Comics You Should Be Reading: The Unwritten
Take one part Harry Potter. Pour on the real-life story of Christopher Robin from Winnie the Pooh. Add a conspiracy theory thriller on the level of The DaVinci Code. Bring in some monsters, like Frankenstein and vampires but not those lame Twilight vampires. Mix in the genius mind of writer Mike Carey and ask Peter Gross to draw it on the comics page. You've got Unwritten, and you've got a Comic You Should Be Reading™.
Unwritten is the story of Tom Taylor and of Tommy Taylor. Tommy Taylor is the central character in the world's most popular children's book series, a 13-piece epic about a magical young boy that (in this world) puts Harry Potter to shame. Tom Taylor is the author of those books' son, and he's not too happy with all the similarities between himself and the fictional character, Tommy Taylor. Still, as a struggling actor and writer living in London, Tommy Taylor's his one connection to fame, so he'll ride it as much as he can. That means convention appearances, book signings, merchandise endorsement and basically anything else that lets him ride his departed dad's coattails while he tries to establish his own career.
While taking part in a panel discussion at the latest TommyCon, Tom Taylor gets ambushed by a fan with some troubling questions. It seems there aren't many dependable records of Tom's birth, or really of his existence at all before the Tommy Taylor novels. Could it be that Tom is actually Tommy? Is he a fictional character brought to life?
So begins volume one of Unwritten, one of the most interesting comics being put on a monthly basis from publisher DC through their branch aimed at more mature audiences, Vertigo. This book debuted in the summer of 2009 and has released at least one issue a month since. Along the way, it's managed to produce some of the most inventive comics work of the past few years, including one particularly brilliant issue (#17) composed completely in the style of a Choose-Your-Own-Adventure book. As Tom gets deeper and deeper into the mystery of his creation, he joins up with a group of allies that have literary connections of their own, like Lizzie Hexam (a lit. grad student with Dickensian overtones), Savoy (a journalist-turned-vampire) and, oh yeah, Frankenstein's monster.
Tom's group is pit against a collection of bad guys called The Cabal. Not much is known about them save their mission: to control the world's stories. They've existed for thousands of years, making authors tell the stories of their choosing by conscription or coercion. A string of flashback issues peppered throughout the series show the Cabal's involvement with specific writers throughout time, like #5, where we see how the seemingly immortal muttonchopped villain Pullman gets Rudyard Kipling to write stories about how awesome the British Empire is… and then we see how the Cabal responds when Kipling rebels. We don't know exactly why the Cabal wants the British Empire to prosper, but the way this series weaves together actual history and literature with fantastic ideas is a lot of fun. For any current or future English majors or reading nerds out there, this book can't be missed. You'll learn stuff you probably never knew about topics like literacy in ancient China and the life of famous political philosopher Thomas Hobbes, whose groundbreaking Leviathan plays a major role in this series.
But perhaps all of that makes the book sound more boring than it really is. As much as it's a lesson in literature, it's also a great adventure comic. Tom discovers pretty quickly that for some reason he actually has Tommy's magical powers, and he uses them to fight vampires, obsessed fans, literary agents and ancient monsters. Currently approaching its 34th issue, Unwritten has never been less than fascinating; Mike Carey and Peter Gross seemingly never run out of ideas for new ground to cover.
Now, you're probably thinking—34 issues in? How can I ever catch up?! Well, here's the awesome part. DC/Vertigo knows how potent Unwritten is in attracting new readers, so they've priced the first volume of the series (collecting issues #1-5) at the discounted $12.99 retail. You can also grab a digital copy of the extra-long first issue for only $1.99 off ComiXology. This writer's personal experience suggests that most people who start the series end up loving it, so if the preceding paragraphs pique your interest, give this book a chance. You'll see it truly is (cue theme music) a Comic You Should Be Reading.
Anyone else love Unwritten?