‘Unwritten: Apocalypse’: Mike Carey, Peter Gross begin Tom’s finale

Jan. 20, 2014 | 11:00 a.m.

"The Unwritten: Apocalypse" No. 1 begins the 12-part conclusion of Mike Carey's and Peter Gross' series, which began in 2009. Cover by Yuko Shimizu. [Warning: This gallery contains profanity.] (Vertigo)

Tom Taylor has seen the end of one world only to hurtle through “Apocalypse” in another.

The real adult human/fictional boy wizard of Mike Carey’s and Peter Gross’ literature-rich Vertigo series “The Unwritten” had been pulled into the mature-fairy-tale world of Bill Willingham’s and Mark Buckingham’s “Fables” for a story that ended in “Unwritten” No. 54, released in October, with cataclysmic results.

Now, after a short hiatus, the story continues with Wednesday’s “The Unwritten: Apocalypse” No. 1, the beginning of a 12-part story that will end the series that the former “Lucifer” collaborators launched back in 2009. Hero Complex readers can get a look at the covers and two interior pages from the first issue in the gallery above or in larger versions in the links below.

“The Unwritten: Apocalypse” No. 1: Cover | Variant | Page [link contains profanity] | Page

Over the course of his adventures, Tom has dealt with the consequences of being the subject of his father Wilson’s blockbuster “Tommy Taylor” fantasy novels, fallen in love with Lizzie Hexam (yes, of Charles Dickens’ “Our Mutual Friend,” in a way), befriended journalist-turned-vampire Richie Savoy, confronted a phantom Joseph Goebbels, crossed paths with assassin Pauly Bruckner (who’s trapped in the form of a storybook bunny), gotten advice from Frankenstein’s creature, entered “Moby-Dick” and the story nexus/whale known as Leviathan, battled a narrative-controlling cabal and gone to hell.

There’s also been a stand-alone graphic novel, last year’s “Tommy Taylor and the Ship That Sank Twice,” a telling of the story in Wilson Taylor’s first bestselling novel — and the troubled creation of it. The volume made the Young Adult Library Services Assn.’s great graphic novels for teens list.

So where will “Apocalypse” take Tom?

In a phone interview last week with Hero Complex, U.K.-based writer Carey and Minnesota-based artist Gross discussed the relaunch as a jumping-on point, the beginning of “Apocalypse,” how the “Unwritten Fables” crossover worked out, and more.

Peter Gross' variant cover for "The Unwritten: Apocalypse" No. 1. (Vertigo)

Peter Gross’ variant cover for “The Unwritten: Apocalypse” No. 1. (Vertigo)

Hero Complex: You’re launching Volume 2, and a No. 1 is a chance to grab new readers for this final run. What would you say to someone who’s thinking about jumping on here?

Mike Carey: I think one of the things I’d say is that everything we’ve been doing up to now has led up to this, but that the “Fables” crossover was a huge game-changer. We’re in a very, very different place as we relaunch. To say it’s an excellent jumping-on point actually is true because we recap everything that’s necessary as we go in. This last year really does stand as a climax to everything that we’ve done and as a separate story in its own right.

Peter Gross: I’d say that if you’ve heard good, interesting things about “Unwritten,” that this last year is a different enough environment that it really stands on its own too…. It really does, in the way that the Tommy Taylor graphic novel does. You can read it by itself and then it’s a whole different thing. It’s like the way all this stuff is weaving together, you can read it alone. If you read it in a different order, you’re going to get a different experience.

MC: I think the graphic novel is a good point of comparison there. Obviously, we hope that people will go back and read the whole thing, but this story is its own beast, its own animal.

HC: That was a poetic ending to “Unwritten Fables.” … And you’re following up ending the world with 12 issues of “Apocalypse.” Where do the two of you start after ending the world?

MC: We start with a different world. We start with Tom coming home, which is not a simple, automatic process. It’s a quest in its own right. Much as he’s taken away in new knowledge from his meeting with the Fables, there are other things he still has to learn and things about that new knowledge that have to bear down. We open with a bit of storytelling that I think is some of Peter’s best work – I think it’s career-defining work – with Tom walking through many, many different worlds of fiction, each of which look and feel very different but with some obvious themes running through it.

PG: And then when Tom does get back – we haven’t figured out exactly how long – it’s years later. Not many, many years later, but the world is very changed. And that’s where the “Apocalypse” part of the title comes in. It’s a world that has undergone the consequences of everything else that happened in “Fables,” and with Leviathan before that. It’s a very, very different world.

A page from "The Unwritten: Apocalypse" No. 1. (Vertigo)

A page from “The Unwritten: Apocalypse” No. 1. (Vertigo)

HC: Can you give readers a taste of one of the “unwritten scenes of all the worlds’ stories” that Tom tumbles through?

MC: We have an Aesop’s fable, we have a Hans Christian Andersen story, we have “Alice in Wonderland,” we have some of the more modern fantasy archetypes showing up, and we have the return to Willowbank Wood.

PG: They’re all thematically about becoming human, I guess.

MC: Yeah. Harking back to the finale of the “Unwritten Fables” arc, one of the things that Frau Totenkinder told Tom was, pretty much in these words, the ladder of the worlds has no top and no bottom. How do you orientate yourself? How do you head toward reality if reality is just another story, if there literally is no endpoint? How do you find your direction? That’s the big conundrum that’s facing Tom.

HC: Tom’s sense of identity, which has never been too firm and which was shaken up as the series began, might be more shaken up than ever after being turned into Tommy and then back in “Unwritten Fables.” How’s he as “Apocalypse” begins?

