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The Greatest UNWRITTEN Interview of them All: Part Two

Written by Christian Hoffer and GLX on Wednesday, March 09 2011 and posted in Features

Mike Carey and Peter Gross talk about the upcoming third volume of The Unwritten, the critically-acclaimed "Choose Your Own Adventure" story and more in the second part of a massive three-part Unwritten interview!

Mike Carey and Peter Gross form the creative team behind two of the greatest comic series of the modern era, Lucifer and The Unwritten.  With the third trade due to hit comic book stores March 23rd (and all other bookstores March 29th), both Mike and Peter took time out of their busy schedules to talk with the Outhouse about all things Unwritten.  In the second part of a three-part interview, Mike and Peter discuss their third volume of the series, Dead Man's Knock, as well as the critically-acclaimed "Choose Your Own Adventure" story.  The first part of the interview can be found here.

The Outhouse: Let's talk about the upcoming third trade. Among the issues collected in the trade is the "Create Your Own Adventure" story in Issue #17. It's been widely acclaimed as a top comic in 2010 and how innovative it was. How did you come up with that?

Cover to The Unwritten #17
Peter Gross
: It was actually the idea of our editor, Pornsak Pichetshote. We're always talking about what genre stories we could play around with in The Unwritten and he said "You should do a Choose Your Own Adventure sometime." We thought that was a really good idea. As we were starting to develop the next year's worth of stories, we decided that was the best way to tell Lizzie's story since her story literally is a choose your own adventure story. When we started to do that book, it was a tremendous amount of work and editing and planning.

Mike Carey: It was a brilliant idea, but it almost killed us. We realized that even with the extended page count, it wasn't going to be enough to cover all the twists and turns of the narrative. So I said to Peter...or maybe Peter said to me "Let's turn the pages around."

PG: It sounds like the stupid I would have thought to kill myself with! It only made it twice as complicated...four times as complicated after we decided to turn it sideways and double the page count. You would not believe the complexity of trying to figure out what was going where and how to keep it all straight.

MC: We ended up with the pages literally strewn across the floor dealt out like a deck of cards. It was just madness.

PG: When you mentioned regrets on The Unwritten, I don't have regrets, but I had no idea what Issue 17 would look like until it was printed and arranged in the book and stapled together. Now that I've seen the finished product, I know I could have done it better. I think it turned out great, but I know I could have done it better. 

OH: How long did it take to produce that issue?

PG: I don't even remember. We brought in Ryan Kelly to do finishes because we knew it was going to be a lot of work, but I have no idea how long it took from induction to completion.

MC: Bear in mind, we did it in the regular monthly timeline. It took vastly more person hours to produce it. We were all completely involved and sucked into it. Even Yuko Shimizu's cover was a completely fantastic statement about the idea. It easily took twice as long, maybe even three times as long.

Cover to The Unwritten #20
: About Yuko's covers, what's really amazing about her covers is that they look great before you read the book and think that it's an interesting cover. But after you read the book, you can look at the cover again and get a completely different meaning from them. It's a really rich experience to look at the covers after you read the book. There are not a lot of comic book covers that can do that.

MC: Do you have a favorite, Peter? 

PG: I think that one from 17 is right up there. That one is extraordinary. And I think a couple covers from the Leviathan arc are pretty extraordinary one too.

MC: I think my favorite one is the one where adult Tom and Lizzie are looking at the children Tom and Lizzie in the dollhouse.

PG: I also really like the one from issue 16 where Wilson Taylor is pulling the puppet strings of words from up in the clouds. That's one's pretty extraordinary too. 

MC: Yeah, that one's terrific.

OH: So are we ever going to find out what the real ending is to the Choose Your Own Adventure Story? Or are you content with leaving the answer ambiguous?

PG: I'm sure we'll come back to that question, but I would say that the one thing you can figure from us is that every question we answer in The Unwritten will just lead to another question. The nature of fiction, and of this book, is to keep asking better questions. 

MC: We triangulate on the truth, but we don't necessarily get to one absolutely guaranteed unambiguous answer.

PG: Maybe we will by the end. There will definitely be some things that are unambiguous by the end of the story. But part of the question of the book is what is real and what is fiction and when does it not matter? 

Interior art from The Unwritten #17
OH: What's real and what's fiction seems to be one of the major themes of The Unwritten. Was that always the plan to make that one of things you wanted to talk about or did that just evolve into that?

