Genre Art As Unapologetic Fan Fiction

A lot of fan cultures permeate Mike Carey’s Unwritten. From the more orthodox fanaticism of the first issue’s legions of Tommy Taylor fans to the more zealous group of fans who decide him to be a messiah, to even the villainous rogues attempting to assassinate Tommy, everyone in this story seems to define themselves by their relationship to the story of Tommy Taylor. Even the only non fan characters in the comic, the oligarchy of horror writers, act as a divisive fanbase of horror, seeing a different potential within its genre, whether it is torture porn or relationship stories. They all define their relationship to a genre, just as the rest of the characters define their allegiance to a particular story. They are fans of an aesthetic, but are divisive of its identity, just as Tommy Taylor’s identity remains in question throughout the series.

To make things tidy, one of the more fannish horror writers happens to be a male, and the other happens to be female.

Although torture porn does not seem as harmless a fan fiction as parody, this comic presents a cast of characters labeled as fans of a genre, and offers a gendered division. Jenkins offers an appropriate nugget of research in his article, noting the more common gender of fan parody to be male and the more common gender of fan fiction to be female (13, Jenkins). Going by this statistic, then, we have an interesting association: torture porn as parody.

The conflation between the two genres is not an arbitrary abstraction between two articles, however. Torture porn becomes painfully diegetic in a revealing moment. A horror author stands in, explains that his association with the genre is actually to get ladies: “What about the way your girlfriend holds onto you when you’re scared?… A good fright fest can bring people together, too”. It is only when the author begins to suggest the idea of a story becoming torture porn that something happens. He admits that it can be successful, but it “could wear you out. Unless you can put some funny, ironic beats in.”

As you can read, the man with the scythe turns the comic into an actual torture porn comic by killing an innocent bystander. The other author could have just smoked his spliff and chilled on some damp grass, maybe walked to Sonic later for a milkshake with candy in it, but no! He had to, in his paraphrased words, make a joke that nobody could get, which of course no one, to his perception, would find funny. He’s killing people randomly and without cause, like a serial killer. The only person who would find that joke funny is the reader, someone uninvolved with the actual story taking place.

The major villain of the first volume of this comic is parody, one of the more intriguing choices of antagonists in recent memory, and, well, I don’t want to get into this too much, but it’s worth noting that he is a very manly man, with exaggerated physical strength, a drive towards violence, and muscles, seemingly an over-performing caricature of his gender role.

This becomes an even more intriguing villain in light of the first few issues of the comic, which seem to set up Tommy Taylor as a Harry Potter parody. The innocent young boy from novels is actually a tortured hero, with few morals, and a hidden past, etc. By placing Tommy Taylor’s books as prose instead of comics, they even further reinforce the character as a washed-up Harry Potter analogue. This is all revealed to be a ruse, however, as the comic turns into a very intriguing story about the nature of reality and fantasy, a theme with which the original Books of Magic dealt extensively.

The villain: a swirling tempest of cultural references

The villain of the second proves even more monstrous. A swirling amalgam of anti-semitic images and other cultural references, Tommy Taylor finds himself in contest with, quite literally, propaganda. The film even emphasizes again the dysfunctional relationship between fiction and genre by having the story be Jud Sus, a novel that originally painted its Jewish character as tragic, a stubborn Jew who died rather than convert to Christianity. The film Jud Sus twists the story into a cautious tale of not conforming to the other side, acting more as a story which defines taboo rather than expresses tragedy.

In the second volume, propaganda is the villain. Mike Carey has been on a roll.

So, this comic clearly establishes a value system of the means by which people, and especially authors, treat their fiction. The final thematic yearning of the story, left unsatiated in these twelve issues, is a functional relationship between art and allusion. Permit me some prescience.

In contrast to all of these relationships, one method has been implemented throughout the entire story to complete silence. Namely, the allusive method of the authors themselves. Mike Carey has constructed this story as an elaborate game of reference, a story whose weight at times depends on its references.

Moreover, Peter Gross seems just as willing to flex some different styles:

Note the much different linework than in the two images above, which represent the much more common visual aesthetic of the comic. This comic gains density from cross-hatching and bundles of straight lines, whereas the other are more content to be rounded off and cartoony. This style refers to much older, eighteenth century and earlier illustrations that, by economic necessity, were etchings filled with ink and stamped onto paper. This method constricts the variable thickness to an illustration’s lines.

Combine this authorial obsession with references to actual fictional works with Tommy Taylor’s inherited fanaticism of memorized locales and inspirations, and suddenly Carey reveals the ideal conduit between fannish obsession and art is not propaganda or parody, but proper, studied allusion, even if it can be confusing to people not in the know.

***

Source Cited:

Jenkins, H. “Quentin Tarantino’s Star Wars? Grassroots creativity meets the media industry” (2006). Convergence culture: Where old and new media collide. New York: New York University Press.

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