The Wall Street Journal recently talked to writer Mike Carey about his new hit series:
“The Unwritten” conjures a world where the line between the words of books and the events of real life are heavily blurred. Penned by English writer Mike Carey and inked by Peter Gross, the comic book series follows the apocryphal world of Tommy Taylor, son of a famed author, Wilson Taylor. Wilson, the father, wrote a dozen books called the “Tommy Taylor” series about the exploits of a boy wizard before disappearing and leaving Tommy an orphan. But when characters from the fictional books start appearing in Tommy’s real world, he’s sent into a bizarre, globe-trotting hunt starring some of the English language’s greatest heroes and villains. Speakeasy had a chat with Carey to talk about the series, which recently made the best-seller list:
The Wall Street Journal: How did you first get into comics?
Mike Carey: I was a journalist, although in a very small way. I wrote reviews and feature articles for amateur fanzines. Then I gradually backed into submitting scripts to some of the editors I met through that. It took a long, long time, but that was mainly because I was very tentative about it.
Where did the initial idea for “the Unwritten” come from?
Peter Gross and I worked together for seven years on a comic book series named Lucifer. When that ended, we wanted to team up on another project, but we couldn’t get anything going. We must have pitched a couple of dozen different ideas to DC, but nothing stuck. Then we met up at San Diego Comic-Con in 2007 and we decided we’d give it another try.
I think the core idea was always this question of how stories impact the world. Peter wanted our protagonist to be someone who we follow both in fiction and in reality — someone whose life has been fictionalized, with various unexpected consequences. Then we got talking about the cult of celebrity and about the increasingly swift traffic in idea-space because of the internet revolution, cell phones and so on. Somehow it all coalesced into something that felt a bit zeitgeist-y.
What books did you read to inspire the characters?
Probably the most important source for me was the autobiography of Christopher Milne — or, rather, the first volume, “The Enchanted Places.” This is the Christopher Robin of the Winnie the Pooh books and he writes very eloquently about the dilemma of being famous as somebody else’s character — about what that does to your sense of self. Tom Taylor owes a lot to Chris Milne. Although I have to admit, I’d only read a very little of the book when we first came up with the idea for “The Unwritten.” I went back and read it all later, and it was the inspiration for some of Tom’s many humiliations.
You make a joke about Harry Potter in the series. What is the interplay between your story and Rowling’s?
I think we’re just mining the same archetypes. We wanted our protagonist to be a boy wizard because it fits on a lot of levels and makes a lot of things possible. If there’s magic in the story — I mean, in the story-within-a-story — then we get to play with the suggestion that it’s crossed over into reality in some way, and made impossible things possible. Also, there are resonances to the boy wizard persona that everyone will get very readily. It’s that rather than any detailed set of correspondences or homages.
Another element in the mix for us is that Peter wrote and drew for many years another boy wizard character, Tim Hunter, in the series Books of Magic: we’re getting a bit meta-textual, but hopefully not in a dry or clever-clever way.