MC: It was always are intention to explore the interactions between fiction and reality and the influence that fiction has over reality. As we've gone on, we've just expanded into more arenas.

I remember a conversation that Peter and I had towards the end of the first year. Peter had read an article on a psychology website about the nature of consciousness. It was the idea that your identity is effectively a story. You create a coherent narrative out incoherent details and that narrative is yourself. We've been influenced by ideas like that which has sort of changed that central theme as weve gone along.

PG: Even from the start, the original title of the series was Faction, and it was the idea of the intersection between fact and fiction. So from the beginning, we wanted to talk about where that mix falls and that fiction has real consequences in our life.

For me, I wanted to do a story that explains to me why I like to do stories.   For instance, I'm an atheist, but when I do a story I can believe in God in the context of the story with complete fervor. I wanted to explore those ideas about how we can believe things in stories fine but not believe them in reality. It's a lot of big questions.

MC: There's a sense that ultimately that we don't live in the real world. We live in the narrative that we create in that world, overlapping and interacting with other people's narratives. Everyone's narrative is a little different. When two people are in a relationship, they see that relationship in different terms. They each have a story and those stories interlap, but they don't exist in the exact same space. 

PG: Also, we're in the middle of a media revolution, a new age of information and we want to look at the consequences of that. With twitter, facebook, and uploading photos, all of the sudden everyone is a writer and everyone is telling a story. Is there something about fiction that's bigger than that? Is the fact that everyone's doing it damaging what fiction is or is it complimenting what fiction is? I'm really fascinated by that and the consequences of the way and the speed that our information is passing right now. 

Cover to The Unwritten: Volume 3
OH: There's a major death in the third trade. Without spoiling it too much for the people who haven't read it yet, why did that person have to die and what will be the ramifications from that?

PG: Well, the major story of the third trade is the release of the fourteenth Tommy Taylor book, which was always rumored to be in existence. There's all these plots about whether it's the real book or is it a ploy to bring Wilson Taylor out of hiding and whether Tom going to reunite with his father and get the answers to his questions.

In this arc, a major death does occur that actually was not planned. I remember when I wrote to Mike and told him that we should kill off this character!

MC: [laughs] It wasn't planned to happen so soon in the story! Again, it's one of the great things about The Unwritten. We accelerated the plot along. It was evitable that character would die. But that he/she would die at the end of second year, it changes Tom's situation a lot. It closes down some possibilities and opened up others. And now, almost a year later, we're still dealing with the ramifications of that death.

OH: What can we expect to see in the coming months of Unwritten?

MC: Well, after the third trade comes the Moby Dick arc, which contains huge expediential development in terms of Tom's interaction with stories, not only with his ability to enter into stories but also some of the mechanisms that he uses and maybe even a revelation about what his power is in all of this and what is the ultimate source of the potentiality of the seeming magic that he's been using throughout the story.

In terms of single issues, we'll be seeing the return of a character that we both love of a lot but have seen very little of thus far. We wanted to revisit him and see what has happened to him since last time.   After that...well things have changed. It's a bit of a road trip, isn't it Peter?

Cover to The Unwritten #16
: I know some people are curious how long the book is going to go and where we are in it. I was thinking we should have a slide bar at the beginning of each issue telling how far we are into the story...because things do change. I was telling Mike last week that I felt that issue 24 was the end of the first third of the book. Mike felt that issue 19 was the end of the first act.

Basically, we're just into the story now and we don't really know what the final issue count will be. We still have a lot of story to tell you. I'd say 75 issues at least but I don't know what Mike has to say about all that. 

MC: That sounds about right to me. It's funny you should mention that, Peter, it sounds like the progress bar on the Kindle, which tells you what percentage of the book you've already read.

PG: I'm actually pitching for that. I think it would be interesting to see it change. You know, like if we realized we needed another twenty issues to finish the story and you see the progress bar jump back the next issue. You'd know we had just changed something.

MC: [laughs]

Tomorrow, the Outhouse wraps up the interview with a bevy of reader questions covering everything from character requests to queries about recent personnel changes within DC.

Written or Contributed by: Christian Hoffer and GLX

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About the Author - Christian

Christian is the exasperated Abbott to the Outhouse's Costello. When he's not yelling at the Newsroom for upsetting readers or complaining to his wife about why the Internet is stupid, he sits in his dingy business office trying to find new ways to make the site earn money. Christian is also the only person in history stupid enough to moderate two comic book forums at once.


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