Reading comic books for a college class is certainly a unique assignment. The Unwritten series by Mike Carey (illustrations by Peter Gross) is a great example of transmedia storytelling. Not only is there a strong presence of transmedia storytelling in the comic, but it also deals with the issues of fan fiction and reality vs. non-reality.
When I first began reading The Unwritten, I was frustrated by my confusion of which dialogue bubble to read first. However, once I got the hang of bubbles joined to other bubbles, and different shaped bubbles meaning asides, I actually began to really enjoy reading the comic.
At the beginning of the first volume, I was having a difficult time following the plot of the story (until I realized that it was toying with reality vs. non-reality). Once I came to this realization, I couldn’t help but to think of the film The Game. The complexity of storytelling that presented itself in The Game was eerie. One of the most frightening things is to not know the difference between real life, and what isn’t real. The connection I can make to the reality vs. non-reality theme present in The Unwritten (and The Game) is when you first wake up from the haze of an extremely vivid (and most of the time disturbing) dream. For a few seconds, sometimes minutes, you think that certain elements present in your dream are real. I find those moments to be confusing and somewhat frightening all at the same time. I interpreted Tommy Taylor’s reaction to his game of reality (who his parents really are) vs. non-reality (being Tommy Taylor) as being in this after-dream haze, and he does nothing but try to escape it.
Having never read a comic book, I just assumed that they were simple. I was proved wrong rather quickly, beginning with the panel in which Lizzie Hexam asks Tommy Taylor the question that ruins him at the gaming conference. “Certainly, these photos–from the Tommy Taylor companion–are meant to be of you at age three…but actually they show another boy.” As soon as I read this panel, I knew the plot was going to begin to twist.
The storytelling elements in this comic are fantastic. As far as transmedia storytelling, I noticed while reading that there are several different storytelling platforms used in the comic. Another panel in which confused me, but also led me to realize the different sub-stories within the larger plot was at the beginning of chapter 2 (volume 1). The scene looks like it came straight out of Harry Potter…with what seem to be Hermione, Harry, and Ron standing around some magical stone with a unicorn in the background. However, this is when I realized that the Tommy Taylor character and the “Harry Potter” looking character were related to one another.
In conclusion, the fan-fiction theme causing the reality vs. non-reality theme, playing into the overarching transmedia storytelling theme in The Unwritten is rather ingenious. The fans’ reaction to Lizzie’s questioning of Tommy’s identity force Tommy Taylor to live on the border between what is reality and what isn’t. Then, the comic incorporates different styles of storytelling, causing the books to be engaging and entertaining.