When writer Mike Carey teamed up with artist Peter Gross, something fantastic happened. They created the world of The Unwritten for Vertigo/DC Comics, the graphic novel that takes a collection of classical literature novels and explores them in such a unique way that leaves readers wanting more.
Imagine a world where you can literally step into a book and interact with the characters that you have read about over and over. This is something that main character, Tom Taylor, pulls off with gusto. If that was not enough, they tend to be singular in how self aware the story is. Many of the pages are actually supposed to be forums, blogs and twitter feeds of how actual people might react of something like this story could happen in reality. Instead of a simple formula being applied (Good guy meets bad guy, fights bad guy, wins) to each story, every book builds on the groundwork from the previous book. This allows for a series of smaller story arcs to help tell a story on a much grander scale.
The ideas presented in the series range from the influence of words on society to a satirical look at how readers view fictional characters. There is a seedy and mysterious shadow group that seems to have the ability to draft authors to write things as they would have them to be written, to push the sales of said works and, thus, influence society. There is a feeling of bated breath where these individuals are concerned and the main character, Tom. The reader can be certain that there will be a direct and awesome conflict, but the build up is delicious.
The artwork in The Unwritten compliments each book. Many of the books are even themed in interesting ways. For instance, one book is a choose your own adventure and another is themed after a dime store detective novel. This lends itself to a fun and sometimes nostalgic experience when reading the series.
One of best elements of the series are the characters. Aside from the three main protagonists (in an almost nod to the Harry Potter series as Tom Taylor shares many similarities with Harry, Savoy, his red-haired friend and Lizzie Hexam, his girl Friday), readers are exposed to very artistic renditions of Pinocchio, Frankenstein, and many more classical characters over the course of each book. These literary characters are not always as readers might imagine. Frankenstein, as an example, looks exactly like you might expect but often serves as a spiritual guide of sorts for Tom Taylor. His cryptic advice is always food for thought but light fare as it often leaves Tom and the reader wanting more.
As a word of warning, there are some more adult themes presented in the series, so it may not be suitable for very young audiences. It is not raunchy in any way, however there are some small nude events and some violent ones as well. Adult readers and mature young adult readers should be fine. The violence is, oddly, appropriate as it serves to color the characters that commit to the acts. The nudity is not extreme and is typically addressed for what it is.
Ultimately, this series is a refreshing look both at the classical works of literature that it showcases and at the act of reading itself. The Unwritten grabs readers and shoves them down a hallway full of darkness, cobwebs and dust but also longing, hope and something hauntingly familiar. If you haven’t begun to read this series, do yourself a favor and give it a try. It can be found in any comic shop, most bookstores and, Amazon.com.