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“For Real True is only true now, Story True is true forever”

February 11, 2011

The Unwritten is an ongoing comic published by DC’s Vertigo, by Mike Carey. (Who was a guest at Octocon in 2009 and 2010, and I’m kicking myself that I didn’t make it to either)

When I read the first issue, I was gripped by the idea that I’d discovered something very special indeed. The beginnings of a Masterpiece – something that would join the likes of V for Vendetta, Sandman, and Y: The Last Man on that list of graphic novels that you give to people who don’t read comics to demonstrate that the medium is home to some truly great stories. Twenty two issues in, and I’m still convinced this is true.

It’s hard to imagine a premise that would enthrall me more – I  don’t want to go into too much detail, because the way Carey develops the big picture of Tommy Taylor’s world is fantastic, and best experienced through Carey’s words and Gross’ pictures. But in short, it’s a story about the power of stories, about how the stories we tell shape our world.

The writing is incredibly well informed, and the love and respect that Carey has for the subject matter comes off the pages in waves. It isn’t simply concerned with the Fictions, but with the facts related to those fictions – the places and people that surrounded the authors when they created their stories. The Unwritten blends the fact and the fiction of storytelling with grace and precision. It also seamlessly integrates social media and news, the other great tellers of stories, into his grand narrative. Every kind of storytelling matters to the plot.

Speaking of which, twenty two issues into the story, the plot continues to develop well. The release of information is paced beautifully, in which you have a growing sense of understanding of the stakes and of the world, while still managing to surprise and delight you with its twists. Every time the plot turns, you sit back in awe, then it dawns on you that it makes complete sense (though that realisation may take another issue or two.) Which is a rare and special thing – a lot of the time, SHOCKING TWISTS don’t feel right after they’ve happened – they jar the plot and have it change direction all of a sudden. Carey’s twists don’t alter the direction of the plot so much as they clarify your understanding of it. When your eyes widen in surprise, new things come into focus.

While it’s Carey’s writing and vision that really has me awestruck, it would be unfair not to mention Peter Gross’ art – no graphic novel works on words alone, and Gross brings the whole thing to life. The pencils are relatively simple, but he evokes the different genres of stories involved very well indeed. It’s not gorgeous, forget-the-words art. It’s simple, in the sense that it’s non distracting. It immerses you in the story, and it’s perfect for The Unwritten. Yuko Shumizo’s covers are also excellent, really well designed and complex.

There’s plenty more to go in The Unwritten (I hope,) but it has continued to fascinate and delight me in a way that nothing else in comics has been doing these past two years. The end of issue twenty two has me enthralled; Another facet of the tapestry is becoming clear, a dawning sense on an unfinished idea that I know Carey will crystallize for me when I pick up the next issue.

I can’t recommend this book enough. The first two collections are out in trade, and volume 3 is out at the end of March.

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