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Mike Carey & Peter Gross – The Unwritten, Vol. 1: Tommy Taylor and the Bogus Identity

March 24, 2010

30. Tommy Taylor and the Bogus Identity by Mike Carey, Peter Gross, Chris Chuckry, Jeanne McGee, Todd Klein, Yuko Shimizu (2010)
The Unwritten, Vol. 1

Length: 144 pages

Genre: Graphic Novel, Fantasy

Started: 20 March 2010
Finished: 20 March 2010

Where did it come from? The library.
Why do I have it? Nymeth’s fault. I went and requested it from the library immediately upon reading her review, and man, am I ever glad I did.

What if H. Potter
grew up, came to life, and made
you call him Harold?

Summary: Tom Taylor is the adult son of Wilson Taylor, author of the famous beloved Tommy Taylor series of books. Wilson disappeared mysteriously after writing the thirteenth book, and Tom is now making a living on the convention circuit, although he’s getting tired of people assuming he’s the boy from his father’s books. One day, a woman shows up at a convention with some very disturbing questions about Tom’s past, and suddenly, everything Tom thought he knew about who he is starts to unravel.

This collection ends with a one-off issue from the point of view of Rudyard Kipling, which doesn’t bear directly on the main plot but does shed a little light on the means and motives of the villains of the story.

Review: In his introduction, Bill Willingham (of Fables fame), points out that while the last century of comics was dominated by the superheroes, the new trend in comics is the rise of the fantasy stories, animal stories, and literature-based comics. He dubs this the “LAF Triumverate,” and while I agree that the three are inextricably linked, I think he doesn’t really stress the main common theme that holds them together: LAF comics are, almost without exception, stories about stories. And that, of course, is why I love them, and why I thought “The Unwritten” was so great.

Seriously, I feel like “The Unwritten” was written specifically for me, it’s got so many elements that I love. It’s a story about stories, and the power of stories to shape our lives and the world around us. It is chock-full of literary references that are actually relevant to the story. It gave me a chance to apply one of my favorite tags on LibraryThing, “permeable boundaries between fiction and reality” (otherwise only used for Cornelia’s Inkworld books and Jasper Fforde’s Thursday Next series.) It’s got a good and mysterious mystery set up in this first volume, with plenty of clues doled out and a serious sense of urgency. It’s got splashes of horror, but also has this wonderful, witty, dark sense of humor about the whole thing – I particularly love the zealots who claim Tommy is the Messiah: quite literally, the “word made flesh.” I feel like it’s also got a bit of the social commentary about the public’s obsession with Harry Potter-esque fantasy worlds that Lev Grossman was shooting for with The Magicians, but it manages it more subtly and evenly. Overall, this had pretty much everything I could possibly want out of a comic, and I can only hope that Carey and Gross manage to keep this series at the high level with which they started out. 5 out of 5 stars.

Recommendation: The two big and obvious read-alike recommendations are Sandman and Fables – if you like those, you’ll almost certainly like The Unwritten as well. If you haven’t read those – or haven’t read many/any graphic novels in general – but if the idea of metafiction, or stories about stories, appeals to you, then you should check out The Unwritten for sure.

This Review on LibraryThing | This Book on LibraryThing | This Book on Amazon

Other Reviews: Adventures with Words, Bibliofreakblog, Jenny’s Books, Largehearted Boy, The Literary Omnivore, Things Mean a Lot
Have you reviewed this book? Leave a comment with the link and I’ll add it in.

First Line: Peter stared in awe at the Gossamoks’ bodies, lying around the ancient stone altar in twisted heaps.

Cover Thoughts: So brilliant. I love that it’s unclear if he’s being sucked up into the swirling words, or if he’s pushing his way out. The text that wraps around his arm says “Stories are the only thing worth dying for”, a quote from the book and an interesting thesis around which to base a series.

7 Comments leave one →
  1. March 24, 2010 8:53 am

    I saw this first in someone’s Waiting on Wednesday post, and immediately wanted to read it just because of the cover. Well done whoever designed that one! But of course it was a pleasure to find the comic even better than the cover. Lovely Mike Carey.

    • March 24, 2010 9:10 am

      Jenny – I think all of the individual-issue covers are done by Yuko Shimizu. I don’t think I’ve read anything else by Mike Carey, although I’ve got his Sandman Presents book out from the library as well, which I will probably get to this weekend.

  2. March 24, 2010 4:35 pm

    yay! I’m so glad you loved it too! I felt it had been written for me too – I guess it was written for all of us metafiction junkies out there :D I hope the rest of the series is as good as this.

    PS: Mike Carey’s Sandman spinoff, The Furies, is the only one that I felt was true to the tone/mood of the origina series, and that’s saying a lot. His style is different than Neil Gaiman’s, but they do seem to share a very similar sensibility.

    • March 30, 2010 8:31 am

      Nymeth – I can’t believe the next Unwritten isn’t coming out until August! How will I manage the wait?

  3. March 24, 2010 7:56 pm

    I adore this series. It’s one of the few comic books I follow individually, although I’m sadly missing two issues at the moment. I’m so glad you loved it!

    • March 30, 2010 8:32 am

      Omni – I’ve never read single issues, but this series is almost enough to make me want to start.

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