Writing on Unwritten

I must start off by saying this: The Unwritten was awesome.  It wasn’t what I was expecting, but not in a bad way.  Honestly, my first expectation was to have blank frames that had not been written yet – hence the name – that somehow enhanced the story.  I hadn’t figured out how that would work, but that’s not my job, is it? No. It’s not. As it turns out, it’s not Mike Carey or Peter Gross’s job, either. Their job is to write a series of graphic novels that breaks boundaries in so many new ways.  In the end, their efforts make for some excellent commentary on stories and a great number of tie-ins to our Transmedia class. “What a crazy random happenstance!”

Where to start? “Let’s start at the very beginning.” Julie Andrews was always a smart lady. Unfortunately, I did not start at the beginning. I read Volume 2 first after incorrectly reading the syllabus, but it didn’t make much of a difference in the end. Because the story is non-linear and it includes a lot of elements not directly related to the main action, I didn’t feel any more lost than was necessary.  But the beginning of the series starts with a glimpse inside the Tommy Taylor books. Let the disorientation begin.

I’m not saying it was incredibly difficult to realize which story we, the readers, were supposed to be following, but this certainly provides a different feel than a straightforward story would have.  But these kinds of diversions from Tom Taylor’s present day life serve to inform us on his past and enrich the text as a whole. I’ll admit that while I was reading the extra bit about Pauly Bruckner at the end of the second volume (which was my first) I was a little confused as to why this was part of the series. But at the end, when the figure that I take to be Alice talks, her speech about the space where adult things are locked up, it all clicked. Then I read the Kipling epilogue of sorts and there was even more clicking.  The way I see it, these ending segments serve as a commentary on the nature of writing itself, mainly presenting the difficulties faced by a writer.  The Bruckner one was a bit more abstract, seeing as there was no writer, but I think it was Carey and Gross venting their frustration with novels like Harry Potter.

Before I launch into the rest of this point, some things must be made clear: I like Harry Potter. I’ve read them all. Fine books. But I grew out of them and I am not as attached to the series so I don’t feel bad critiquing them. Also, the first four movies were awful and the fifth and sixth barely passed.  Anyways, Harry Potter is the perfect comparison to The Unwritten. Not only is it expressly explained in the first pages of the novel, but Harry Potter is a lighting rod.  It’s a book for all ages but it seems to be aimed at children. The main characters deal with adult issues of life and death but never ones of sexuality or substance use/abuse.  Now it could just be that Great Britain is an incredibly moral country, but I don’t think that’s the case.  Carey and Gross wrote these graphic novels not only to shake up the comic world with such a meta-story, but to comment on the profession as a whole.

With these books, Carey and Gross have given new potential to storytelling and have attacked some excellent issues, some of which we have covered in class. The one that stands out to me the most is the issue that comes when reality and fantasy become blurred together.

Cosi’s Lost It

Cosi has been so wrapped up in the Tommy Taylor novels that she can no longer tell what is real and what is not.  This is just like the phenomenon expressed in last quote from McGonigal’s “This Is Not A Game” article. It reads: “I’m going to catch myself still looking for patterns and riddles in my daily life months from now…” The Cloudmaker frequenters are very similar to children who let their imaginations run wild. They can no longer tell when it’s time to work and when it is time to play, so to speak. Carey and Gross gave their audience a tragic character who was so innocently involved in the stories at first, but with the encouragement of her father and her apparent lack of stable interactions, she spiraled out of control.

Despite the disorienting approach the writers took in creating this series, they know their traditional storytelling techniques, and they stick to them.

Story Event to the Max

For instance, McKee talks about what he calls a “Story Event”, which is an event where “change is motivated through conflict.” There are plenty of these in The Unwritten. Even though the structure of the story is somewhat unconventional, the elements within the plot remain rather standard. The frame to the right is a major story event, where Tom Taylor claims victory against the Nazi-perverted version of Jud Süss and becomes more accepting of his abilities and duties.

So what does this all have to do with Transmedia Storytelling? It all takes place within the graphic novel medium. I think it lies within the story.  The graphic novel is told through many different types of interactions the characters have with the varying types of media they encounter: film, novel, memory (if that counts), journalism, the Internet, etc… It reminds of The Game because it’s like a scavenger hunt to survive through all these different kinds of realities and settings. It’s a perfect comic to apply to the course.

Yet again, I thoroughly enjoyed these first two volumes, and I can’t wait to get the third. Furthermore, I can’t wait to discuss them in class.  Good thing I have less than 24 hours until then.


About nhg8

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