted, but certainly isn’t taking itself too seriously either. It has definite adult themes, but these are not played for shock value, and are simply part of the story. It could be argued the tone of voice is simply that of real life, and this feels genuine. This aspect of realism without being too gristly or grim lends itself well to a tale concerning itself with magical fantasy becoming very much a real prospect. This is captured well at the end of issue two, when Sue (who the “Hermione” character appears to be based on in the book, though she has a very different and curious character and relationship to Tom in this reality than childhood friend) gives a wonderful example of how “the truth” is only ever a matter of perspective and personal opinion, briskly informing Tom that it is most certainly not a concept to get too hung up on.
The art is solid, it lacks a certain wow-factor many readers have become accustomed to in most mainstream comics, but that is not needed for this tale. What is needed is a strong sequential story-telling eye to handle pages of part prose, close-ups on clues such as maps, and media like message boards and news broadcasts. Many artists would fail in keeping the reader involved here, but Gross kept me in the story without feeling like I had broken out of the piece once. Maybe the idea of characters actually coming in and out of literature into the real world has helped to blur the boundaries between onlooker as a reader, and actual possible participant for us in this world to theirs. Eerie.
For those who still hunger for a bigger-feeling aesthetic appeal, it is succinctly provided by the colour drenched covers by Yuko Shinzo, complimented in this collection by a cover sketch bonus gallery feature.
There are a good few nice extras in this collection, including a piece showing the intro of the first issue as it was originally planned; in prose form. This extra shows the process Gross took to change this into comic-strip form for reader-friendly purposes and getting an insight to that particular creative process is a real geek-treat, and strengthens the notion that this series has specific appeal to comic and literary nuts alike. Another nice part of this package is the intro by Bill Willingham, the creator of Fables. As the creator of Fables he has some authority on the prospect of literary worlds blurring with each other’s and our own world. Interesting in this short piece is that he calls the second half of the last century the “Superhero Age of Comics” and goes onto explain how “The Unwritten” falls into the new age of “LAF”. This falls into the same stable as Fables, the L standing for Literature based fantasy, A for animal tale, and F for Fairy tale. I can see the pattern of which he speaks, but it just isn’t as catchy as the “Superhero Age of Comics”. The industry may have to try a bit more for a tag to catch on into the popular vernacular.
The Unwritten is a clever marvel of a page turner, and should grip readers whether they are staunch comic fans or not. The excitement lies ahead as Mike Carey writes the unwritten.