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The Greatest UNWRITTEN Interview of them All: Part Three

Written by Christian Hoffer and GLX on Friday, March 11 2011 and posted in Features

The final part to the epic Unwritten interview featuring answers to all of your burning questions!

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 final edition of the three part interview, Mike and Peter answer reader questions ranging from their response to DC's recent personnel shakeup to the reasons behind their collaborative success.  The first and second parts of the interview can be found here and here.

The Outhouse: Our first question comes from Chesscub, who asks how you can be so awesome month after month?

Peter Gross: Lots of sleep and clean living and exercise. [laughs]

Mike Carey: I really think we bring out the best in each other.

Peter Gross: Yeah, I think we challenge each other to greatness every month. If you saw the first version of an issue and thought it was pretty good, but saw it after all the iterations and questions, it comes out so much deeper than what it originally thought it would be.

Cover from The Unwritten #22
OH: Here's a couple of questions from SilverPheonix. His first question is concerning the "Drawing the Line at $2.99" campaign that carried over to Vertigo. How does the loss of two pages affect your story going forward?

PG: That's a good question. Mike?

MC: Well, I'm fortunate to be working with an artist who could fit fifty panels on a page and not make it seem crowded. So the pacing's not going to change at all.

PG: I'm worried that it'll be harder to build subplots. I expect what will happen is that every arc will be an issue longer that it was originally intended to be, so we'll actually have more pages per arc. I'm doing layouts for issues 25 and I keep saying to Mike that I wish we had those extra pages back. If we had those two extra pages, we could find some room to deal with all things going on in that arc. But that's the nature of the business. It's always about how much you have to cut out. Now we just have to cut out a little more.

MC: Every time you tell one story, you're choosing not to tell two or three others. It's the process of narrowing it down. The first half of any book's run is about expansion while the second half is always about narrowing the story down.

PG: I would like us not to have to do that. If there's a story we want to tell, I just want to tell it. The biggest problem is the flow. We might have ten great stories to tell, but we can't take ten months to tell them because it'll slow down the narrative. I wish there was one month that we could put out ten issues of The Unwritten so we could tell all these little side stories. That would be harder than the Choose Your Own Adventure story!

MC: [laughs]

OH: SilverPheonix's other question reads "One of the biggest stories recently has been DC's restructuring of Vertigo, which included the departure of Pornsak Pichenshot as the editor of the book. How do you feel his departure from DC and Vertigo affects the book and how do you think it will affect Vertigo moving forward?"

MC: Pornsak left his mark on the book in an indelible way. He helped to define the core characters in situations and helped shape the process in which we operate. Obviously, it won't be quite the same with the new editorial team. We have a set of approaches that are unique to the Unwritten and we'll adapt them and survive.

PG: What I learned in the first month without him is how good of an editor he was. Without him there, I've realized a million ways he helped keep the flow of communication going.

When I'm reading Mike's script, I have a million little points of clarity to make. I'd always ask Pornsak those things and vet them. Mike's writing multiple books and it's hard for him if I'm sending him twenty emails a day asking things like "Should Savoy's eyebrow be arced up here or not? Is he supposed to look embarrassed?" Mike then has to go back into his story and figure out what that moment was. Pornsak would be my sounding board for all of that so the process is very different for me. I'm still trying to get around that and still make it work for Mike. It's amazing how much an editor can affect the way you work. You don't realize they aren't there anymore.

MC: Yes, that's true.

OH: You have a new editor, correct?

MC: We have a new editor. Karen Berger is our new editor and Joe Hughes is our new assistant on the book. We've both worked with Karen before and we have a really good working dynamic with her. She's the person who created the Vertigo imprint and it's very exciting to be working with her. Joe is a relatively newcomer to Vertigo but is a really great guy and is a really enthusiastic editor.

PG: And he loves the book!

MC: I think we're in a very good position moving forward.

PG: They're taking a lot of care with Unwritten and are making sure it has a good home in this next period of development.

Cover from The Unwritten #23
OH: This question comes from Zero. He asks Mike what makes it so easy to work with Peter and vice versa?

PG: It's kind of an amazing thing that we get along so well with me growing up in Minnesota and Mike growing up in England. We're close enough in age that maybe we share background and experiences story wise....

It's always been very easy to work with Mike. I feel very in sync with the kind of stories he tries to tell. I've always thought since Lucifer that I had the ability to create visuals for the story that's even closer that what he's calling for. I try to say, "This is the story you're really trying to tell here!" and that's what's led to our good collaboration.

MC : I always go back to issue 5 of Lucifer, which is when Peter came onto the book. It was a crazy arc called the House of Windowless Rooms. It was a visualization of the Japanese underworld, which included crazy visuals like the souls of the dead trapped in little rooms with the souls of sleeping dreamers pouring through them like water. All these things I was asking for was very difficult to visualize them at all. And to visualize them clearly and differently and in a way to move the story forward was a big ask. And Peter just rolled with everything in the script and came back with jaw-droppingly beautiful renderings of these places and this cast of thousands. I realized then that there was nothing I could throw at him that he wouldn't be able to render.

PG: It's been a really rewarding collaboration. I can probably count on one hand the number of times that I've gotten a script from Mike and not understood what he's after. It's really rare to have to write to him and go "I don't understand what you're trying to say here." I always kind of know where he's going and it's fun to dig into it.

OH: Here are a couple questions from Brad Thomson, who runs our podcast. His first question is "How do you try not to be like Fables but use the same general pool of characters since they use characters from fiction as well?" Has that been a concern for you guys at all?

Interior art from The Unwritten #21
: I think it was a little bit of a concern early on when we realized that there was an element that's similar to Fables when looked at in a certain way. But I think because our book is about the nature of stories, there are connections to a lot of different types of storytelling. You could say that we have a connection with Y: The Last Man or Preacher or any great Vertigo book and other things beyond that. But we realized that what we were talking about was a very different way of using these characters than what Bill is doing with Fables. The truth of the matter is that Bill is a huge fan of The Unwritten. Whenever I see him, he's always trying to figure out how to do a crossover between our two books. In the end, we're talking about how these stories resonate through the real world and Bill dealing with the characters in these stories in a very different way.

OH: Brad's other question is if we'd ever see any historical figures from nonfictional works or biographies or even historical figures in fictional work. Will the Unwritten ever visit historical figures?

MC: That's a very intriguing question. We do see historical figures in issue 5 and in another issue coming up where we look at things like the origins of the printing press. But fictionalized versions of historical figures, that's not something that we've thought about. That does raise some very interesting possibilities.

PG: I think we have talked about is whether a character like Jesus is a historical figure or a fictional character. There are some characters that walk that line and I think those characters, probably not Jesus but others, that have become fictionalized would become open to us.

But that's a good question about straight historical figures. What we do know about those characters comes from stories and that falls under our masthead of what we're trying to do.

OH: One last reader question which comes from me. Can we get some more Baron Munchausen?

PG: We'll add that to the request box! You get a lot of the Baron in issue 23.

OH: One last question, what would you tell people to convince them to pick up the Unwritten?

MC: Buying this is like buying a dozen other books because we steal all the best bits from those other books.

PG: If you love stories, then you'll love this series!

OH: Thank you very much. It's been an honor to speak to both of you.

The Unwritten Volume 3: Dead Man's Knock will hit comic book stores March 23rd and everywhere books are sold March 29th.

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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