PG: [Laughs] I think that’s exactly the place he’s at. He literally starts this arc without a sense of identity, and he has to find that.

MC: He has to rebuild himself from scratch.

PG: I think what’s going to be different about this last year, as you’ll see from the first issue, is he finds a sense of identity, he has one. I think we’re over the questioning phase of Tom trying to figure out what he is and now Tom deciding what he is.

MC: Which means accepting both sides of his nature.

PG: And, in a way, literally deciding what he is in the first issue.

HC: You mentioned Willowbank Wood popping up. Tom even fleetingly being in Willowbank Wood seems to call back to the two ideas that the two of you had that led to the creation of “The Unwritten,” the trumpet that ends the world and Christopher Milne.

MC: We are very much coming full circle, and Willowbank Wood is central to that. There is a crucial conversation Tom has with Eliza Mae Hertford, the little girl of Issue 12, though she’s not a little girl when he meets her. It speaks exactly to that question of what his real nature is and what his relationship with these worlds is.

"The Unwritten" No. 51, the second part of "The Unwritten Fables," finds Tom on a mission to save the Big Bad Wolf. Cover art by Yuko Shimizu, who is nominated for an Eisner Award this year for her "Unwritten" work. (DC/Vertigo)

“The Unwritten” No. 51. Cover art by Yuko Shimizu. (DC/Vertigo)

HC: Has there been any sort of outcry over what happened to the “Fables” characters? Is anyone blaming you two for the upcoming end of that series?

PG: [Laughs] It was a shock when Bill said he was going to end the series. I thought, “Oh, maybe we had something to do with it,” you know? There’s been no backlash yet.

MC: No, no, the backlash hasn’t come.

PG: I can see why Bill wouldn’t want to continue after we put our stamp on. [Both laugh]

HC: More seriously, how did the crossover work out for you in terms of developing the big “Unwritten” story that you set out to tell?

MC: I think it was an amazingly good fit. People said at the time, and I agree, that if we hadn’t been able to use “Fables,” we would have to produce our own version of “Fables” because it fit so perfectly into the final ordeal that we wanted Tom to have before he returns home, and the trajectory we wanted for him to come back on. “Fables” just seemed to offer everything that we needed. And, of course, it was something to use those characters, to play in that toy box – particularly, for me, the witches, who have always been my favorite “Fables” characters.

PG: I think the interesting thing for us with the “Fables” thing is for readers it was us playing with Bill Willingham and Bucky’s characters, but for Tom it was Tom kind of being stuck in a fractured fairy tale with characters that he vaguely recognized as fairy-tale characters, not “Fables” per se. He would have run into some version of these characters in his adventures, so it really did work out perfectly.

MC: One of the resonances that we didn’t really think about going in but which turned out to be really fruitful and really interesting was Tom meeting and talking with Pinocchio and discovering how much he had in common with Pinocchio.

HC: Before Tom was pulled into the land of “Fables” back in 49, he and Lizzie and Richie, Wilson, Cosi and Leon were on their way up the stairs from hell, reenacting the Orpheus and Eurydice story. Will he be finding his way back to them?

MC: I don’t want to anticipate too much. He’s definitely going to meet some of those characters again, and he’s going to discover what’s been happening to them while he’s been away. Some of them are in very different predicament to when he left. We’ll start picking up on all of those plot lines.

HC: As “Unwritten” begins its yearlong concluding story, I wondered if the two of you might talk about your longtime collaborators, colorist Chris Chuckry, letterer Todd Klein and cover artist Yuko Shimizu?

PG: They’ve all been great. Chris, his work has really grown with the book, I think. There was a point, it was like Issue 37, 38, where we asked him to do a Pauly Bruckner story, and we asked him to color it a little more painterly, and it was so great we just decided, “Let’s color the book that way from now on.” He’s brought a lot to the plate, I think.

And Todd is always incredible, and he’s always been great to work with.

MC: There’s an astonishing lettering effect in the first issue of “Apocalypse.” It’s really wonderful. Even the title becomes something extraordinary.

Yuko Shimizu's cover for "The Unwritten" No. 25. (Vertigo)

Yuko Shimizu’s cover for “The Unwritten” No. 25 shows Tommy and Tom. She’s been an Eisner Award nominee for her work on the series. (Vertigo)

PG: And then we both can’t say enough about Yuko.

MC: Agreed.

PG: Her stuff is extraordinary. She’s by far the best cover artist in comics, I think. Every month, it’s just a thrill to see her sketches come in as she’s visualizing the things we’re talking about doing. It’s like a reward for us every month.

MC: When we saw the cover design, the initial sketch for the cover design of Issue 1, it just immediately discovered a theme for the three or four covers that follow it. It was just so strong, we just said, “Can you keep on exploring this with different characters?”

PG: And one thing I’ve said about Yuko before, but it is an an amazing thing and it’s kind of rare: When you look at her covers before you read the story and then you look at her covers after you read the story, you get a completely different thing out of them. That doesn’t happen a lot on comic covers. The way they weave into and out of the story, they’re great.

MC: I also love the fact that Yuko’s version of Tom is somewhat different from the version of Tom that we see inside. So it’s almost like you’re getting a parallel fictional narrative about Tom, which goes with the heart of what we’re doing, really.

HC: Is there anything else you would like readers to know heading into “The Unwritten: Apocalypse”?

MC: Everything is on the table here. Basically, it starts at the end of the world and it just gets more intense from there.

PG: I hope we can pull off everything. [both laugh] … That we don’t jump the shark along the way.

MC: It’s a very ambitious story.

PG: There’s a lot of balls in the air.

– Blake Hennon | @BlakeHennon | @LATHeroComplex

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